Saudi expels Canadian envoy, recalls its own over ‘interference’

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It also gave the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to leave the country and recalled its own ambassador to Canada, the statement by the Saudi foreign ministry said.

Saudi Arabia has made a decision to freeze all new trade and investment deals between the kingdom and Canada while retaining its right to take other measures, Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported. The Saudi Foreign Ministry also said it would freeze "all new business" between the kingdom and Canada.

Saudi Arabia said on Monday it was expelling the Canadian ambassador and had recalled its envoy while freezing all new trade, in protest at Ottawa's vigorous calls for the release of jailed activists.

The dispute appears centered around a tweet by Global Affairs Canada calling on the kingdom to "immediately release" women's rights activists recently detained by the kingdom.

Representatives for Canada's foreign department didn't respond to a request for comment.

"These courageous women represented the last vestiges of the human rights community in the country, and now they too have been detained", Amnesty International's Middle East research director Lynn Maalouf said in a statement.

Those rounded up in recent days include Samar Badawi, who is known for having challenged the kingdom's male guardianship rules and is the sister of one of Saudi Arabia's most prominent detainees, liberal blogger Raif Badawi.

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"Any further step from the Canadian side in that direction will be considered as acknowledgment of our right to interfere in the Canadian domestic affairs", said the statement.

His wife and three children live in Quebec and became Canadian citizens last month.

Al-Saadah was among the first women to run for office in Saudi Arabia in 2015 as part of a campaign for women's political rights.

Marie-Pier Baril, a spokeswoman for Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, said Canada was "seriously concerned" by Saudi Arabia's actions.

The move follows vigorous calls by Canada for the immediate release of activists that have been detained.

So far this year, Canada has exported C$1.4 billion ($1.1 billion) in merchandise goods to Saudi Arabia and imported C$2 billion in imports, leaving it with a cumulative year-to-date trade deficit with the kingdom of about C$640 million, according to Statistics Canada data.

An English version of the Saudi government's statement said Ms. Freeland and the Canadian government are wrong to criticize the kingdom.