Balfour deserves more
Calgary Herald
Sunday, August 31, 2003
What's the difference between Calgarian Bruce Balfour and Syrian-born Ottawa engineer Maher Arar?

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 with al-Qaeda.

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 Guantanamo Bay.)

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.

 Copyright 2003 Calgary Herald