Lebanon Ambassador to Canada Raymond Baaklini's interview with Al-Mustakbal weekly, published in Montreal, Canada, and addressing the arrest of Mr. Bruce Balfour by the Lebanese Authorities.

Baaklini: No crisis between Beirut & Ottawa
Canadian Foreign Ministry: Lebanon did not breach the international covenants

06 August 2003
By: Raaouf Najim

The arrest of, Bruce Balfour,  the Canadian priest,  from Calgary provance, in Lebanon on charges of dealing (collaborating)  is interacting (getting a great deal of reactions) in the Canadian newspapers. But the crisis between the two states, Canada and Lebanon that did arise after breaking of the arrest news, has started to calm after the clarification of issues that were not clear before.
In this frame (context) Al-Mustakbal contacted Lebanon's ambassador to Canada, Mr. Raymond Baaklini, asking for clarifications (on the Balfour case). His reply was "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". In regards to Balfour, the ambassador said: " Balfour's activities in Lebanon were under observation, especially in the border zone (South Lebanon), and Balfour knew very well the substance of Lebanese law that prohibits entry to Lebanon to any individual who has entered Israel and whose passport still carries the (Israeli) entry stamp". Baaklini questioned Balfour's objectives in exhibiting this stamp as if he wanted to instigate that crisis, especially since he resides more in Israel than in Canada". Previous news had indicated that Balfour received many letters in regards to his activities in Lebanon, and that he knew very well what could result from his continuing with them. It is confirmed that he had worked in the " Voice of Hope" broadcasting station that used to air from the border zone during the (Israeli) occupation. Balfour is not the only one to be accused in this case, and his colleague Gary Livingstone who resides in Israel for the past 27 years is also accused of complicity with him in delivering information that Balfour brought to him.

In this regard, Ambassador Baaklini said: "Balfour is accused of security issues, and Lebanese military law allows information blackout except (sic) after the investigation. For other political detentions, public notification takes place on the request of the detained individual himself, in which case the authorities must secure the communication". The ambassador added: "Balfour's sister quoted him as saying that his treatment by the Lebanese authorities was good". Baaklini clarified to Al-Mustakbal that security arrests are not carried out unless the authorities are certain that the charges are confirmed. He stated that the Canadian government understands the situation and trusts the Lebanese judiciary. In fact, it is on this basis that Mr. Amin Nassar was elected in Canada (during an international conference) president of the World Constitutional Councils, and Canada was the first country to vote for him, which indicates that that the Lebanese judiciary is internationally recognized".

As to the letters that were sent to the Canadian Foreign Affairs Ministry from members of the Lebanese community, Human Rights organizations, and rightist leader Stockwell Day, Baaklini said: "Day could have his own personal scores to settle with Mr. Jean Chrétien's government which is looking quietly into the case. He also might be a friend of Israel. Which is why he wants to attack us, except that the relations between the two countries will not deteriorate and will not be affected at all. Ambassador Baaklini called on the Lebanese to be patient while awaiting the ruling of the judiciary, and not to give the case more than it deserves. He announced Lebanon's intention to open its doors to any lawyer and that Canada can appoint whoever it wants in this case.

On the other hand, Al-Mustakbal called the Canadian Foreign Ministry to hear its perspective on progress in the case, and the spokeswoman of the Foreign Ministry for Middle East Affairs, Ms. Marie-Christiane Lilkoff, confirmed that Balfour is receiving good treatment during his detention.  She did not think that the Lebanese authorities violated international treaties, but the Canadian government would have preferred to learn early on of the detention operation. In an answer to a question, Lilkoff denied that a specific policy targeting Canadian nationals in the Middle East is behind the arrest of Balfour, adding in this context that "there are no more Canadian prisoners in the Middle East than in the United States or any other country". Lilkoff expressed the confidence that the Canadian government has in the Lebanese judiciary, hoping that Balfour will have a fair trial.

(Translated from Arabic by: the CLHRF Media Committee)