Canada’s Trudeau refused to back down as Saudi Arabia ups the ante in ongoing human-rights fight

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a May 17 news conference in New York City.

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a May 17 news conference in New York City.
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Drew Angerer/Getty Image

  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is refusing to back down against Saudi Arabia in an escalating feud over human rights.
  • Trudeau on Wednesday made his first public statement about mounting diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia, promising to continue to defend human rights and stand firm against Saudi aggression.
  • His comments came just hours after Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir warned of increased measures aimed at punishing Canada.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is refusing to back down against Saudi Arabia in an escalating feud over human rights.

Trudeau on Wednesday made his first public statement about the mounting diplomatic crisis, promising to continue to defend human rights and stand firm against Saudi aggression.

“Canadians have always expected our government to speak strongly, firmly, clearly, and politely about the need to respect human rights at home and around the world,” Trudeau told journalists while visiting Montreal.

“We will continue to do that – we will continue to stand up for Canadian values and indeed for universal values and human rights at any occasion.”

The 46-year-old leader added that Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland had a “long” discussion with her Saudi counterpart on Tuesday, though he did not expand on what was discussed or whether the two sides had reached a resolution.

“We continue to engage diplomatically and politically with Saudi Arabia,” he said. “We do not wish to have poor relations with Saudi Arabia. This is a country of some importance around the world that is making some progress when it comes to human rights.”

“But at the same time,” he added, “we have to talk about the challenges that are being faced there and elsewhere.”

Trudeau’s comments come just hours after Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir warned of increased measures aimed at punishing Canada.

“There is nothing to mediate. A mistake has been made and a mistake should be corrected,” al-Jubeir said at a press conference Tuesday. He added that the onus was on Canada to “fix” its action after the country called out Saudi Arabia’s human-rights record in a tweet on Friday.

The feud has escalated quickly since then – with Saudi Arabia expelling the Canadian ambassador, freezing all new investment, canceling all flights to Toronto, pulling thousands of students from Canadian institutions, barring its citizens from getting medical treatment in Canadian hospitals, and reportedly selling off Canadian assets.

Canada has turned to its allies United Arab Emirates and Britain to help cool tensions, but Saudi Arabia appears unwilling to back down anytime soon.