03:01 GMT +316 December 2018
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    Riyadh-Ottawa Row Spirals as Saudi Trolls Declare Quebec's Right to Independence

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    After Ottawa's expression of concern over the arrest a Saudi human rights activist, a diplomatic quarrel between Canada and Saudi Arabia has grown into a blaze, with Riyadh expelling Canada's ambassador and halting economic cooperation. Now, the Saudis are pushing Canada on another sensitive issue: Quebec.

    Canada's calls for the release of civil rights activists detained in the kingdom have led to the suspension of all Saudi Airlines flights to and from Canada, the suspension of new trade and investment deals, the expulsion of Canada's envoy, and a sell-off of all Canadian holdings by Saudi officials and the state, as well as the revocation of scholarships for thousands of students studying in Canada and the withdrawal of Saudi nationals being treated in Canadian hospitals.

    Riyadh has vowed not to engage in negotiations until Ottawa retracts its original complaint. So far, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been defiant, saying on Wednesday that while Ottawa does not want to have "poor relations" with Saudi Arabia, "Canada will always speak strongly and clearly in private and in public on questions of human rights."

    Taking the conflict up another notch this week, Saudi trolls on Twitter have turned to Canada's own sensitive national topics, posting messages in support of a sovereign Quebec, and pointing to the razor thin margin in the 1995 referendum on independence, where proponents of an independent Quebec lost by a margin of just 1 percent. Some also criticized the country over its alleged "cultural genocide" of its aboriginal peoples.

    Canadian media quickly picked up on the Saudi trolling campaign, joking that Quebec separatists would never again be short of financing. 

    'Dark Humor'

    The Quebec comments are the latest element in the Saudi campaign against Canada online following a controversial approach taken by a Saudi youth group, which posted a Photoshopped image of an Air Canada plane flying toward the CN Tower in an apparent threat to strike Canada with a 9/11-style terror attack. Canadians quickly recalled that 15 of the 19 hijackers who targeted New York and Washington, DC in September 2001 were Saudi nationals. The youth group has since apologized for and deleted the tweet, with the Infographic_ksa site soon deleted altogether, but not before users managed to grab a screenshot of the odious message.

    Saudi Arabia's media hasn’t shied away from making exaggerated claims about human rights problems in Canada, with reports ranging from claims that the country has the world's highest rates of persecution of women, to allegations that Canada has numerous prisoners of conscience, and that over the last two years, 75 percent of prisoners in Canadian jails died before their case was heard in court.

    Canadian former officials have marked their concern with the lack of support from their US and British allies amid the spat with Riyadh, with former Harper-era advisor Rachel Curran complaining about the country's seemingly lonely struggle, and former Liberal Party leader Bob Rae saying Canada won't forget the lack of support.

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    Tags:
    dispute, tweets, human rights, sovereignty, independence, Canada, Quebec, Saudi Arabia
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