Envoy: Media 'exaggerate' case of Canadian in Beirut:
Lebanese ambassador under fire for comments
The Ottawa Citizen
Wednesday, August 13, 2003
Page: A1/ FRONT Section: News
Byline: Jack Aubry
Source: The Ottawa Citizen
Lebanon's controversial ambassador to Canada appears to have crossed the diplomatic line again with comments about a Calgary man held in a Beirut prison since July 10 on suspicions of being a spy for Israel. In a recent interview with the Montreal Arabic-language weekly newspaper Al-Mustakbal, Raymond Baaklini criticized Canada's media for exaggerating Bruce Balfour's case and for being controlled by "certain parties" in favour of Israel.

Mr. Balfour, who is facing charges of collaborating with Israel, appeared briefly in a Beirut court Monday where his hearing was postponed to Aug. 20. In January, Mr. Baaklini came under fire for saying that Canada outlawed Hezbollah in December 2002 because of pressure from a "Zionist party" that he said "controls 90 per cent of the Canadian media." The ambassador
eventually apologized to Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham for some of his comments to the Montreal Arab-language newspaper Sada al-Machrek.

In a translation provided by Canadian Lebanese Human Rights Federation, Mr.Baaklini is quoted recently telling Al-Mustakbal: "The exaggeration of the news has its well-known background since the media that is controlled by certain parties seek to exaggerate every news item pertaining to Israel."

He also told the newspaper, according to the translation, that "security arrests" such as that of Mr. Balfour are never carried out unless the Lebanese authorities are certain that the charges are confirmed.

The Lebanese Embassy did not reply to several faxed requests this week for an interview with Mr. Baaklini. The newspaper also quoted the ambassador saying that Mr. Balfour had been under observation during his recent visits to Lebanon and that the Albertan was aware that it was against Lebanese laws to enter the country with a passport bearing the Israeli entry stamp, indicating a recent visit to Israel.

Reynald Doiron, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs, declined to respond to Mr. Baaklini's interview except to point out that Canada's ambassador in Lebanon would never comment on the case of a Lebanese citizen facing charges before a Canadian court.

Elias Bejjani, a spokesman for the Canadian Lebanese Human Rights Federation which opposes the current Lebanese government, said it is obvious from Mr. Baaklini's new comments that the ambassador should have been sent back home
to Lebanon in January.