Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister was at the United Nations this week, demanding an apology from Canada. He feels Canada has treated his country like a “banana republic.”
The dispute has been ongoing for a couple of months now – a textbook example of why Twitter shouldn’t be used for foreign policy. Canada’s foreign minister tweeted some criticism of Saudi Arabia’s human rights policy, calling for the immediate release of detained human rights activists. The Saudis, understandably, took offence at Canada butting in to their internal affairs. Diplomats were recalled, other sanctions implemented.
In New York, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir criticized Canada’s human rights record. Fair enough, Canada isn’t perfect after all. His choices however were a little questionable.
To make his point, he said: “We demand the immediate release and independence of Quebec, granting of equal rights to Canadian Indians.”
Apparently the Saudis are a little out of touch. No-one is stopping the people of Quebec from leaving Canada. However, there have been two referendums on the subject and both times Quebecers have voted to remain in Canada. That’s called democracy. An independent Quebec nation is a dream for some in Quebec, but not for a majority. Political parties espousing independence have not done well in recent elections.
And who are these Canadian Indians of whom he speaks? Indo-Canadians have equal rights already. Could he be referring to the descendants of those who inhabited North America prior to European colonization? The early explorers called them Indians because they thought they had discovered a new route to India.
If so, someone should tell the Saudis that Indigenous Canadians find the term “Indian” to be offensive. The Government of Canada (and Canadians in general) may not have a spotless record when it comes to the treatment of Indigenous Canadians, but at least they get the name right.
Perhaps the Saudis haven’t been keeping abreast of human rights issues in Canada. Perhaps they don’t care. They have been criticized by others for years about what are seen as human rights abuses, and nothing seems to change.
I wonder what the reaction would have been if Canada’s Foreign Affairs minister had tweeted something in opposition to the death penalty, which Canada does not have and Saudi Arabia does. Would the same offence have been taken? Or are women’s rights a touchier subject than crucifying criminals?