Friends stand behind Balfour
By Nicole Lerner
ASSIST News Service - Canadian

THE FRIENDS and family of Bruce Balfour, a Canadian missionary currently imprisoned in Lebanon, are looking for clear action from the Canadian government to ensure that his human rights are protected and that proper justice is served.

Balfour recently returned to Lebanon to resume his work as overseer of the Cedars of Lebanon reforestation project. Approximately 10 days after his return to the country, a friend received an anonymous phone call informing him that Balfour had been arrested July 10, shortly after his arrival in the country. Soon after, the Canadian government became involved.

In the fourth week of his incarceration, after the Lebanese government had only hinted at charges against Balfour, a letter was received stating that he had been accused and "convicted in absentia of collaborating with the enemy" in March 2003.

The Canadian consulate then received a 36-page document, printed in both Arabic and French, claiming that Balfour was involved in espionage for Israel -- and that he had been using his Christian humanitarian activities as a front for illegal activity since 1982. After the Canadian legal review of the document, it was concluded that no concrete evidence had been given to back these charges.

A closed military tribunal date was set for August 11 and it was made clear that only members of the Lebanese Law Society would be permitted to be present. A Lebanese lawyer was willing to represent Balfour on reasonable terms, but abruptly cut off all communication with Canadian authorities. Another lawyer then came forward -- but was demanding a $10,000 US retainer towards his undisclosed fee before he would even begin involvement in this secretive foreign procedure.

If these charges go through, it is possible that Balfour will face the severest of penalties. As went online, no new information had been made available regarding his court appearance.

A colleague of Balfour's, Fred Van Vliet, recently issued the following statement on behalf of the Balfour family:

"As Bruce's family and friends, we are absolutely convinced that his activities in Lebanon were charitable -- and motivated only by his personal spiritual and biblical convictions. At no time did any of us have the impression that Bruce was involved in anything that could be construed as harmful to Lebanon in any way.

"We believe that Bruce is being held for political reasons, and feel that Canada needs to address the treatment of Mr. Balfour from a political perspective. Unfortunately, government officials have not yet indicated that they are willing to become involved in a political conflict with Lebanon over this issue. Legal opinions indicate that the treatment of Mr. Balfour violates all three of the international treaties to which both Canada and Lebanon are signatory.

"It alarms us that while the government has proceeded to cooperate with Lebanese officials by providing funding for legal proceedings, there has been little done to address the violation of Bruce's rights and freedoms. Bruce Balfour is a Canadian, who is no spy -- and as a Canadian citizen, Bruce is entitled to all the protection, judicial process and transparent treatment that our countries have agreed to.

"Reliable government sources have informed us that there are 3,300 Canadians in foreign jails -- many of them wrongfully -- and there is little that can be done. Canada is quickly losing respect on the world stage, because of its 'all talk and no action' approach to human rights. If Canada is to retain its dignity, we must re-establish the reality that there are consequences to human rights violations.

"As Canadians, we need to take a firm stance against those who would put politics and money over the value of our citizens -- or we will continue to reap hardship, as more Canadians are wrongfully imprisoned and used as political pawns. Let us wake up and face the challenge of our times. We take pride as Canadians that we extend equal human rights to those of all races and religions -- and we must be firm in distinguishing what these rights are, and that we unquestionably support what we claim."