John Baird goes on Saudi TV to criticize Trudeau's handling of dispute
Former Conservative cabinet minister John Baird appeared on a Saudi Arabian news channel over the weekend, criticizing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau amid a diplomatic spat between two countries.
Baird, who was foreign affairs minister in Stephen Harper’s government, told Al Arabiya English that Trudeau should visit Saudi Arabia’s royal family personally in order to resolve the dispute.
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“The current government has really been poking the eye of the kingdom for the past three years,” Baird said during the on-air interview.
“I think the very best thing that Canada can do is for our prime minister to visit the kingdom, and sit down with the king and have an honest discussion of the challenges in our relationship.”
Trudeau has refused to apologize about the tweet that started tensions earlier this month, saying that Canada stands by calls made by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland for Saudi Arabia to release jailed activists.
Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi’s sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia. Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi.
— Chrystia Freeland (@cafreeland) August 2, 2018
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.
— Foreign Policy CAN (@CanadaFP) August 3, 2018
“We continue to engage diplomatically, but as I’ve said, Canada will always be very clear on standing up for human rights,” Trudeau said Monday, when asked about the diplomatic dispute.
“We will make sure that message is clear in public and private. But of course, we look to improve relations while remaining firm in our values.”
Baird indicated during his interview over the weekend that the Canadian government should not have criticized Saudi Arabia on Twitter, but rather had a private discussion on the matter.
“When you have concerns, raise them directly leader to leader or foreign minister to foreign minister,” he said.
WATCH: Trudeau says Canada will continue to stand up for human rights amidst Saudi dispute
However, Baird made a similar call on Twitter to have jailed activists released when he was foreign minister in January 2015.
“Canada is deeply concerned by flogging of @raif_badawi – it is a violation of human dignity and freedom of expression,” wrote at the time.
— John Baird (@Baird) January 15, 2015
The former Tory minister noted both countries are part of the G20, and have several shared interests.
“We’ve obviously badly insulted our friend and ally,” he said.
Al Arabiya wrote about Baird’s interview on its website Saturday, summarizing Baird’s interview.
“He felt that differences of views must be discussed between leaders or foreign ministers in person, and not through sending out tweets,” the article read, without mentioning that Baird did the same years ago.
The article also claimed that British newspaper The Guardian has reported that this spat with Saudi Arabia has made Canada “an isolated nation.”
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While Al Arabiya, which is based out of Dubai, is not officially the country’s state news organization, it is owned by members of the Saudi royal family.
Baird has been outspoken about the issue on other news networks as well. Last week, he spoke to Business News Network, saying that the Canadian government has not “handled this issue well.”
The former minister’s appearance on the Saudi channel raised eyebrows for some, with NDP MP Charlie Angus criticizing him for playing a part in “Saudi propaganda.”
Shit bird politics 101 continued: John Baird stands to lose a cash cow so he goes on Saudi propaganda TV grovelling for the regime and selling Canada down the river.
Remember when Baird said Conservatives said would engage in "principled" foreign affairs.
Cash is the principle. https://t.co/EX25AcUHGx
— Charlie Angus NDP (@CharlieAngusNDP) August 13, 2018
“John Baird stands to lose a cash cow so he goes on Saudi propaganda TV grovelling for the regime and selling Canada down the river,” Angus tweeted Monday. “Remember when Baird said Conservatives said would engage in “principled” foreign affairs. Cash is the principle.”
Spat continues between countries
In the days since the conflict began, Saudi Arabia has taken several moves to express its anger over the tweet sent by Canadian officials.
Saudi Arabia has kicked out the Canadian ambassador, plans to pull out thousands of students and medical patients from Canada, and is suspending Saudi airline flights to and from Toronto.
While Trudeau refuses to apologize, Saudi officials have said it’s up to Canada to make things right.
“Canada has made a mistake and needs to fix it,” the country’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said last week. “The ball is in Canada’s court.”