Canada vs. the world: Countries in feuds against the nation

For the most part, Canada tries to maintain friendly relationships with countries around the world. But Canadian leaders also have a habit of speaking out against abuses, especially when it comes to human rights.

That’s what happened last week when Amnesty International called out the Saudi government for detaining two female activists: Samar Badawi and Nassima al-Sada.

“This unprecedented level of persecution of human rights defenders in Saudi Arabia is a disturbing sign that the crackdown is far from over,” Lynn Maalouf, Amnesty International’s Middle East research director, said on Aug. 1. “The international community must push Saudi Arabian authorities to end this draconian crackdown and targeted repression of human rights activists in the country.”

This prompted Global Affairs Canada to respond to the call for action by issuing a statement on Twitter two days after Amnesty International spoke out to say the Canadian government is “gravely concerned.”

The statement seemed to spark outrage in Riyadh. The Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also took to Twitter, firing off multiple statements warning the Canadian government not to meddle in the kingdom’s internal affairs.

The Saudi government claimed the activists were “lawfully detained” and Ottawa’s statement was “not based in any accurate or true information,” making it an example of “blatant interference” in Saudi affairs.

The kingdom has acted swiftly in response. All new trade between the two countries has been halted. Riyadh ordered thousands of Saudi students studying in Canada, medical patients receiving treatment and their own ambassador to Canada to return home. Canada’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia has been asked to leave the kingdom. The Saudis even cancelled all flights between the two countries on its state airline, effective August 13.

“Canada has made a mistake and needs to fix it,” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Aug. 8. “The ball is in Canada’s court.”

But Ottawa refused to back down on the matter. On Aug. 6, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said she was “very comfortable” with Canada’s position. Two days later, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau backed up that statement.

Canada will always speak strongly and clearly in private and in public on questions of human rights,” Trudeau said.

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, seen here in April 2018, appears to have taken exception with the Canadian government’s recent comments on female activists detained by the kingdom. Photo from The Associated Press.

This isn’t the first time Canada has had diplomatic tensions with a foreign nation before. Below is a list of six other countries that have been involved in diplomatic disputes with Canada over a wide range of issues.


Relations between Russia and Canada have deteriorated in recent years due to the Russian annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Ukraine, which occurred after the 2013 mass protests in Kiev.

Canada has a considerable Ukrainian population, and has long opposed Russian interference in Ukraine.

A spokesman for former prime minister Stephen Harper says before a G20 summit in November 2014, Russian President Vladmir Putin approached Harper and extended his hand. “I guess I’ll shake your hand but I have only one thing to say to you: You need to get out of Ukraine,” Harper reportedly told Putin.

In October 2017, the so-called Magnitsky Act became law, which allows the Canadian government to impose bans and sanctions on foreign officials for corruption and human rights violations. The law is named after a Russian lawyer who was killed in a Moscow prison after he accused Russian officials of tax fraud.

The Russian Embassy responded to the legislation by saying Canada committed an “irrational act” that has caused “irreparable damage” to the Canada-Russia relationship. Before it became law, Russia vowed such a move “will not be left without an adequate response.”

This photo shows Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and former Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper shaking hands at the G20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, in September 2013. Fourteen months after this handshake, Harper reportedly told Putin to “get out of Ukraine.” Photo from Getty Images.

Under Harper’s direction, Canada closed its embassy in Tehran and expelled diplomats from Ottawa in September 2012.

“We have terminated our diplomatic presence there precisely because we are concerned by the behaviour and the capacity for increasingly bad behaviour of the government of Iran,” Harper said at the time, the National Post reported. “The reality is our influence and that of our partners on Iran is minimal.”

An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman slammed the Canadian government as “racist” and referred to the decision as “hostile behaviour.”

The move ended diplomatic relations between the two countries until Canadian officials under Trudeau visited Tehran in May for the first time since 2012. An unnamed source told CBC News the move was a sign that Canada is “committed to re-engaging” with the Iranians, who are consistently at political odds with allies such as Israel and the U.S.

Canada also played a key role in the 1979-80 Iranian hostage crisis by sheltering six U.S. officials and helping them secretly flee Iran.

