Canada must send a strong message to Saudi Arabia

Phil Gurski · Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting · Posted: August 17, 2020

No country can fail to respond to foreign states who send 'hit squads' to kill dissidents

The news has gone around the world. The Globe and Mail and just about every other major news outlet is reporting on a lawsuit registered in Washington, D.C. by a resident Canadian who happens to be a former senior Saudi intelligence officer. Saad AlJabri is alleging that the Saudi government, under the direction of Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (a.k.a. MBS), sent a 'Tiger Squad' assassination team to Canada some time ago to eliminate him.

No, this is not the script of some Hollywood spy thriller starring Matt Damon. This is real. And, despite the fact that these are allegations yet to be proven in court, they are most probably accurate. In other words, the Saudis have sent a hit team, again, to kill a dissident.

We are all aware, of course, of the last time this occurred. In October 2018 a team was sent to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to which Washington Post contributor and Saudi agitator Jamal Kashoggi had been lured. The Saudis killed and dismembered Mr. Kashoggi before leaving the country. No doubt 'diplomatic privilege' eased their entry and exit.

Now it seems the same fate was in store for Mr. AlJabri, in Canada, to get away from the very regime he once served. Mr. AlJabri believes he is being targeted because he has 'dirt' on MBS, a man not known to brook criticism well. Dozens of critics are in Saudi jails and perhaps hundreds of wealthy citizens are under 'house arrest' for financial crimes and challenges to MBS way of doing things.

MBS has become an international darling of late - US President Donald Trump is a big fan - and it is true that he has set in motion plans to modernise the Kingdom and bring in much needed reforms (women's rights and a crackdown on fundamentalist religious dictates, to mention but two). At the same time he is a nasty character not open to opposition or disagreement. Those who go up against him are putting their lives at risk (as did Mr. Kashoggi and, apparently, Mr. AlJabri).

I met Mr AlJabri several times in Riyadh while working as a senior strategic terrorism analyst at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). I saw him as a competent and dedicated counter terrorism officer who did his utmost to protect his country from Islamist terrorists. I have no reason to doubt his allegations: more evidence is coming out that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) did indeed stop an assassination team, replete with 'forensic officers' (to 'deal with' Mr. AlJabri's remains?), from entering Canada. I have also learned that a second Saudi dissident may have been targeted on the same 'mission'.

With this in mind, what must the Trudeau government do? Several things. Yes, relations are already frosty in the wake of Deputy Prime Minister (then Global Affairs Minister) Chrystia Freeland's denunciation of Saudi Arabia's crackdown on human rights activists in 2018, but more needs to be done.

First and foremost, Canada has to cancel the light armoured vehicle contract with Saudi Arabia once and for all. Yes, this means potential job losses in London, ON, but there is ample evidence that these vehicles are being used in eastern Saudi Arabia and Yemen to kill innocent people.

Secondly, the government has to forcefully denounce the assassination plan and call upon Saudi officials to come clean. If there are any diplomats left in Canada they need to be expelled. We cannot have relations with a regime that wantonly sends hit squads to kill Canadian residents.

Thirdly, Canada needs to talk with its allies on a common approach. This is complicated given US President Trump's admiration for MBS, but we need to confer with other friends to seek their condemnation as well. After all, if it has already happened in Turkey and was planned here, who is to say that others who have crossed MBS in other Western nations will not be next?

The fundamental principle underlying this affair is that civilised nations do not act in this manner. If Saudi Arabia is seen as an 'ally', an assumption I am not wholly comfortable with, it has to be told in clear terms that acts of this nature will not be tolerated. We live in a country that abides by the rule of law and which acts as a haven for those fleeing persecution. If we cannot protect Mr. AlJabri and send a strong message to his pursuers, what does what we stand for really mean?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Professional Development Institute of the University of Ottawa.

Phil Gurski is the Director of the Security Program at the University of Ottawa and a former Middle East/terrorism analyst at CSE and CSIS. 

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