Saudi Arabia has announced that it will remove all patients who are currently receiving treatment in Canadian hospitals, while Ottawa urges the Islamic Kingdom to free imprisoned human rights activists.
According to the state news agency SPA, Riyadh has stopped sending patients to Canadian hospitals and “is coordinating for the transfer of all Saudi patients from Canadian hospitals according to directives by the leadership.”
It is not clear how many patients will be affected by the decision, although it is known that the Saudi government provides health care services overseas for many of its employees in countries such as Canada where the quality of care is markedly superior.
The announcement is the latest in a series of punitive measures taken by Riyadh over comments made by Canada’s Foreign Ministry, who called for the release of prominent women’s rights activists.
In a post on Twitter, the ministry said they are “gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including Samar Badawi,” before “urging Saudi authorities to “immediately release them and all other peaceful human rights activists.”
Saudi officials dismissed these claims as “blatant interference” in the country’s internal affairs, and proceeded to expel the Canadian ambassador and suspend all new trade and investment, remove all Saudi students from Canadian universities, and has pledged to pursue additional measures.
“There is nothing to mediate. A mistake has been made and a mistake should be corrected,” Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said at a news conference on Wednesday, adding that they would “considering additional measures.” Canadian investments in Saudi Arabia will not be affected by the dispute.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland has indicated that they are “seriously concerned” by Saudi Arabia’s actions, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to hold a press conference in Montreal on Wednesday afternoon to address the ongoing crisis.
“Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, very much including women’s rights, and freedom of expression around the world,” a spokeswoman for Freeland said in a statement Tuesday. “Our government will never hesitate to promote these values and believes that this dialogue is critical to international diplomacy.” [myad]