OTTAWA -- The diplomatic dispute between Canada and Saudi Arabia escalated extremely quickly and could take an intervention by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to cool down, former foreign affairs minister Peter MacKay says.

"The normal diplomatic route would have been to call the ambassador in and to let him know your displeasure and then to try to move from there," MacKay, Canada's foreign affairs minister from 2006 to 2007 and defence minister from 2007 to 2013, said in an interview with BNN Bloomberg.

"It's escalated extremely quickly."

Saudi Arabia on Sunday expelled Canada's ambassador and said it would freeze new trade deals following a tweet by Global Affairs Canada criticizing the kingdom's arrests of human rights activists, including women's rights activists.

It's not clear how the trade freeze will affect the Saudis' $15-billion deal to purchase light-armoured vehicles from London, Ont.-based General Dynamics Land Systems. It could also have an impact on Canadian oil imports: Canada imports nine per cent of its crude oil from Saudi Arabia, much of which goes to the Atlantic provinces.

Canada and Saudi Arabia's bilateral trade relationship was worth more than $4 billion in 2017, according to numbers posted on the Global Affairs Canada website. The country has already demanded its approximately 15,000 students studying in Canada return home within a month.

"There are real economic impacts that will bite if this dispute is not somehow ameliorated, and what I suspect will have to happen would be for the prime minister to make a direct intervention," MacKay said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday that Canada will continue to support women's rights and speak out on behalf of them.

"When it comes to the broader relationship with Saudi Arabia, our diplomats have asked procedural questions today and we're waiting for answers on how Saudi Arabia intends to go forward with the relationship," she said in Vancouver.

"We are waiting to hear from Saudi Arabia details of its response and we look forward to hearing those details. In terms of Canada's position going forward, we stand absolutely -- with great assuredness -- stand by what we have said."

A spokesman for the Prime Minister's Office referred CTV News to Freeland's comments. Matt Pascuzzo said the Canadian government is still waiting to get all the facts from the Saudis.

Speaking in Mississauga, Finance Minister Bill Morneau said it's important the government bring Canadian values into its dealings around the world.

"We're going to stand with the values that we know are important to Canadians and Saudi Arabia will take the decisions that they take," Morneau said.

"My broader message to Canadians and Canadian business owners is we know that we're doing well from an economic standpoint."