Canada closed its embassy in Tehran and expelled diplomats from Ottawa in September 2012. Photo from Getty Images.
North Korea

Canada has a long history of grievances with North Korea, dating back to hostilities that reached its boiling point when Canadians fought in the Korean War from 1950 to 1953. An armistice ended the violence, but Canada did not recognize the North Korean government until 2000, 51 years after recognizing South Korea.

In 2010, Canada imposed tight restrictions against North Koreans in response to “aggressive actions.” In October of that year, Canada introduced a “controlled engagement policy” that would limit diplomacy between Ottawa and Pyongyang.

Lawrence Cannon, the foreign affairs minister at the time, announced Canada was taking a “principled stand against those who recklessly commit acts of aggression in violation of international law.”

Ottawa has been in line with much of the international community in a bid spearheaded by the U.S. to punish North Korea for their rocket tests and nuclear program that threatens U.S. allies South Korea and Japan.

In August 2017, there was a glimmer of hope in the relationship between the two countries when Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim was released from imprisonment in North Korea after spending two years in detention. A top Canadian security official travelled to North Korea to help secure the release.


Canada and Brazil have been at odds over trade issues. In February 2017, Brazil filed a complaint to the World Trade Organization (WTO) over Canada’s $372.5-million loan to Montreal-based Bombardier, an aerospace competitor to Sao Paulo-based Embraer.

In April 2018, the WTO sided with Brazil in a preliminary ruling, but a final decision isn’t expected until the end of the year, Reuters reported.

“Disagreements are a natural part of human relations,” Marcelo Ramos Araujo, the head of the economic affairs section at Canada’s Brazilian embassy, told the Globe and Mail.

But this most recent trade dispute between Canada and Brazil could escalate like it has in the past.

Canada has previously threatened to impose hefty trade sanctions against Brazil over low-interest loans given to Embraer. Canada lost a WTO complaint over low-interest loans in 2001, which is similar to what happened to Brazil, after the organization determined trade rules were being violated.

Both countries have filed trade complaints against the other. Canada has invested billions of dollars in their homegrown aerospace company, which employs thousands of workers.

Brazil and Canada have not seen eye-to-eye on multiple trade disputes, most recently over Canada’s treatment of Bombardier. Photo from Buda Mendes/Getty Images.

Canada’s government describes its relationship with the Philippines as “strong and friendly,” but there’s been a recent spat over human rights concerns. 

In November 2017, Trudeau claimed to have a “frank” conversation with Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, who told reporters he was angered by a “foreigner,” without mentioning Trudeau by name.

“I said I will not explain. It is a personal and official insult,” Duterte said.

Human rights activists have been speaking out against Duterte’s war against alleged drug dealers and users, which is reported to have killed least 7,000 people. Many of the reported executions have taken place without due process, critics say. 

Trudeau insisted the conversation was “cordial” and “the president was receptive.” The prime minister also publicly admitted that Canada does not have a perfect record on human rights, citing the past treatment of First Nations. 

More than 600,000 people with Filipino ancestry reside in Canada, according to 2011 census data.

Canada’s government describes its relationship with the Philippines as “strong and friendly,” but there’s been a recent spat over human rights concerns.  Photo from Getty Images.

After 24 Canadians were killed by Al Qaeda terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, then prime minister Jean Chretien pledged “Canada’s complete support” in combating terrorism, as documented by the Canadian Encyclopedia.

In the following month, Canada participated in the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, where the terror group was believed to be, sheltered by the ruling Taliban. 

Canadian special forces took part initially, who were then followed by around 1,200 infantry troops months later, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia. Canadians engaged with Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters while also supporting humanitarian efforts and the new government in Afghanistan.

Canada’s government says diplomatic relations were restored in 2002 after the fall of the Taliban, who had previously controlled the country. Since then, former prime minister Harper visited Afghanistan three times (2006, 2007 and 2011) and the Afghan president came to Canada in 2006.

Canada has pledged to spend $557 million on development assistance and supporting troops in Afghanistan through 2017, according to the federal government. 

Canada’s government says diplomatic relations were restored in 2002 with Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban, who had previously controlled the country. Photo from Reuters.