Canada shouldn’t use teenage Saudi refugee as a ‘political football’: ex-ambassador
Canada did the right thing by granting asylum to Saudi woman Rahaf Mohammed Al-Qunun but should take steps to ensure that the case doesn’t cause irreversible damage to relations with Saudi Arabia, says Canada’s former ambassador to Riyadh.
Dennis Horak has first-hand knowledge of the two countries’ testy relationship, having been expelled from Saudi Arabia in August in the wake of Canada’s criticism of the kingdom’s detention of women’s rights activists.
That relationship faces renewed challenges following Canada’s decision to grant asylum to Al-Qunun, the daughter of a Saudi governor, who fled Saudi Arabia and accused her father and other male relatives of abuse.
The 18-year-old arrived in Toronto on Saturday after resisting her family’s attempts to have her returned to Saudi Arabia from Bangkok, where she barricaded herself in an airport hotel room and launched a Twitter campaign to plead for asylum.
“I think [granting her asylum] was the right thing to do but it’s going to have an impact in Saudi Arabia in terms of their views towards Canada. They’ll see this as yet another example of our ‘interference’ in their internal affairs,” Horak told Global News.
“If we make her a political football to use this case to bash the Saudis to make our point on Saudi human rights, I think that would exacerbate the situation even further. And it wouldn’t do her any good either.”
Horak said that while it’s inevitable that the Al-Qunun case will worsen tensions in the short term, Canada could mitigate the damage by maintaining an open line of communication with Saudi Arabia.
“I think at this point, it’s time to let her settle in and then work and talk with the Saudis and explain to them why we did what we did, and perhaps that can mitigate some of the damage that may occur,” said Horak.