On October 2 of this year, Washington Post’s journalist and critic of the Saudi regime, Jamal Khashoggi was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. While it is unclear whether or not Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, had previous knowledge of the attack on Khashoggi, it does appear that the Saudi’s acted in an intentional and premeditated way to remove one of their most outspoken and vocal critics.

In response to the killing of Khashoggi, Canada and the rest of the international community was quick to condemn the attack, but there has been little movement to make Saudi Arabia feel any real repercussions for what happened to Jamal Khashoggi. This past Monday while in France Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that CSIS officers had been sent and listened to a recording of the attack, and that Canada has been fully briefed on the situation.

Many critics of the Liberal government have argued that the response to the Khashoggi killing has not been forceful enough, with some, including former Conservative justice critic Tony Clement calling for Canada to use the Magnitsky Act to sanction those individuals responsible for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

The Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act, also known as the Magnitsky Act gives the Canadian government the authority to freeze the assets of foreign individuals who have violated human rights. Named for the Russian whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky who was wrongfully arrested, beaten and eventually killed. The act could be one of the best ways for Canada to punish those responsible for what happened to Khashoggi.

But Canada cannot act alone. We saw how the Saudi’s responded to Canada’s criticism of its human rights record this past August. Expelling the Canadian ambassador, cancelling all flights to Toronto and ordering Saudi students studying in Canada to relocate to another country or face losing financial assistance, all over a tweet which criticized Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.

If that is how the Saudi’s respond to a tweet, then Canada cannot possibly impose sanctions unilaterally. Many of our allies including the United States and Great Britain also have versions of the Magnitksy act. A multilateral response from the international community could be a very effective way of showing the Saudi’s and MBS that the murder of an innocent journalist is unacceptable.

If Canada is “back” and wants to be a leader in defending human rights abroad, then we must do exactly that, we must defend those in need, and punish perpetrators of violence. State ordered violence against journalists cannot be allowed to occur with impunity, and Canada ought to punish those responsible for such crimes. While we cannot act on our own, an international response through economic sanctions could send a real message to MBS and members of his regime in the place it would hurt them the most. Their wallets.


Tobias Dyson is a Master’s student at the Norman Patterson School of International Affairs in Ottawa. He specializes in development, humanitarian assistance and security. He holds a BA in Political Science from the University of the Fraser Valley

Image courtesy of Andrew Fackler

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