The Canadian government should listen to Yemeni protesters and end its support for Saudi Arabia

Re: “Yemeni community stages protest against Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia”

The Canadian government should listen to Yemeni protesters and end its support for Saudi Arabia

Canada’s sale of arms to Saudi Arabia and the subsequent use of these arms to perpetrate war crimes within Yemen raises a moral dilemma for Canadians. Our international role is that of a peacekeeper, intervening to prevent conflict. The events in Yemen are highly reprehensible, and our involvement as an arms dealer in what the UN has described as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis not only sets a bad precedent, but goes against all of our supposed national values.

Some argue that the arms deal is good for Canada, creating a projected 3,000 jobs and boosting our economy. However, as a nation with a reputation for peacekeeping and diplomacy, it is a questionable decision for the government to use a mere 3,000 jobs as the justification for becoming an accessory to war crimes and the bloodshed of tens of thousands of innocent people.  

While supplying these arms may appear to be in the best interest of Canadians, it has deep social and political implications both nationally and internationally. As tensions rise between Saudi Arabia and Canada following a Twitter exchange requesting the release of human rights activists, Canada should make the right choice to end the deal and its support for the Saudi Arabian government in this conflict.

Canada must strive to use its place on the world stage to help advance human rights in all corners of the world, regardless of the potential economic or political gain ensured by turning a blind eye.

Junaid Ishaq is a second-year Pathobiology student at Victoria College.

Reflecting on Saudi-Canada crossroads

The Saudi withdrawal of students from Canada demonstrates an urgent need to re-evaluate how we advance human rights in global politics

Reflecting on Saudi-Canada crossroads

In early August, Saudi Arabia called for the withdrawal of all Saudi students from Canadian postsecondary institutions, including the University of Toronto, by the end of the month, amidst a series of sanctions against Canada. This was in response to criticism tweeted by Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland regarding the crackdown on dissidents in Saudi Arabia. Riyadh viewed Freeland’s human rights advocacy as “interference” in its domestic affairs.

Currently, many Saudi students are scrambling for asylum in Canada in order to continue their education. Some asylum seekers fear harassment, as the deadline to return has already passed; others fear imprisonment due to their links to Saudi dissident activists.

The Saudi call for withdrawal is gravely concerning. International studies are a key means of development for all parties involved. University education is not just important for employment; it enables scholars from a variety of backgrounds to share, challenge, and develop ideas and, ultimately, affect change in society.

International students, like the Saudis in Canada, contribute to the academic community and, in turn, gain knowledge, experience, and skills to benefit their own countries. With the withdrawal of these students, we not only lose the opportunity to learn a sliver of what exists beyond us, but we lose our ability to influence the ideas of those abroad, which may be essential in creating global change. Both Saudi Arabia and Canada stand to lose from the withdrawal. Saudi Arabia should reconsider this decision.

At the same time, it is important to recognize that Saudi Arabia is justified to defend its sovereignty. Defendants of Saudi Arabia’s decision have claimed that the harsh attitude toward dissidents is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s slow, but effective, plan to produce real reform through Vision 2030. Critical commentary from foreign governments only serves to complicate Prince Salman’s ability to realize these reforms.

Furthermore, while Saudi Arabia is notorious for inflicting violence and terror unto its opponents, the fact remains that human rights violations are not unique to Saudi Arabia. For Canada to single out Saudi Arabia reflects a selective foreign policy. Furthermore, Freeland’s comments contradict the fact that Canada enables Saudi Arabia’s human rights violations — after all, the very same Trudeau government recently backed a massive arms deal with the Saudis.

Perhaps Canada should re-evaluate its expectations of Saudi Arabia and other countries it criticizes for human rights violations. What we define as human rights is largely based on Western ideals and histories, and to impose our distinct experience onto other cultures is problematic.

