Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister telephoned her counterpart in Saudi Arabia on Monday to raise concerns about the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but Chrystia Freeland says the government has no plans to suspend a multi-billion-dollar arms sale to the Mideast kingdom.
Mr. Khashoggi, a U.S. resident, Washington Post columnist and leading critic of the powerful Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, vanished after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul almost two weeks ago to get marriage documents. Turkish officials say they believe he was murdered there and his body removed.
“Canada remains very troubled by the disappearance of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Canada calls for a thorough, credible and transparent investigation into the serious allegations about Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance,” Ms. Freeland said.
“We look forward to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia providing complete and detailed information. Those bearing responsibility for the disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi must be held to account.”
However, she said it is too soon to talk of Canada taking measures to censure Saudi Arabia. “This is a hypothetical question right now. Now the important thing is to have an investigation,” she said.
The Stephen Harper government brokered a massive combat-vehicle sale to Saudi Arabia before the Trudeau government took power in 2015. The Liberals honoured the deal and shipments are still ongoing.
Ms. Freeland reiterated on Monday the government’s oft-stated position that it would hurt Canada’s reputation to cancel the armoured-vehicle deal.
“When it comes to existing contracts, our government believes strongly that Canada’s word has to matter. And it’s important for Canada’s word to last longer than any one particular government,” she said.
“It’s important for countries when they sign on agreements to stay in those agreements.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was also asked Monday whether Canada would hit Saudi Arabia with sanctions under laws such as the Magnitsky Act, which targets the property of corrupt officials who have committed gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.
He said Canada is “certainly concerned with some of the reports and allegations” surrounding the situation and will work with allies to decide on next steps.
Relations between Saudi Arabia and Canada are already strained after Ms. Freeland publicly urged Riyadh to immediately release activists from prison this past summer. The Saudis hit Canada with a series of economic retaliatory measures.
Mr. Trudeau also said talk of Canadian sanctions on Saudi Arabia is premature. “We’re a long way from actually looking at what tools we have. We’re still trying to figure out what actually happened.”
Ms. Freeland would not discuss what Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said in his conversation with her Monday.
CNN reported Monday that Saudi Arabia is preparing a report that would admit Mr. Khashoggi was killed as the result of an interrogation that went wrong. The U.S. news network cited two unnamed sources.
Mr. Khashoggi has not been seen since entering the consulate to obtain documents for his forthcoming marriage. His fiancée, who was waiting outside, said he never left the building. Turkish authorities have said they have an audio recording which indicates that Mr. Khashoggi was killed in the consulate.
STEVEN CHASE AND BARRIE MCKENNA
The Globe and Mail, October 15, 2018