Sunday, August 31, 2003
What's the difference between Calgarian Bruce Balfour and Syrian-born Ottawa engineer
Balfour is an evangelical Christian, jailed in Lebanon on charges of spying for Israel
under the cover of humanitarian activities -- a tree-planting program. Arar is, on the
authority of U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell (using RCMP intelligence), connected
Strangely, although Ottawa is interested in Arar, its support for Balfour -- who is not
alleged to have terrorist links -- is hard to gauge.
Arar was deported to Syria by the U.S. during his New York stopover on a flight from
Tunisia to Canada. Since then, two Canadian MPs have been to visit him there. Also, in
recent weeks, a Canadian senator hand-delivered a personal message to Syrian President
Bashir Assad, pleading for Arar's release.
It is an unusually high degree of activity on behalf of a Canadian citizen detained
overseas, although not unprecedented. In 1995, Prime Minister Jean Chretien intervened
personally to secure the release of Egyptian-born Canadian citizen Ahmed Khadr from
Pakistan. Khadr had been arrested there in connection with the bombing of the Egyptian
embassy in Islamabad, where 17 people died.
The extra effort now seems misplaced. Khadr is at large as a senior bin Laden fugitive.
(Two of his sons were captured in Afghanistan and are being held by U.S. forces in
Citizenship and Immigration Minister Denis Coderre is in Lebanon, on a five-day visit,
during which he will meet with the country's president and its prime minister.
What of Balfour? Given the dominant position of the Hezbollah terrorist organization in
Lebanese politics, he may well be no more than a pawn. Canada, after intense pressure from
the opposition and from Jewish organizations, finally banned Hezbollah this year.
No doubt the arrival at Beirut of a Canadian known to have committed what is a crime in
Lebanon -- visiting Israel -- was fortuitous, from the point of view of a banned
organization seeking some leverage with Ottawa.
One cannot but notice that while Balfour received only a brief, unscheduled visit Saturday
from Coderre, Ottawa has gone out of its way to publicly show its support for Arar.
Five days is a significant allotment in a busy minister's schedule. It is hoped Coderre
will pursue Balfour's situation aggressively. If Coderre can do for Balfour what Chretien
did for Khadr, we will have to concede the merits of the discreet approach.
Trouble is, our quiet diplomacy didn't do much for William Sampson in Saudi Arabia.
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