Saudi Arabia on Monday ordered the Canadian ambassador to leave the ultraconservative kingdom within 24 hours after his nation criticized the recent arrest of women's rights activists.
The Saudi Foreign Ministry also said it would freeze "all new business" between the kingdom and Canada. Some 10 percent of Canadian crude oil imports come from Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia later announced it was suspending educational exchange programs with Canada and moving Saudi scholarship recipients there to other countries, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya reported on Monday.
Canada responded saying it is "seriously concerned" about Saudi Arabia's freeze of new trade between the countries, but standing its ground on human rights comments which set off a diplomatic row, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said.
"Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, very much including women's rights, and freedom of expression around the world," said Marie-Pier Baril, adding that Canada was "seeking greater clarity" from the Saudi government.
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"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 Saudi Foreign Ministry said in an extraordinarily aggressive statement. "Canada and all other nations need to know that they can't claim to be more concerned than the kingdom over its own citizens."
The dispute appears centered around a tweet by Global Affairs Canada, managed by the foreign ministry, calling on the kingdom to "immediately release" women's rights activists recently detained by the kingdom.
Among those recently arrested is Samar Badawi, whose brother Raif Badawi was arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and later sentenced to 1,000 lashes and 10 years in jail for criticizing clerics. His wife, Ensaf Haidar, is now living in Canada.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland similarly tweeted about the arrests on Thursday. "Very alarmed to learn that Samar Badawi, Raif Badawi's sister, has been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia," she wrote. "Canada stands together with the Badawi family in this difficult time, and we continue to strongly call for the release of both Raif and Samar Badawi."