December 19th, 2018

Saudi feud having minimal effect locally

By Schnarr, J.W. on August 10, 2018.

J.W. Schnarr

Lethbridge Herald

Canada’s current feud with Saudi Arabia has already had some small impacts locally.

The problems between the two countries ramped up with a tweet from Global Affairs Canada on Aug. 3, stating:

“Canada is gravely concerned about additional arrests of civil society and women’s rights activists in #SaudiArabia, including Samar Badawi. We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists.”

The Saudi government responded with a number of measures to express their anger over the criticism.

Canada’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia was expelled, a student exchange program affecting thousands of Saudi students studying in Canada was cancelled, and Saudi nationals undergoing medical treatment in Canada were ordered out. The Saudi government also instituted a ban on milling wheat and feed barley imports from Canada, and have ordered their financial sector to dump all Canadian assets.

On Wednesday, the U of L confirmed it had four students affected by the announcement.

One Saudi foreign student was registered for Lethbridge College in the fall, but has since withdrawn that application.

Kate Toogood, press secretary for Minister of Advanced Education Martin Schmidt, provided an emailed statement on the issue:

“Having bright and talented students from around the globe study in Alberta enriches our post-secondary education, research and innovation systems, as well as our province as a whole,” she said. “That’s why we’re concerned with reports that Saudi Arabia is asking students studying in Canada to leave. We are currently working with our post-secondary institutions to assess the impact of this decision on Alberta schools.”

During the 2016-17 school year, 233 international students across Alberta had Saudi Arabia listed as their country of citizenship. The majority of those students were at the University of Alberta (125) and the University of Calgary (72).

Of the 233 Saudi students studying in Alberta, 73 are currently completing their medical residency.

The ban on milling wheat and feed barley in international tenders is not likely to see much effect in the Lethbridge County region, according to Reeve Lorne Hickey.

“To a small degree it might,” he said. He noted Canada sold about 66 tonnes of wheat to Saudi Arabia last year.

“It’s a fairly small number compared to Indonesia, Japan and the U.S.”

Hickey said while there is wheat grown in the area, and there is feed barley grown in the area as well, though there is also malt barley grown.

“So many people have diversified into other crops now, like peas, lentils, canola, even flax is having a comeback And quite a few people are growing hemp. It’s changed quite a bit.”

He called producers an “indirect casualty of a direct comment.”

“When you take away any percentage of what you are selling, you have to find that market somewhere else,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that things have escalated to the degree they have already over a simple tweet.”

“It’s kind of ridiculous you get caught in another party’s involvement,” he added. “It has no direct implication to you what someone else has said or done. You’re an unfortunate casualty of the situation.

Alberta Health Services confirmed on Wednesday they had no reports of Saudi nationals in the South Zone or Calgary being force to seek treatment in other countries.

It should be noted Saudi Arabia consistently ranks as one of the lowest countries in the world in terms of human rights and personal freedoms, while Canada consistently ranks as one of the highest.

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