Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said earlier this week that Canada — despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s staunch support of Saudi Arabia — does not consider the case of Jamal Khashoggi‘s killing to be over.
“Canada very much does not consider the Khashoggi affair to be closed,” Freeland said at an Ottawa press conference on Tuesday.
“It is very clearly Canada’s position that those responsible for this horrendous murder must face full responsibility for it,” she said.
Later in the week, Freeland added the country is “actively looking at sanctions” against Saudi Arabia over the Oct. 2 murder of the Washington Post journalist. And that’s something the minister has said earlier as well.
But more than one week after the U.S. slapped 17 sanctions on Saudis over the killing, Canada has still not taken any formal action.
On Friday, a government official would not comment to Global News on a timeline on how long it will take to make a decision about possible sanctions. The official said Freeland’s previous statements on the possibility of sanctions still stand.
Brandon Silver, who works at the Montreal-based Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, told Global News that while it’s unclear exactly what is causing a delay this time, it is worth noting that unlike some other countries, Canada is already in a diplomatic spat with Saudi Arabia.
Earlier in the year, Saudi Arabia slapped sanctions on Canada after Freeland called for the release of jailed female activists in the country.
“It’s really an absurd notion that for standing up for human rights, Canada would be sanctioned. And for violating human rights, Canada did not sanction Saudi Arabia,” Silver said.
But he noted that may be why Canada is being so careful in placing sanctions on the kingdom.
“The way they initially responded to Canada’s statements on human rights was unexpected and even unconscionable. Canada is perhaps taking time to assess what the most effective way to drive these values are,” Silver explained.
He noted that it’s likely “a matter of time” before Canada announces some sort of action.
The sanctions Freeland has said Canada is considering would fall under the country’s Magnitsky laws.
What are Magnitsky sanctions?
The Magnitsky Act, which was passed last year, allows Canada to pose sanctions on countries where there are human rights abuses. The abuses can range anywhere from money laundering to corruption.
It was used last fall to sanction 30 people with ties to Russia, 19 officials from Venezuela and three from South Sudan.
The Liberal government has also encouraged other countries to follow suit and pass their own Magnitsky laws — it’s something former U.S. President Barack Obama did in 2012. Other countries also have similar laws, including Britain.
Slapping sanctions over Khashoggi’s murder using the law is something the federal Conservative Party has been pushing for over the past month.
Silver said that from a “civil society standpoint,” Magnitsky sanctions are “the best way forward” in this case.
“In the Saudi Arabian case, it presents Canada for an opportunity to reciprocate. We were sanctioned, and we should be taking a firm stance in that regard and putting action behind our very compelling and commendable statements,” he said.
Pressure on Saudi arms deal
Meanwhile, the New Democrats have been pushing on the government to take action by cancelling a $15-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has repeatedly called for the Liberals to cancel the deal, however, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has indicated that would be too costly.
Trudeau said last month he doesn’t want to leave Canadians “holding a billion-dollar bill” by cancelling the controversial contract to sell armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia.
Trudeau has, however, acknowledged that the Saudi government’s explanation of what happened lacks credibility.
Advocacy group criticizes Canada’s response
That’s not enough for many advocacy groups, including Amnesty International, who are pushing Canada to do more amid Saudi human rights violations.
Alex Neve, the secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, told Global News in a statement that Canada needs to voice stronger support for an investigation into the murder.
“Canada has continued to call for a thorough, effective investigation, but has not yet said that should be carried out internationally through the UN,” Neve explained.
Neve added that sanctions and criminal charges could very well be the result of such an international investigation.
Amnesty International has also been vocal that Saudi human rights abuses stretch beyond the Khashoggi case to the crisis in Yemen.
“For three years, Amnesty International has been calling for Canada to scrap the arms trade deal with Saudi Arabia, not authorize any other arms deals to the country – or other parties involved in or backing the fighting in Yemen, such as the UAE – and support the call for a comprehensive UN-level arms embargo against all parties to the conflict in Yemen,” the statement read.
Action by other countries
Several other countries have taken action amid an outcry of the Khashoggi murder.
Germany banned 18 Saudis suspected of involvement in the killing from much of Europe and moved to halt all arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
France has also imposed sanctions, including travel bans on 18 Saudi citizens linked to the murder, and has said more could follow depending on results of an investigation.
Denmark and Norway have suspended future approvals of weapons and military equipment exports to Saudi Arabia.