Khashoggi Murder Prompts Canada to Get Tough on Saudis

By Michael Bociurkiw


In a bold move, Canada announced today it is imposing sanctions against 17 Saudis linked to the brutal murder of US resident and Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi.

The sanctions were announced by Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, herself a former journalist. She said the move was being done under Canada’s Magnitsky legislation, and that the 17 individuals are “responsible for or complicit in the extrajudicial and extraterritorial killing of Mr. Khashoggi.”

She added: “The murder of Jamal Khashoggi is abhorrent and represents an unconscionable attack on freedom on expression and freedom of the press.

”This case is not closed. Canada continues to call for a credible and independent international investigation. Those responsible must be held to account.” 

The sanctions represent an astonishing contrast to the response of the Trump administration, which despite convincing intelligence reports, has deferred taking any diplomatic or commercial actions against the Kingdom.

It will almost certain trigger a further deterioration in the Canada-Saudi bilateral relationship, which was already under severe strain after Freeland, via Twitter in August, called for the release of two detained Saudi human rights activists. The Kingdom responded by recalling its ambassador, pulling thousands of students from Canadian educational institutions, canceling Saudia Airlines flights to Toronto and declaring the Canadian ambassador in Riyadh as persona non grata.

Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2. His body has not been found but it is believed the team of Saudi men disposed of it with acid. 

Those targeted by Canada include Saud al-Qahtani, a former assistant to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Saudi Consul-General to Istanbul, Mohammed al-Otaibi - who is believed to have been at the scene of the crime - was also named.

Signalling a limit to the political will of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau - at least for now - the actions by Ottawa stopped short of naming the Crown Prince, who continues to deny knowledge of the murder or having issued the orders to kill Khashoggi.

Canada said the named individuals would have any assets in Canada frozen and would be banned from visiting the country.  

The Canadian Parliament passed its version of the Magnitsky Act into law in October, 2017. It also targeted 19 Venezuelan, three South Sudanese officials as well as 30 Russian individuals already under sanctions.

On social media, initial reaction from Canadians was favourable, with Twitter users also calling for further actions ranging from the banning of Saudi oil imports to restrictive parameters on the Saudi Embassy in Ottawa

Canadian officials have yet to decide whether to suspend a controversial C$15-billion arms deal to Saudi Arabia for weaponized armoured vehicles. Shelving the deal is a sensitive political decision for the Trudeau Government: facing elections next year it wold have to defend the loss of hundreds of jobs in vote-rich Ontario and the reported billion of dollars in penalties.

Political analyst Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute, said Canada’s hardened stance against the Saudis will have little political downside for the Trudeau government.

 “Given the overwhelming number of Canadians who would either like to sever defence and military equipment sales with the Kingdom immediately, or refrain from pursuing new sales, a ‘get tough’ approach by Canada towards Saudi Arabia is more likely to be a political winner than a risk,” said Kurl.

A recent Angus Reid public opinion survey showed that most Canadians support prohibiting future sales of weapons and defence equipment to Saudi Arabia, however just under half of Canadians (46%) believe the government should cancel the military deal.

Colin Robertson, a VP at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute,  told me that the impositions of the sanctions was “the right thing to do”. But that breaking the negotiated contract for the sale of armoured vehicles needs to be carefully considered in terms of the cost to Canadian jobs, the financial penalties and the intended use of the vehicles.