Tensions between Saudi Arabia and Canada have been escalating as the kingdom asked the Canadian ambassador to leave Riyadh within 24 hours and recalled its own envoy on Monday.

In its latest response to "Canada's interference in domestic affairs", the kingdom put a halt to all medical treatment programs in Canada. It has also ordered the transfer of all Saudi patients from hospitals in the North American country.

"The mission seeks to ensure the safety of Saudi patients who receive treatment in Canada with their companions, and to complete their treatment elsewhere," Saudi Health Attaché, Dr. Fahad Al-Tamimi, said in a statement.

This came after Canadian authorities urged their counterparts in the Saudi capital Riyadh to release arrested civil rights activists following an ongoing crackdown on human rights campaigners in the kingdom. 

Those held by authorities in the kingdom include the human rights defender Samar Badawi, the sister of jailed blogger Raif Badawi.

In May, Saudi Arabia arrested a number of people for "actions against the state" and "suspicious communication with foreign entities."

The arrests included activists - women and men - who were prominent campaigners against the kingdom's long-standing ban on women driving. 

"The Canadian position is an overt and blatant interference in the internal affairs of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and is in contravention of the most basic international norms and all the charters governing relations between States," the Saudi foreign ministry said on Twitter.

Saudi Arabia has taken a number of actions that could potentially have a negative long-term effect on both countries.

Early on Monday, the kingdom said it will "stop all new business and investment transactions with Canada while retaining its right to take further action." Latest figures from 2016 show that trade between the two countries was worth $3 billion.

Also, Saudi Arabia's state airline - Saudia - announced that it will suspend all flights to and from Toronto starting next week. 

All scholarships enabling Saudi students to study in Canada were also suspended.