OTTAWA — A federal official says Canada remains unclear about the measures Saudi Arabia is taking in response to Canadian criticism of its human rights policies.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland spoke with her Saudi counterpart Tuesday in part to get clarity about the measures, including one report that said Saudi banks and pension funds had been ordered to sell off their Canadian assets, the official said Thursday.
Saudi Arabia has not confirmed that report, and the official — who spoke on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of the matter — said a full understanding of their plans remains elusive.
"We're working to fully understand the measures they might take," the official said. "It's still a little bit unclear."
Freeland made clear to Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir that Canada's foreign policy is to express its position publicly, not just behind closed doors. At the moment no further call is planned, the official said, but the communication lines remain open and another direct call between the two remains a possibility.
"The door is not closed."
Freeland has also discussed the situation with counterparts in Sweden and Germany, but hasn't yet connected with anyone in the U.S. or the U.K., which have so far not expressed public support for Canada's position. The official said calls with officials in the United States or the United Kingdom are still possible.
On Sunday, Saudi Arabia suspended diplomatic ties with Canada, expelled the Canadian ambassador and halted future trading with Canada a few days after Freeland and then her department issued tweets criticizing the arrest of social activists and asking for their immediate release.
Freeland was criticized by many for using Twitter to push Canada's foreign policy positions, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the choice Wednesday and said Canada wouldn't stop using all the communications tools available to it to make its case.
The Saudi government has cancelled scholarships to its citizens to study in Canada. Global Affairs Canada statistics show in 2016 there were about 15,000 Saudi Arabian students studying in either short-term or long-term Canadian academic programs, representing about three per cent of all foreign students in Canada.
International students spend more than $15 billion in Canada each year, and support nearly 170,000 jobs.
The Saudi government is also ending direct flights between Canada and Saudi Arabia next week, and is reportedly arranging to have Saudi patients transferred out of Canadian hospitals.
Analysts believe Saudi Arabia holds somewhere between $10 billion and $25 billion in Canadian currency. Michael Currie, an adviser at TD Wealth, said there were some early jitters amid a report of a possible Canadian asset selloff, but that the markets didn't take long to overcome it.