|Traditionally dressed Saudi Arabian women shop for gold in Riyadh. (Reuters file)
TORONTO -- Canadian diplomats in Saudi Arabia say there may be a political tempest brewing as many oil-rich polygamist men look for ways to resettle here with their many wives.
Diplomatic officials said they’re flooded with applications from well-heeled Saudi men with one or more wives and have asked Ottawa for guidelines on whether the spouses should be given visas for Canada.
“Bigamy and polygamy are crimes in Canada, but not here in Saudi Arabia,” said Jeff Rogers, the first secretary of the Embassy of Canada in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Rogers said it is a “regular occurrence” to see men with more than one spouse applying for visas to travel to Canada as visitors, students or businessmen.
“And at times (they have) more than one spouse intending to travel with them,” he told officials in Ottawa in an Oct. 2011 memo obtained through an Access of Information request by lawyer Richard Kurland. “Applicants will at times declare the multiple spouses.”
Rogers told officials of the foreign affairs department there are many men who hide their marriages from embassy staff.
“We have an unknown population of applicants who hide their polygamous marriages from us,” he said. “Applicants misrepresent their marital status in the application forms.”
Canadian embassy officials allege some Saudi applicants try to go around the system.
They “are submitting applications with one or no wives,” he wrote. “Additional wives submit applications independently.”
Rogers said guidelines are being sought on how to process the rich applicants.
“This question must have been asked and answered before,” he said. “We understand this to be an issue that is currently sensitive politically and in the courts.”
He said the issue has the potential to damage the relationship between the two countries.
It can be “a potential bilateral irritant should we apply the law with full force,” he wrote. Saudi Arabia, which follows the Muslim religion, is an important source of foreign students for Canada, with some 15,000 students and 800 resident physicians and specialists studying here. It is estimated that $1.3 billion flows yearly to the accounts of students from their families at home.
Saudi embassy officials plan to increase the number of students in Canada to 30,000.
Saudi Arabia is also Canada’s second largest export market in the region. Canada exports almost $1 billion of products to that country and imports almost $2.8 billion, according to government statistics.