Saudi Arabia is spreading some crazy rumours about Canada

Saudi Arabia is spreading some crazy rumours about Canada

This summer’s feud between Canada and Saudi Arabia is one of the more bizarre diplomatic spats in Canadian history. The whole affair started after the oil-rich Gulf nation arrested several female activists in late July, including Samar Badawi, the sister of jailed blogger Raif Badawi. On August 2, Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, tweeted her concern for both Samar and Raif Badawi and called for their release. The next day, the Canadian Foreign Ministry’s Twitter account urged Saudi authorities to release Samar and “all other peaceful #humanrights activists.”

A few days later, the Saudi government hit back with a barrage of tweets, calling Canada’s posts an “attack” and accusing the Canadian government of meddling in its affairs. But Saudi Arabia’s over-the-top retaliation didn’t stop there: it gave the Canadian ambassador 24 hours to leave the country, recalled its own ambassador and froze all new trade and investments with Canada. Over the next few days, the Saudis also suspended all flights to and from Toronto on their national airline and announced they were withdrawing more than 15,000 of their students from programs in Canada.

And the Saudis have also been striking back through the media, using every press outlet at their disposal to spread damaging information about Canada, much of it misleading or outright false. Here, fresh from the Arabic web, are a few of the more outlandish things Saudi Arabian media figures are telling the world.

Our prisons are basically death camps

Al Arabiya, a Saudi state-controlled news channel, published an online report outlining supposed abuses in Canadian prisons. The channel’s unsupported, unsourced claims include that “between 2015 and 2017, 75 per cent of detainees died before standing trial,” that “solitary confinement for more than 15 days may extend into years,” and that prisoners are “tortured” by being subjected to “shining lights inside glass rooms.”

Another Al Arabiya report, titled “Activists protest Canadian authorities’ oppression of dissenters,” lists supposed “prisoners of conscience” in Canada, including Donny Morris, a First Nations leader who was imprisoned for six months after protesting mining activity on indigenous lands. Another “prisoner”: Jordan Peterson, the Toronto psychology professor and internet celebrity, who has never been arrested (that we know of).

We’re suicidal/genocidal

During a panel show on the Saudi 24 TV network, Ayed Al Rashidi, a sports journalist, called Canada “a racist country” and compared its treatment of First Nations peoples to Myanmar’s persecution of its Muslim Rohingya minority. Another panelist said “Canada has one of the highest suicide rates” in the world. In fact, Canada’s 15.3 suicide deaths per 100,000 residents lag far behind world leaders like Sri Lanka (58.5) and Guyana (46).

And John Baird is somehow involved

Odder still, former Conservative foreign minister John Baird appeared on Al Arabiya, where he criticized his successor’s handling of Saudi affairs. Baird took Saudi Arabia’s side, saying that the current Canadian government has been “poking its finger in the eye of the Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia] for the past three years.” Just three years ago, Baird had his own concerns about the Saudi government’s treatment of Raif Badawi:

We’re basically ISIS

Saudi newspapers have also joined the pile-on. A column by Khalid bin Hamd Almalik, editor-in-chief of the Saudi newspaper Al-Jazirah, compared the ideas of ISIS, or Daesh, to the “foolish actions” and “policy of incitement and terrorism” of Canada’s foreign ministry.

In Okaz, another Saudi publication, a columnist accused the “racist” Canadian government of turning a blind eye to the violence it commits against First Nations peoples. In a similar vein, a columnist in the Saudi-owned Al Hayat newspaper described Canada as a country “founded on the skulls of millions of First Nations peoples,” before referring to Canada’s residential school era as the “Canadian holocaust.”

And there are Twitter trolls, of course

Like any self-respecting nation these days, Saudi Arabia also has a Twitter army, which has been busy criticizing Canada with hashtags like #Saudis_are_deeply_concerned_about and #Saudi_expels_Canadian_ambassador. Unsurprisingly, there are some misleading “facts” making the rounds.

Some Twitter users are claiming that Saudi Arabia, unlike Canada, has no homeless people. (Which is clearly ridiculous, but hard to refute. The Saudis don’t like to talk about this stuff.)

At least one Saudi tweeter has claimed that Canadians can “legally rape animals.”

There have been calls for the freedom of blogger Kevin J. Johnston, who was ironically charged with a hate crime against Muslims in 2017. (Johnston is currently a free man, and he’s running for mayor of Mississauga.)

Other Saudi tweeters are calling for Canada to grant Quebec its independence, with one account claiming Canada is forcing Quebec’s people to remain in the country. Others have taken up the banner by demanding the immediate liberation of Quebec.