Canadian charged in Lebanon has trial date postponed
Last Updated Mon, 11 Aug 2003 19:20:28
OTTAWA - Supporters of Bruce Balfour, a Canadian man facing serious charges in Lebanon, say Ottawa needs to intervene more forcefully in his case.

CBC: Balfour's trial in Beirut on charges of collaborating with the enemy has been postponed until August 20.

Human rights groups say Balfour's situation is the latest in a string of cases that demonstrate a flaw in Ottawa's diplomatic approach with Middle Eastern regimes.

The Canadian Lebanese Human Rights Federation didn't know anything about Balfour before he was arrested in early July, but spokesman Elias Bejjani says the charge is a catch-all in many Middle Eastern countries.

"In the Arab world, whenever they want to get somebody, this charge is always ready. And they fabricate it," said Bejjani.

Balfour is accused of providing Israel with information about Lebanese army and resistance positions, all under the guise of working for a humanitarian organization.

Balfour's friends and family say politics had nothing to do with his mission to replant the famed cedars of Lebanon

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs, Reynald Doiron, says the government is waiting to see what happens at Balfour's trial.

"At this time we cannot say that anything is not going by the Lebanese book, in terms of the code of criminal procedure or the contents of their criminal code."

But Bejjani says the federal government is being naive, that the Syrian-controlled Lebanese government is using the Balfour case as payback for Canada banning the militant group Hezbollah and criticizing Syria's detention of Canadian Maher Arar.

The Canadian Alliance is calling the Balfour case further proof that the government's diplomatic approach is not effective.

But Doiron scoffs at the suggestion, saying the Alliance is making "connections in situations (where) they don't have any hard information."

Doiron says it's the job of the Department of Foreign Affairs to assess facts, not speculation. And in the case of Bruce Balfour, the facts will come out when his trial begins on August 20.