JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has declared the ambassador of Canada persona non grata and ordered him to leave in 24 hours, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Monday.
The Kingdom is also recalling its ambassador to Ottawa and that it is freezing all new business and investment transactions with Canada "while retaining its right to take further action," the ministry said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA).
On Monday evening, the Saudi state-owned airline Saudia said in a post on its official Twitter account that it was suspending flights to and from Toronto, the latest in a series of measures the kingdom announced in its diplomatic row with Canada.
The kingdom froze new trade and investment with Canada on Sunday after Ottawa urged Riyadh to free arrested rights activists. It also recalled its ambassador and gave the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to leave the country.
The ministry said it has told the Canadian foreign minister and embassy in Riyadh of its objection to their interference in the case of "civil society activists" who were arrested in the Kingdom. Canada has been pressing Saudi Arabia to release them immediately.
"This negative and surprising position from Canada is totally false" and that the arrests were done by the competent authority, the Public Prosecutor's Office, in accordance with the law, the statement said. "The legitimate rights (of those arrested) have not been denied and they were provided with all guarantees during the investigation and trial stages," the statement said.
The ministry also affirmed that the Canadian position "is an explicit and clear interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and contrary to the most basic international norms and all the charters that govern relations between countries."
"It is blatant and unacceptable transgression against the Kingdom's regulations and procedures and in violation of the judicial authority in the Kingdom. In its long history, Saudi Arabia has not and will not accept intervention in its internal affairs or impose dictates on it from any country.
"The Canadian position is an attack on Saudi Arabia that requires a firm stance towards it. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia expresses its absolute and categorical rejection of the position of the Canadian government," it said.The Saudi statement said it confirmed its commitment to refrain from intervening in the internal matters of other countries, including Canada, and in return rejected any intervention in its domestic affairs and internal relations with its citizens.
“Any further step from the Canadian side in that direction will be considered as acknowledgment of our right to interfere in the Canadian domestic affairs,” the statement said.
Saudi Arabia's Minstry of Education spokesman tweeted that "Saudi Arabia’s Education Ministry is working on the preparation and implementation of an urgent plan to facilitate the transfer of Saudi student scholarships to other countries. The plan will be announced soon."
Naif Bin Bandar Al-Sudairi, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Canada, said the Canadian position is a "grave and unacceptable violation of the Kingdom's laws and procedures." He said on Twitter that Canada's behavior was a violation of "the Kingdom's judiciary and a breach of the principle of sovereignty."
In 2014, the Canadian unit of US weapons maker General Dynamics Corp. won a contract worth up to $13 billion to build light-armored vehicles for Saudi Arabia, in what Ottawa said at the time was the largest advanced manufacturing export win in Canadian history. Canadian foreign ministry officials were not available for an immediate comment on Sunday.