Jamal Khashoggi's Disappearance Is A 'Very Serious Situation': Freeland

Zi-Ann Lum
Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland stands during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Oct. 15, 2018.

OTTAWA — Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland confirmed Monday that she spoke with her Saudi counterpart earlier in the day about the "grave" situation concerning the suspicious circumstances surrounding the presumed death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and outspoken critic of the Saudi government, was last seen alive on Oct. 2, entering Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul to get marriage-related paperwork processed. Turkish officials reportedly told U.S. officials that they have evidence Saudi authorities killed the journalist inside the consulate.

"This is a very serious situation, which Canada takes seriously," Freeland told reporters on Parliament Hill, nothing how Canadian officials are working closely with G7 and NATO allies on the issue.

When asked about a CNN report that the Saudis are preparing to acknowledge Khashoggi's death as a result of an interrogation that went awry, she stressed the need for a "credible and transparent" investigation.

"It's important to establish clear facts about what has happened," Freeland said. "This is an important issue."

The government, Conservatives, and NDP all expressed their shared concerns about Khashoggi's disappearance and suspected death.

NDP Foreign Affairs critic Hélène Laverdière pressed Freeland, a former journalist, for waiting "almost two weeks" before tweeting a joint statement issued by British, U.S. and French officials on Sunday.


"We didn't even issue our own statement," Laverdière said in question period. She asked the government to defend human rights and halt a $15-billion arms deal exporting weapons to Saudi Arabia.

Freeland responded by saying she expressed Canada's "deep concerns" over Khashoggi's disappearance in a call with her Saudi counterpart.

"I emphasized that those responsible must be held to account," she said, offering no response to the question about the controversial arms deal.

Speaking to reporters later, Freeland explained the deal was made before the Liberals entered into government three years ago.

"Our government believes strongly that Canada's word has to matter. And it's important for Canada's word to last longer than any one particular government," she said.

"When it comes to the rules-based international order, it's important for countries when they sign on to agreements to stay in those agreements."

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks to reporters on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Oct. 15, 2018.

Inside the chamber, Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O'Toole made no explicit mention of the CNN report when he asked what actions the government will take if details emerge to confirm the Saudi government's involvement in a journalist's death.

The foreign minister sidestepped in her response, instead bringing the Conservatives' own record with Saudi Arabia into question.

"There is some more Monday morning courage on the other side of the House," she said, referring to a TV appearance Tory MP John Baird made on a Saudi news network in August.

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Baird, a former Conservative foreign affairs minister, went on Al Arabiya English and criticized Freeland's handling of Canada's relationship with Saudi Arabia. He contended that "the current government has really been poking the eye of the kingdom for the past three years."

The Canadian government's diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia have been tense for months after Freeland issued a statement expressing alarm over the arrests of two women's rights activists this summer. In response, Riyadh expelled the Canadian ambassador from Saudi Arabia and froze new trade and investment with Canada.

'Talk about Monday morning courage'

The Liberals and Conservatives continued to debate over which party has superior ethical judgement in terms of approaching Canada's relationship with the Saudi government.

Tory MP Garnett Genuis pressed the government to condemn Saudi Arabia's election to the United Nations women's rights commission — the fourth time he's asked foreign affairs to do so, given that country's human rights record.

"Talk about Monday morning courage," Genuis said, tossing Freeland's own words back at her.

Refusing to bite, the foreign minister said the government "will take no lessons from the members opposite when it comes to standing up for women's rights and human rights around the world."