Toronto Star

Sanctions are the first step


Canada has finally — and rightly — joined a growing group of western countries who are determined to signal to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that his country cannot silence journalist­s without suffering repercussi­ons.

Canada announced its decision on Thursday to impose sanctions under the Magnitsky Act — as France, Germany and the U.S. have already done — against 17 Saudi citizens believed to have been responsibl­e for the abhorrent murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

That timing pointedly and strategica­lly coincided with the arrival of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland for a G20 meeting that started on Friday in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

That is a gathering the Crown prince was also attending, making the message difficult to ignore. And Canada was further able to amplify it by making it on the closely watched G20 world stage.

The sanctions freeze any assets held by the 17 individual­s who are sanctioned, and prevent them from travelling to Canada.

While that may seem like small potatoes for the hit squad accused of carrying out the murder and dismemberm­ent of Khashoggi — especially since it’s not known whether any held assets here — in the world of diplomacy where a sneeze by one side is interprete­d as a hurricane by the other, it is a big deal. And importantl­y, it signals that Canada isn’t prepared to let the Khashoggi outrage be forgotten.

No political leader should feel he can take others’ lives with impunity, especially extra-territoria­lly and extra-judicially.

While Canada’s sanctions do not name Prince Mohammed himself, Freeland said they do not bring an end to Canada’s interest in the fate of Khashoggi.

Ottawa is still determined, she said, to work with Canada’s allies to seek a transparen­t and credible investigat­ion of his murder.

That’s the very least that should happen. The U.S. Central Intelligen­ce Agency has said it has “high confidence” that the prince mastermind­ed Khashoggi’s murder, and if Canada and its allies reach the same conclusion the prince should be sanctioned, too, regardless of his key role in the Saudi hierarchy.

More importantl­y, she said Ottawa is reviewing its arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

While Canada has temporaril­y suspended approval of any new permits for arms exports to Saudi Arabia, it has not cancelled a $15-billion deal to supply Riyadh with armoured vehicles.

The prime minister has explained that by saying the financial penalties for cancelling the deal could amount to $1 billion or more, never mind the loss of Canadian jobs.

Still, Freeland said that while arms exports to the Kingdom were being reviewed, no new export permits are being issued and — importantl­y — she was not ruling out suspending permits that have already been approved.

That should have already been done. Exporting weapons to a country that is currently waging a hellish war in Yemen, where 6,500 children have died and millions are desperatel­y in need of humanitari­an aid, is unjustifia­ble.

Further, Saudi Arabia’s dealings with its own people is despicable. Human Rights Watch recently accused the country of subjecting several activists — including some female humanright­s defenders detained since last May — to torture and sexual harassment. And that, sadly, is the tip of the iceberg. No one expects Canada to break off diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia; the country is simply too important and Canada should act in concert with like-minded nations in responding to Khashoggi’s murder and the Yemen conflict

But what Canada and others can do is make clear to the prince and other tyrannical leaders around the world that this abhorrent act — not just against a man, but a free press — cannot be simply papered over.

An injustice has been done and the trail leads to the door of the man who could lead Saudi Arabia for decades to come. To let that go unchalleng­ed would amount to complicity in a crime.

Canada is right to push back. Now the question is: Will Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman also be named?

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