Skip to main content

Weeks after Canada incurred Saudi Arabia’s wrath by daring to publicly call for the release of imprisoned human-rights activists, one of whom has strong Canadian ties, this country remains a lonely critic of the Islamic Kingdom’s abuses.

It’s to the credit of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland that despite Saudi attempts to bully Ottawa into silence, through sanctions that included expelling Canada’s ambassador and ordering home many students studying here, she has raised a fresh concern – this one related to Saudi Arabia’s reported plans to execute a female political prisoner. And it’s to the shame of the Saudis' other trading partners that, while Human Rights Watch and other international organizations sound alarms, they remain silent.

Israa al-Ghomgham would be the first Saudi woman to face the death penalty for her activism, which points to an escalation in dissidents' persecution. She and five other activists who could face the same punishment – most often carried out in Saudi Arabia through beheading – have been imprisoned since 2015 without legal representation because they peacefully protested systemic discrimination against their Shia minority. They are now being tried by a “terrorism tribunal” despite no accusations of violence. For Saudi trading partners who care about human rights, this should not be a difficult issue on which to take a stand.

Story continues below advertisement

It is possible that other countries are more quietly raising concerns through diplomatic back channels, which Ottawa has done previously. And it may be that sharp public criticism causes Riyadh to get its back up, which may explain why Ms. Freeland’s latest comments stopped short of calling for prisoners' “immediate” release, as she did in prior ones.

But public pressure can be valuable, too, in raising awareness and demonstrating courage of conviction. If it is comparatively easy for the Saudis to lash out at Canada, a relatively small trading partner, they might be given more pause if criticism came from countries on which they are more reliant – not least the United States, which under Donald Trump has fostered a relationship cozier than ever.

The government Ms. Freeland represents, which before its recent advocacy green-lit a $15-billion agreement to sell armoured vehicles to the Saudis, is itself an unlikely fit to be leading the world in confronting Riyadh about its behaviour. But sadly, that is presently a low bar.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter