Diplomacy by Tweet

Trudeau says Canada standing firm on Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says diplomatic talks with Saudi Arabia will continue but he’s not backing down on Canada’s criticism of the kingdom over the arrest of several social activists last week.

Trudeau said Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland had a long conversation with her Saudi counterpart on Tuesday and Canada is engaging directly with the Saudi government in a bid to restore diplomatic ties between the two countries. But an apology from Canada or a withdrawal of the human rights concerns Canada raised, is not on the table.

“As the minister has said and as we will repeat, Canada will always speak strongly and clearly in private and in public on questions of human rights,” Trudeau said during an event Wednesday in Montreal.

The diplomatic dispute began last week after Freeland tweeted concerns about the arrests of social activists, including Samar Badawi, who has advocated for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. Her brother, blogger Raif Badawi, has been in prison since 2012 for criticizing the government, but his wife and children live in Quebec and became Canadian citizens earlier this year.

On Aug. 2, Freeland called for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi and, a day later, her department tweeted further criticism and called for the “immediate release” of Samar Badawi and all peaceful human rights activists.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia expelled Canada’s ambassador, suspended diplomatic relations and slammed the door to new trade with Canada. It has since recalled thousands of Saudi students studying in Canada, moved to transfer any Saudi patients out of Canadian hospitals and barred the import of Canadian wheat. As of next week, the Saudi-owned airline will cease direct flights to and from Toronto and there is at least one report that the government has also ordered state-owned pension funds and banks to sell off Canadian assets.

Many Saudi media outlets and online personalities have taken to the web and airwaves to criticize Canada for everything from the opioid epidemic to its treatment of Indigenous Peoples.

Trudeau said Canada’s goal is not to have a bad relationship with Saudi Arabia.

“We don’t want to have poor relations with Saudi Arabia,” he said in French. “It’s a country that has a certain importance in the world and is making progress on human rights. But we will continue to underline challenges when they exist there and everywhere in the world.”

Earlier Wednesday, Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir told reporters in Riyadh that Canada has been given the information it needs to correct the tweets and that it’s up to Canada to step up and fix its “big mistake.”

The intensity of Saudi Arabia’s response has puzzled many, who say it is an extreme reaction to a relatively tame tweet that isn’t much different from what Canada has said before.

Former diplomat Colin Robertson, now vice-president at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, says Saudi Arabia’s “Defcon 3” response is extraordinary, but thinks Canada’s decision to send the message on Twitter may be partly to blame.

“We are becoming too carefree with tweets,” said Robertson.

The 140-character limit, or 280 in some cases, is not enough to allow for the level of nuance that is required in diplomatic relations and tweets may not be subjected to the same rigorous review process, including sign off by the ambassador, that an official statement would be, he said.

“It is diplomacy by tweet that is responsible,” he said. “When you’re the government of Canada and the ministry of foreign affairs you’ve got to be careful.”

Trudeau, who was heavily criticized for his 2017 tweet welcoming refugees to Canada as the U.S. was clamping down on its asylum system, didn’t apologize for making use of the medium in this situation.

“I think people understand that in today’s world there are a broad range of communications tools available to individuals, to countries, to share messages, to make statements,” he said. “We will continue to use the full range of methods of communication as appropriate.”

Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole said his sources have told him it was patronizing language in the Arabic translation of the Canadian tweet that really got the Saudis upset. He said the Trudeau government’s apparent preference for social media over person-to-person communications is a mistake.

“Increasingly, both ministers and departments in this government have started using Twitter as a primary means of expressing concern and that has already caused a number of embarrassments for Trudeau.”

Canada needs to learn from its mistake and work on its face-to-face diplomatic skills, said O’Toole, who nonetheless characterized the Saudi response as being “over the top.”

Pm Trudeau says talks are ongoing between Saudi Arabia and Canada to address the diplomatic dispute. Glen McGregor reports.

Saudi Arabia is reportedly planning to sell off its Canadian assets. CTV’s Michel Boyer reports.

Observers say it is unlikely that Saudi Arabia will back down in an escalating diplomatic feud with Canada. Joyce Napier has the latest.

 

Laura PaytonOttawa News Bureau Online Producer

@laura_payton

Published Wednesday, August 8, 2018 10:37AM EDT 
Last Updated Wednesday, August 8, 2018 4:37PM EDT

OTTAWA — The federal government should have been more careful when it tweeted concerns about the arrest of human rights activists in Saudi Arabia, a former diplomat says.

Colin Robertson, vice-president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute and a career diplomat, says “diplomacy by tweet” is a bad way to issue policy statements.

“Diplomacy by tweet is best taken with great care… as we have learned to our cost,” Robertson said in an interview with CTV News.

“You cannot say in 247 characters or 400 characters the nuance that you want to capture in a diplomatic statement.”

Robertson says a tweet about Saudi Arabiaarresting women’s rights activists is the cause of Canada’s current problems with the kingdom, whose leaders took offence to the call for the activists’ “immediate release.”

“They felt it prejudged their judicial system,” he said.

A number of human rights organizations have raised repeated concerns about the Saudi Arabian judicial system, which sentences people to lengthy prison sentences and employs corporal punishment as well as the death penalty. Amnesty International says torture remains common, and activists have been sentenced to death following “grossly unfair trials.”

Former foreign affairs minister John Baird agrees Twitter was the wrong platform on which to send the message.

“This relationship has gone south and it’s gone south fast, and it’s not too late to rescue it,” Baird said in an interview with CTV News.

“We share an important amount of interest with Saudi Arabia. They’re battling the Islamic State, they’re battling Iran, who has taken out the government in the neighbouring country of Yemen, and it’s in our interest to work cooperatively.”

Baird says he spoke for 15 minutes about women’s rights when he met with the man who is now Saudi King Salman. Baird was Canada’s foreign affairs minister from 2011 to 2015. He now advises several companies and has three clients who do business in Saudi Arabia.

Trudeau must fly to Riyadh to speak directly to the King or Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.

“You do it respectfully and face to face, and not do diplomacy via Twitter,” Baird said.

Officials say Canada routinely raises human rights issues in private meetings with Saudi Arabia and noted that Freeland raised them in May during a bilateral meeting with the Saudi foreign minister. They did not directly answer whether she raised the concerns noted in the tweet before it was sent.

Speaking in Montreal, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Canadian government continues to engage with the Saudi Arabian government.

“The minister of foreign affairs [Chrystia Freeland] had a long conversation with their foreign minister yesterday and diplomatic talks continue,” he said.

“But as the minister has said and as we will repeat, Canada will always speak strongly and clearly in private and in public on questions of human rights.”

Saudi Arabia selling Canadian assets: report

The repercussions now include Saudi Arabia’s central bank and state pension funds issuing orders to eliminate new Canadian investments “no matter the cost,” according to a report by the Financial Times.

The move could explain Tuesday’s poor performance by Canadian markets, which fell due to selling activity by an unknown investor.

The reported sell-off is the latest in a series of measures taken by Saudi Arabia since the Canadian government called on the kingdom to release detained female bloggers and activists.

The Saudi government instructed Saudi nationals staying in Canadian hospitals to leave the country. More than 15,000 post-secondary students were previously ordered to leave Canada and return to Saudi Arabia.

Canada’s ambassador to the country was expelled earlier this week, while the Saudis recalled their own ambassador from Ottawa. Trade has also been frozen between the two countries.

Analysts say the moves suggest Saudi Arabia is using Canada to send a message to the rest of the West about attempts to interfere in what it sees as its internal affairs.

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister shifted responsibility for resolving the dispute back to Canada, telling a news conference in Riyadh that “Canada knows what it needs to do,” according to multiple reports.

Adel al-Jubeir said there’s nothing to mediate in the spat, and said Saudi Arabia is considering additional measures against Canada.

“A mistake has been made and a mistake should be corrected,” he said, according to a Reuters report.

The Canadian government says it continues to seek clarity from the kingdom “on various issues” and referred questions about the reported asset sell-off, as well as about the foreign minister’s remarks, to the Saudi government.

“The Embassy’s trade officers in addition to the wider Trade Commissioner Service are actively engaged with Canadian business interests and will continue to work with them and the relevant authorities in the coming days,” Amy Mills wrote in an email to BNN Bloomberg.

Export Development Canada, a Crown corporation that provides financing and advice to Canadian exporters, says it is reviewing its position on Saudi Arabia. The commercial institution had the country listed as open for business with a low risk of political interference, the National Post said Tuesday. By Wednesday it had removed the previous assessment and noted the review is happening “in light of recent events.”

With files from CTVNews.ca staff

Ambassador Kelly Knight Craft

New U.S. envoy Kelly Craft faces challenges representing Donald Trump

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, October 23, 2017 10:34AM EDT

OTTAWA — Kelly Craft’s first acts of public diplomacy in Canada involved quoting John F. Kennedy — a Democrat — and acknowledging the country’s collective loss of Gord Downie.

As for her boss, U.S. President Donald Trump, and all his talk of tearing up the North American Free Trade Agreement, that was consigned to the back burner on her first day on the job in Canada.

Craft became Trump’s new U.S. ambassador to Canada, but offered a reference to Kennedy — the only deviation from her carefully scripted and delivered public remarks — after she formally took office Monday, becoming the first woman to ever occupy the role.

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“If I may echo the sentiments of President Kennedy, I truly feel amongst friends,” she said after joining several new diplomats who submitted their credentials to Gov. Gen. Julie Payette at Rideau Hall.

The Kennedy remark was not in the first version of her speaking notes, which were distributed by the U.S. embassy after her swearing-in.

Craft also gave a respectful nod to the lingering national grief over the death of Downie, acknowledging the passing last week of the beloved Tragically Hip frontman.

“It is clear that he deeply loved Canada; his poetic voice fell silent too soon,” she said.

“He once said that in recent years, it was hard for him to leave a song without a glimmer of hope. He viewed art, his music and his writings to help bring people closer in. I believe this is important business that we should all be about.”

As Trump’s ambassador, she is likely to find herself negotiating some tough issues with her Canadian hosts, including the NAFTA renegotiation and climate change.

She has also expressed support for the president’s trade agenda, which involves renegotiating or cancelling NAFTA.

She professed to be “a great listener” who will work to protect the economic relationship between the two countries.

“I am committed to continuing our collaboration to address security at the border,” she said. “But, I also want to make sure we continue to make it easier to engage in cross-border trade and travel.”

Colin Robertson, a retired Canadian diplomat with extensive experience in the U.S., said Craft was clearly trying to put her best foot forward.

“It’s in our interest to take her in and embrace her, and have her become, in a sense, our best advocate,” Robertson said.

With the latest round of NAFTA talks exposing a wide gulf between the U.S. and Canada, Robertson said Ottawa needs to cultivate Craft as a pipeline for Canada to the White House, said Robertson.

That’s especially important, he added, because relations appear strained between Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

Freeland and Craft exchanged smiles and good wishes in the minister’s office on Monday afternoon with the envoy saying she looked forward to strengthening relations between the two countries.

Freeland told Craft that she knows “first hand” that she is extremely well respected in the U.S.

“Isn’t it great that we now have the first woman ambassador from the United States.”

Payette, who was presiding at her first ceremony to welcome new diplomats, also told Craft it was “a pleasure to welcome you as the first female ambassador of the United States to Canada.”

Roland Paris, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s first foreign policy adviser, said Craft faces the tough task of representing a president who is unpopular in Canada.

“It won’t be easy to put a kinder and saner face on this administration,” said Paris.

“Among other things, she will be asked to explain why President Trump seems inclined to treat Canada, America’s closest ally and friend, as an economic adversary rather than as a partner.”

Craft got cracking on that job Monday, declaring: “It is a privilege to represent the United States in Canada and to be entrusted with the responsibility of working so closely with such an important friend, ally and neighbour.”

Craft is well-known sports fan, philanthropist and powerful donor to the Republican party, whose husband is Joe Craft, a wealthy Kentucky coal magnate.

She is also close with Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, one of the country’s most powerful lawmakers, who also hails from her state.

McConnell has occasionally bickered with the president, whose anti-establishment, trade-skeptical, more combative stance has put him at odds with the party’s establishment.

Paris said it will be difficult at times for Craft to represent her president to the Canadian government, “given the confused state of the Trump administration.”

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Trade and Gender

U.S. unlikely to accept NAFTA gender chapter with teeth: trade experts

Saturday, September 23rd, 2017
THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Judi Bottoni
OTTAWA –  The Liberals want a feminist North American Free Trade Agreement, but trade experts say that will depend on reassuring the United States no one could use it to hold their feet to the fire.

“I think U.S. support for such a chapter (on gender equality) would hinge upon the soft or hard nature of the commitments in any proposal with respect to gender,” said Wendy Cutler, a former trade negotiator for the U.S. government.

“If it’s largely aspirational and has soft commitments, with no dispute settlement and no obligation to accede to other agreements, then I think it’s something the administration would consider favourably,” said Cutler, vice-president of the Asia Society Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

In other words – no real consequences for failure.

The U.S. and Mexico have already been asking high-level questions about the scope and impact of the proposed chapter on gender equality, according to Angella MacEwen, a senior economist with the Canadian Labour Congress.

“They were looking at the language the Canadians had proposed and were saying, ‘Why would we do this?”’ said MacEwen, who is familiar with that aspect of the talks.

“Would this change anything?”

The answer could be a matter of perspective.

The Canadian Press has not seen the proposed text, but several sources both in and outside of government said it is modelled after the gender chapter the Liberal government added to its free trade deal with Chile.

That pact – the second in the world – had both countries agree that working to include women and girls is key to long-term economic development and reaffirm their commitment to international agreements on gender rights.

They also set up a committee to oversee that work.

It also made clear, however, that nothing in the gender chapter could be subject to the dispute resolution mechanism that applies to the rest of the trade deal.

“The Chile chapter is really weak,” said MacEwen.

It is this kind of symbolism that had the Conservatives pushing back against the idea of wrapping gender equality into the new NAFTA, calling it a distraction from the goals of creating jobs and securing market access for Canadians.

International Trade Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne said the fact that gender rights are on the table at all – and codified in the Canada-Chile deal – is an important step.