We have spent decades, if not centuries, structuring and improving a culture of rights and freedoms. It is not fair, then, to expect the same reforms in countries like Saudi Arabia to occur immediately. In fact, we should not pretend that Canada is morally superior, as it continues to commit its own human rights violations, namely against Indigenous peoples.

While we should not condone what is morally reprehensible in Saudi Arabia, we need to restructure the ways in which we frame our interests and goals, and how we work with international bodies to address human rights concerns. Human rights law tends to be incredibly ambiguous, requiring the consent of states to function.

Indeed, we need a global, legal infrastructure that ensures accountability and outlines specific expectations. It is necessary for other countries and powers to speak out against Saudi Arabia’s tirades, and for our criticisms to include specific alternatives and practices that can take place, while at the same time acknowledging the vast differences in the cultural climates of such nations. At the very least, where the goal is to advance human rights abroad, we should recognize that Twitter diplomacy can be disrespectful and gravely counterproductive.

The advancement of our national interests and goals in the realm of international relations requires a combination of utopian ideals and pragmatism. It is unfortunate that Saudi students have fallen victim to the complexities of global politics and diplomacy. The Canadian government and universities should do their utmost to resolve the dispute, so as to ensure that Saudi students can resume their education.

Rehana Mushtaq is a third-year English and Religion student at University College.

Saudi Arabia to withdraw students from Canadian universities

293 U of T students could be affected

Saudi Arabia to withdraw students from Canadian universities

In the latest move in the ongoing Canada–Saudi Arabia dispute over human rights, media reports are circulating that the Saudi government will withdraw all of its more than 15,000 students from Canadian postsecondary institutions, including the University of Toronto.

The diplomatic spat stems from a tweet last Thursday from Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, which slammed the arrest of Saudi women’s rights activist Samar Badawi.

“Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia,” tweeted Freeland. “Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi.”

Since Freeland’s statement, Saudi Arabia has expelled the Canadian ambassador, recalled its own envoy, frozen new trade and investment initiatives, and reportedly stopped state-sponsored flights between Saudi Arabia and Toronto.

And now, students are in the line of fire, with less than a month before classes are supposed to begin.

According to Al-Arabiya, a Saudi-owned media outlet, “training, scholarships and fellowships to Canada” have been suspended as of Monday, and the government will be taking steps to transfer those students to other universities abroad.

Bessma Momani, a political science professor at the University of Waterloo, told the Toronto Star that most Saudi students in Canada are in the country through the King Abdullah scholarship, a government program that covers tuition, flights, accommodations, and a stipend for living expenses.

A spokesperson for the University of Toronto told The Varsity that out of 19,000 international students attending the school for the 2018–2019 academic year, 77 are from Saudi Arabia. Of that number, 30 are undergraduates and the rest are graduates.

“In addition, there are 216 medical residents and fellows from Saudi Arabia who are being trained in hospitals affiliated with U of T under a longstanding program,” said the spokesperson in an email. They are also affected by the government’s decision.

In total, 293 students at U of T could be affected.

“We are working to support our students who may be affected,” said Joseph Wong, Associate Vice-President and Vice-Provost of International Student Experience, in a statement released by U of T.

“This is a very stressful time for these students. Their studies have been interrupted, and we want to help them to continue their education,” continued Wong. “We will be working with them, our colleagues at other universities and with government officials, as the situation continues to evolve.”

According to the enrolment numbers for the 2017–2018 school year, 240 Saudi nationals attend U of T. They constitute the seventh largest group of international students, ahead of Nigeria with 200 students and behind Taiwan with 277.

In response to Saudi Arabia’s actions, University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) President Anne Boucher told The Varsity that the UTSU is “deeply distraught and saddened… To see students being used for political leverage, being used to make a point.”

“These students are a part of the U of T community. These are our friends and classmates,” added Boucher. “They should not be punished for exchanges between political leaders.”

The Varsity has reached out to the Saudi Students’ Association and the Middle Eastern Students’ Association for comment.

This story is developing. More to come.