Canada’s recent dust-up with Saudi Arabia has revived a perennial question: when is it appropriate — if ever, some might ask — for our government to take a public stance on human-rights abuses abroad?
Like so many political firestorms of late, it all started on Twitter. But Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland’s tweet was no Diet Coke-fuelled, all-caps, 4 a.m. tirade. No, the minister’s simply expressed — in grammatical and measured fashion — her concern with Saudi Arabia’s jailing of women’s-rights activist Samar Badawi and its ongoing detention of Samar’s brother, Raif, a blogger and free-speech advocate whose Saudi-Canadian wife and children live in Montreal.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry soon followed up with a similar tweet of its own. Neither message was particularly provocative, nor were they the first of their kind from a Canadian government.
To the surprise of the world, however, they drew an explosive response from Saudi Arabia’s recently elevated crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (or “M.B.S.”, as he’s widely known).