The Canadian government has followed the United States in imposing sanctions on 17 Saudis for the slaying of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but like the Trump administration, Ottawa is sparing Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, from censure.
The Canadian measures on Thursday come two weeks after U.S. sanctions were announced, and as the kingdom’s de facto ruler attempts a return to the international spotlight by attending Friday’s Group of 20 meeting in Argentina. The Crown Prince has reportedly been identified by the CIA as responsible for the murder.
Canada’s first concrete action over the Khashoggi killing nevertheless leaves existing arms sales to Saudi Arabia untouched. This means that the massive light-armoured vehicles manufactured in London, Ont., continue to roll off the assembly line and onto ships bound for the Mideast kingdom in a deal valued at $15-billion, including fees paid to a Canadian Crown corporation for acting as prime contractor.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said, however, that she continues to review existing arms exports, a process that has been under way for more than a month.
Mr. Khashoggi was slain in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate Oct. 2 when he entered to procure documents certifying a divorce. Earlier this month, American media including the Washington Post reported that the CIA believes the Crown Prince ordered Mr. Khashoggi’s killing – contradicting Riyadh’s assertion that he was not involved in the murder.
Canada’s response amounts to asset freezes and travel bans against Saudis who it says it believes were responsible for the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, a critic of the Crown Prince. The actions were taken under the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, also known as the Magnitsky Act in honour of Russian whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky, who accused Moscow of a massive tax-fraud regime before being beaten to death in 2009.
Bill Browder, a former hedge-fund manager who has campaigned for Magnitsky legislation in Western countries, applauded Canada’s actions but said Ottawa should have included the Crown Prince in these targeted sanctions even if the Trump administration did not. U.S. President Donald Trump maintains that there is “nothing definitive” linking the Crown Prince to the murder and has played up the number of business deals Riyadh is doing with American companies.
“It’s a question of leadership versus following. If the United States chooses to give Mohammed bin Salman a pass after it’s been proven that he is the one who ordered the murder, then I don’t think think that Canada can just subordinate justice for some dirty deal that was done with Trump,” Mr. Browder said in an interview.
The Canadian list of targeted individuals includes a former top aide to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince. Saud al-Qahtani, a former assistant to the Crown Prince, was fired in October in the weeks after Mr. Khashoggi’s murder. Mohammed al-Otaibi, the Saudi consul-general to Istanbul at the time of the killing, is also on the list.
“The sanctions target individuals who are, in the opinion of the Government of Canada, responsible for or complicit in the extrajudicial killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” the Department of Global Affairs said in a statement.
“These sanctions effectively freeze the assets of these individuals in Canada. Their listing also renders them inadmissible to Canada pursuant to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.”
Global Affairs declined to say whether the 17 targeted Saudis even hold any assets in Canada, suggesting it’s up to those named to determine if they are affected. “Individuals and businesses, including financial institutions, are responsible for ensuring that they are in compliance with Canada’s sanctions regime,” Global Affairs spokesman Guillaume Bérubé said.
Ms. Freeland, speaking to reporters in Argentina before the G20 meeting, said these new sanctions do not bring to an end Canada’s interest in the fate of Mr. Khashoggi.
“This case is not closed as far as Canada is concerned … in terms of our continued work to determine for ourselves the facts; in terms of our work with our allies to seek a co-ordinated response; in terms of our work to seek an investigation which is credible and transparent for the sake of the world; and in terms of our review of our own arms exports to Saudi Arabia,” she said.
Asked whether Canada believes that the Crown Prince was involved in Mr. Khashoggi’s death, Ms. Freeland did not directly answer the question but implied that the Canadian government lacks sufficient evidence to say that.
“We believe that in naming people and in saying in the view of the government of Canada that someone is responsible for something so serious and so odious, it’s very important to gather all the facts," she said. "It’s very important to act and to speak only on the basis of real certainty. These are not steps we take lightly. They are not accusations that we can make lightly.”
Thomas Juneau, an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, welcomed the sanctions.
He said that there’s little or no doubt in the minds of most objective external observers that the Crown Prince is directly responsible for the murder of Mr. Khashoggi.
But Prof. Juneau said it would be extremely costly for Canada to act alone − without allies − in punishing Mohammed bin Salman, also known in the West as MBS. “You absolutely end your relationship with Saudi Arabia for a good while − which is not in the Canadian interest at this point.”
Prof. Juneau said he thinks Canada should suspend exports in the $15-billion armoured-vehicle sale because of the dangerous conduct of the Crown Prince. “I don’t think we should cancel it right away because that would be a major escalation that would put us ahead of too many of our allies,” he said.
“We’ve reached the point where MBS is so dangerous to Saudi Arabia, to the region and to our interests in the region − Canada’s, the Americans' and the Europeans' − that the prospect of him being in power for 50 years, which is a real prospect, is seriously concerning for everybody,” he said.