Saudi Arabia barred all citizens from receiving medical treatment in Canada as a diplomatic dispute over criticism of its human rights record intensifies.
Riyadh also announced it is coordinating the transfer of all Saudi patients from Canadian hospitals to other medical facilities outside Canada, the Saudi press agency SPA reported on Wednesday.
The Gulf state stopped sending patients to Canadian hospitals “according to directives by the leadership,” it said. It was unclear how many Saudi patients would be affected by the decision.
Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador, recalled its own envoy, and cut trade ties with Canada after it publicly denounced a crackdown on rights activists in the Gulf kingdom on Twitter.
On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir, said his country would not seek any mediation in its dispute with Canada.
“There is nothing to mediate … Canada made a big mistake, and a mistake should be corrected,” al-Jubeir said, adding that Riyadh was “considering additional measures” against Ottowa without further elaborating.
The sharp diplomatic dispute between the two countries has left the United States – partner and ally of both – in a bind.
“Both sides need to diplomatically resolve this together. We can’t do it for them,” Heather Nauert, State Department spokeswoman, said.
Washington “raised” the case with Riyadh, she said, adding: “The United States has respect for internationally recognised freedoms and also individual liberties. That certainly has not changed.”
Saudi Arabia is pulling all of its patients from Canadian hospitals.
This is #NotTheOnion.
— Ali A. Rizvi (@aliamjadrizvi) August 8, 2018
Saudi Arabia was angered after Canada demanded it “immediately release” some of the arrested activists, including Samar Badawi.
She is the sister of Raif Badawi, a prominent human rights campaigner who was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2014 on charges of insulting Islam. His wife and children are naturalised Canadian citizens.
“Canada will always stand up for human rights in Canada and around the world, and women’s rights are human rights,” said Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland on Monday.
Saudi Arabia also ordered some 15,000 of its students in Canada to leave the country. It also announced it suspended state-run airline flights to Toronto.
Nauert suggested the Canadian government could have handled the issue better.
“Some of these issues we choose to discuss privately with our friends, with our partners, with our allies,” Nauert said. “I can tell you, however, we have raised these issues and I’ll leave it at that.”
Al Jazeera’s Kirsten Saloomey, reporting from Toronto, said that while Trudeau is expected to speak later in the day to address the situation, the Saudis’ latest declarations showed no intention of resolving the dispute.
“The comments coming from the [Saudi] foreign minister showed the Saudis have no intent in backing out on this,” Saloomey said.
“They’re escalating the conflict and, if anything, saying Canada made a mistake and needs to fix it. They seem to be addressing reports that the Canadians are reaching out to the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom to help mediate in this dispute.”
When asked about the jailed activists, Jubeir reiterated the government’s earlier stance that they had been in contact with foreign entities, but did not specify the charges against them.
“The matter is not about human rights, it is a matter of national security,” Jubeir said, referring to the row with Canada.
“Saudi Arabia does not interfere in the affairs of Canada in any way. Therefore, Canada must correct its actions towards the kingdom.”
Canada has indicated it will not back down, despite the risk of imperilling business deals including a $15bn agreement to sell Riyadh light armoured vehicles. If the deal is scrapped, thousands of jobs could be lost in Canada, experts say.
Saloomey noted that the Canadians are proving to be defiant, standing up for their comments in defense of human rights.