Saudi Airlines to suspend Canadian flights following human rights criticism

Saudi Arabian Airlines to suspend Canadian flights following human rights criticism

TORONTO — The rift between the federal government and Saudi Arabia has prompted the country’s state airline to suspend operations in Canada.

Saudi Arabian Airlines, also known as Saudia, issued a tweet early Tuesday saying flights to and from Canada would be suspended starting August 13.

Saudia operates at least two routes to the country, both of which depart from Toronto.

Transport Canada did not immediately respond to request for comment on the decision.

Saudia’s move comes two days after the national government suspended all new trade agreements with Canada, recalled its own ambassador and gave Canada’s chief diplomat 24 hours to leave the country.

Saudi Arabia says it’s responding to a tweet from Ottawa’s Global Affairs ministry calling for the “immediate release” of jailed human rights activists in the country, comments Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has defended.

“We stand by what we have said. We’re always going to speak up for woman’s rights and that’s not going to change,” she said, adding that it wasn’t the first time Canada has spoken out about human rights in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia expelled the Canadian ambassador Monday and froze “all new business” with Ottawa. It also said it would recall its ambassador to Canada as well.

“Any further step from the Canadian side in that direction will be considered as acknowledgment of our right to interfere in Canadian domestic affairs,” the Foreign Ministry said. “Canada and all other nations need to know that they can’t claim to be more concerned than the kingdom over its own citizens.”

Saudi state television later reported that the Education Ministry was coming up with an “urgent plan” to move thousands of Saudi scholarship students out of Canadian schools to take classes in other countries. The Saudi state airline, Saudia, said in a statement on its official Twitter account that it would suspend all flights to Toronto starting next Monday, Aug. 13.

Freeland said it would be a shame if Saudi students are deprived of their right to study in Canada and said they continue to be welcome.

She said the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh was continuing regular operations. She declined to say where the ambassador was, but said he was safe.

With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press

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