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The Saudi Foreign Ministry said it had recalled its envoy in Canada and also said it would freeze "all new business" between the kingdom and Canada. While the United States is Canada's main supplier of crude oil by far, Saudi Arabia comes in second with a lot of its imports to Canada going to New Brunswick, which supplies other eastern provinces.

"Canada will always stand up for the protection of human rights, very much including women's rights, and freedom of expression around the world", a spokeswoman for Freeland said in a statement.

"That for Saudi Arabia was the source of growing frustration", he said in a phone interview. She was given the US International Women of Courage Award in 2012.

Ensaf Haidar, Raif Badawi's wife, who lives in Quebec with her three children, said Monday she was surprised when she heard about the two new arrests.

Riyadh has also recalled its ambassador from Ottawa and has also expelled the Canadian ambassador in Saudi Arabia.

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The government also froze all new trade with Canada, and ordered approximately 16,000 Saudi students studying overseas in Canada to return home or complete their study in other countries.

"There are now more than 12,000 Saudi students studying in Canada, 7,000 of which are on scholarship programs while many are accompanying spouses and children. In terms of Canada's position going forward, we stand absolutely - with great assuredness - stand by what we have said". "We are always going to speak up for human rights, we're always going to speak up for women's rights, and that is not going to change".

The agency tweeted that it was "gravely concerned" about certain detentions in the Kingdom, specifically that of Samar Badawi, the sister of a blogger jailed by Saudi authorities.

It estimates that at least 15 Saudi activists have been arrested since May 15, though some estimate that the actual number of arrests, including unreported ones, may be higher.

The trouble started Sunday when that country abruptly announced a series of measures created to punish Canada for speaking out about the jailing of human rights activists.

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Several of those detained have been accused of serious crimes, including "suspicious contact with foreign parties", and could face up to 20 years in prison. But, our correspondent adds, during the recent crackdown on activists he has also shown that he will not tolerate dissent.

Canada is planning to seek help from Saudi Arabia's closest ally, the UAE, and Britain to defuse the dispute which looks set to damage what is a modest bilateral trade relationship worth almost $4 billion a year.

Some analysts perceive the move as both a power play for the kingdom's young leader and a demonstration put on for the benefit of countries with stronger ties to Saudi Arabia than Canada. Canadian exports to Saudi Arabia totalled about $1.12bn in 2017, or 0.2 percent of the total value of Canadian exports.

"Saudi Arabia has had a pretty shady record on human rights for a long time and nobody's really publicly called them on it".

The deal was agreed in 2014 by the Conservatives, who shared the Saudi desire for deeper relations, he said.

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