Saudi Arabia's expulsion of Canada ambassador sends pointed message

The country's state airline also cancelled all direct flights to Toronto.

Amid growing diplomatic tensions between Saudi Arabia and Canada, the middle eastern country has rescinded scholarships for all of its students (over 16,000) studying in Canadian universities.

It recalled its envoy from Ottawa and gave Canadian Ambassador Dennis Horak 24 hours to leave the country.

"We are always going to speak up for human rights; we're always going to speak up for women's rights; and that is not going to change", she told reporters in Vancouver on Monday.

Canada has said it is "gravely concerned" about the arrests and has called for those detained to be released immediately. Raif's wife Ensaf Haidar and their three children moved to Canada and became Canadian citizens earlier this year.

"Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman is trying to pull off a very delicate process in which he liberalizes some aspects of Saudi society, which is extremely conservative, but also retains virtually absolute power over that society", Kliment said.

The government also froze all new trade with Canada, and ordered approximately 16,000 Saudi students studying overseas in Canada to return home or complete their study in other countries.

It is also dwarfed by the 3.5 million barrels per day of Canadian oil that Canada exports mainly to the U.S.

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Badawi, who is known for challenging Saudi Arabia's male guardianship system, is the recipient of the 2012 International Women of Courage Award.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland stood by Canada's position on Monday, saying Canadians expect their government's foreign policy to be guided by their values. Saudi Arabia's media ministry said it was investigating the incident.

Riyadh said that amounted to "a blatant interference in the Kingdom's domestic affairs, against basic global norms and all worldwide protocols".

Saint Mary's University estimated there are about 100 students from Saudi Arabia studying at their campus while there were 80 at Mount Saint Vincent during the winter semester.

"We are waiting to hear from Saudi Arabia details of its response and we look forward to hearing those details".

With that connection, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland took to Twitter to express her alarm and call for both Samar and Raif Badawi's release.

Riyadh's singling out of Canada appears to be aimed at strongly discouraging other Western governments from criticising its human rights violations.

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".

  • Sonia Alvarado