“It’s a journey,” he said in an interview.

“The fact that we even have a discussion around what should be the content, how far it should go, what will be the process to review the clause from time to time, for me is already a step forward,” said Champagne.

“The gold standard now needs to include a gender chapter.”

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat, said he thinks the progressive trade agenda the Liberals have been championing is getting noticed because of the recognition that the many benefits of trade have not been shared equally.

“Gender specifically is really about equal treatment and empowerment, especially of women, and this crosses the North-South-East-West divide,” said Robertson, vice-president and fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

“Even Trump recognizes its salience.”

The Liberal government might be bringing gender issues into other areas too.

MacEwen said Canada has proposed language on things like pay equity, child care and women in trades in the preamble to the labour chapter, although they are not hard obligations.

“Canada doesn’t have pay equity, so we wouldn’t be in compliance with the chapter, but it does talk about the importance of moving towards it,” she said.

David MacNaughton, the Canadian ambassador to the U.S., said he expects gender equality to come up during the third round of NAFTA negotiations beginning Saturday in Ottawa.

He also suggested previous talks revealed the Americans are not yet convinced.

“They didn’t immediately sign on,” he said.

Dan Ujczo, an international trade lawyer specializing in Canada-U.S. matters, said there is some concern a chapter on gender could have unintended consequences.

“Can these virtues turn into venom?” said Ujczo.

The concern is that language on parental leave, for example, be used to challenge labour and employment laws in the U.S. that do not grant a year of paid parental leave, which is available in Canada.

“Could some of these broadly worded provisions then be used to attack otherwise legitimate federal and state laws in the U.S.?” said Ujczo, who is with the cross-border firm Dickinson Wright, in Columbus, Ohio.

That is why Ujczo said he thinks Canada will need to put significant effort into reassuring the U.S. administration of President Donald Trump the gender chapter will not be enforceable.

That raises another question.

“An agreement without enforcement is just an agreement to agree and so really, what’s the point?” he asked.

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Softwood Lumber

BALONEY METER: Canadian negotiations selectively optimistic

Andy Blatchford THE CANADIAN PRESS
May 18, 2017 – 6:43pmHistory tells tales of both parties adapting to neighbours

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Foreign Policy Debate

Five things to watch for in Monday’s federal leaders’ debate

Monday’s debate between the three federal leaders will include foreign affair issues such as the Syrian migrant crisis, Trans-Pacific trade and ties with Russia.

Foreign policy takes the spotlight Monday as Stephen Harper, left, and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, seen in this file photo, debate international issues.

Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Foreign policy takes the spotlight Monday as Stephen Harper, left, and NDP Leader Tom Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, seen in this file photo, debate international issues.

OTTAWA—The leaders of the three main political parties will be on the same stage tonight to debate foreign affairs. The debate lands as the conflict in Syria, the fight against the so-called Islamic State and a multinational free trade agreement have focused campaign attention on international affairs.

Here are five things to watch for in tonight’s debate:

1. The photo of the lifeless body of Alan Kurdi focused Canadian public interest on the Syrian migrant crisis and the Conservative response. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has cited figures in defence of his government’s response and recent changes to speed up processing of refugee claims. But facts and figures may not be enough. Jonathan Rose, an associate professor in the political studies department at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., wrote earlier this month on his website that “such a powerful image will not be mitigated by logical appeals or statistics.” The public, he wrote, will judge the leaders on their response to the crisis.

2. Voters should pay attention to concrete commitments from the leaders that will give a clearer idea of where they intend to take Canada in the coming years, going beyond the immediate issues of Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. Colin Robertson, a former diplomat and vice president of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute, says the audience should listen for sustained budget commitments, for example, to the military.

3. Representatives from 12 countries, including Canada, will be in Atlanta this week to try to finalized what’s called the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a trade pact that could open up doors in Japan, Singapore and Vietnam, among others, to Canadian products. But how much will Canada under a Conservative, NDP or Liberal government relax protections for domestic industries in exchange for more access overseas?

4. Mulcair and Trudeau have been trying to look like they are ready to lead the country, but they also have to look like they can represent Canada on the world stage. Will voters be able to picture them sitting next to President Barack Obama (or a President Donald Trump, perhaps?) at a foreign leaders’ meeting, or dealing with Russian leader Vladimir Putin? Tonight is another chance for Harper’s challengers to look like statesmen.

5. Obama also dealt what could be a wild card in tonight’s debate when he told the United Nations on Monday he was willing to work with Iran and Russia to end the conflict in Syria and defeat the so-called Islamic State. The Conservatives have taken a hard line against working with Russia over its involvement in Ukraine. Robertson says Obama’s olive branch may force Harper, Mulcair and Trudeau to reconsider how they would deal with Russia after Oct. 19, be it in Syria or the Arctic.

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