Saudia suspends flights to Canada, escalating diplomatic spat

Saudia said it would be temporarily stopping inbound and outbound flights to Toronto Pearson International Airport - the only Canadian destination it serves - from August 13.

Amid a diplomatic spat between Saudi Arabia and Canada, a pro-government Saudi Twitter account shared - and then deleted - a digitally altered image that appeared to show a plane flying toward the skyline of Toronto.

Saudi Airlines' 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.

The first Canadian source said Ottawa had no regrets about speaking out on human rights in Saudi Arabia.

Samar Badawi is a famed women's right activist and is the sister of Raif Badawi, a blogger sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years for insulting Islam by a Saudi Arabian court in 2014.

Ms Badawi is known for challenging Saudi Arabia's male guardianship system.

Canada's economic relationship with Saudi Arabia is not particularly significant to Riyadh, unlike the U.S. or other Western partner governments, which experts say makes Ottawa an easier target. "And of course, Irving sells most of its product into the United States, not Canada", he said.

Saudi Arabia considers Canada's comments an interference in its affairs that require what it calls a "sharp response".


Ms Badawi's brother was arrested in 2012 for criticism of the regime, and was subjected to 50 lashings in 2015.

"Any other attempt to interfere with our internal affairs from Canada, means that we are allowed to interfere in Canada's internal affairs, " the Saudi government said.

Dan McTeague, a senior analyst at the fuel price tracking website GasBuddy, said any such disruption could easily be offset by alternative supply, as Saudi Arabia's oil continues to represent an increasingly small portion of Canada's crude imports.

Thomas Juneau, an assistant professor and Middle East expert at the University of Ottawa, said Saudi irritation at the way the General Dynamics contract was handled also helped explain Riyadh's response.

Spokesperson Heather Nauert added during a briefing with reporters on Tuesday that the US has raised similar issues with Saudi Arabia.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland was quoted by Reuters as saying to reporters on Monday that "it would be a shame for those students if they are deprived of the opportunity to study here".

In an emailed statement, the department said "we continue to encourage and welcome all worldwide students to come to Nova Scotia and attend our universities for their post-secondary education".


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