Stephen Harper, Canada’s Conservative prime minister, has been criticised both in parliament and among some media commentators for defending Israeli action in Lebanon, labelling it a “measured response”.
On August 6, thousands demonstrated peacefully in Montreal, a city traditionally home to a large Arab and particularly Lebanese community.
Carrying Lebanese and Canadian flags, they criticised the Conservatives’ foreign policy position on the Lebanon crisis.
In Windsor, Ontario, another city with a large Arab population, hundreds of Lebanese-Canadians capped off weeks of peaceful gatherings and protests in condemnation of Israeli action in Lebanon, marking the loss of innocent lives through candle light vigils and petitions.
More balanced policy
Margaret Villamizar, spokesperson for the Windsor Peace Coalition, believes that Canada’s – and other nations’ – silence has given Israel a green light to pursue its military aims in Lebanon.
She said: “The role of the United Nations security council [to call for an immediate ceasefire] is held hostage by veto powers such as the US, and this prohibits the exercise of the will of the international community.
“Canada should be for non-interference, stand for relations, equality, and mutual benefits, no aggressive military alliance.”
A political science professor at the university of Windsor says the Conservative government’s approach to the Lebanon crisis is influenced by several factors “including ideology, domestic politics [particularly as it is a minority government hoping to make inroads in larger cities], as well as Canada’s relationship with the US”.
He pointed to a recent Globe and Mail poll which showed 77% of Canadians want their country to maintain a neutral stance.
The criticism may be having an effect.
On August 8, Harper appointed liberal MP Wajid Khan as special advisor on South Asia and the Middle East. Khan, a Muslim, will head to the region as well as India and Pakistan soon on a fact-finding mission to pave the way for greater Canadian involvement.
Another fact-finding mission involving MPs from three parties – Conservatives, Liberals and the New Democratic Party – is to leave in the next few days for Syria, Lebanon and Egypt.
The Quebec-based party Bloc Quebecois said it would send a delegation once a ceasefire had been called for.
The trip was organised by the Ottawa-based national council on Arab-Canadian Relations (NCCAR) which says in order to resolve such crises, “MPs need more of a broader perspective”.
Calling for a genuine Canadian position, reflective of traditional Canadian values, Mazin Chouiab, NCCAR executive director said: “Canada can play a big role in mediation, and taking sides can undermine Canada as an honest broker.”
On August 1, hundreds demonstrated for a more balanced Canadian foreign policy.
The Lebanese community supported by the Windsor Peace Coalition is also planning to present a visual display about the civilian toll in the conflict in downtown Windsor on August 11.
As’ad Salman, head of the Arab-Canadian integration assembly, said the war was targeting all of the Lebanese people and not just Hezbollah.
“The new conservative government in Canada is identical to the conservatives in the US. In this case, the Canadian government is under tremendous pressure from the US government, especially in the form of economic pressures.”
Salman, who has participated in many of the demonstrations, said all war is against human dignity.
“This war is immoral, unethical and it is terrorism. It needs to be stopped.”