silencing of Lebanese witnesses by Opposition MPs at Foreign Affairs Committee
STATEMENT FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, 2 August, 2006
Ottawa, Canada - The Opposition Liberal, NDP and Bloc Quebecois parties called for the convening of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development during Parliament's summer recess for the purpose of challenging the government's Middle East policy and the evacuation of Canadians from Lebanon. Such a committee requires that notice be given on the internet, and any potential witnesses can contact the Clerk of the Committee to request standing to provide testimony.
Several groups applied to be witnesses and were accepted by the Clerk of the Committee. These witnesses travelled to Ottawa from across the country on short notice and at considerable personal expense.
The committee met on August 1. In the morning, the committee MPs had an opportunity to question the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, Peter MacKay. In the afternoon, the Opposition MPs, mainly led by Alexa McDonough of the NDP, put forward a procedural motion calling for committee business to be dealt with before the witnesses were heard. The government MPs responded that concluding the committee business before hearing from the witnesses was like passing a verdict in a trial before calling witnesses.
Ms McDonough went further, stating that the witnesses were identified with a single well-defined, narrow position, and challenged their credibility. It should be noted that Ms McDonough made these damaging allegations against witnesses approved by the Clerk of the Committee while knowing neither the witnesses nor the content of their testimony.
Below is the list of witnesses scheduled to give testimony that afternoon whose right to speak was effectively revoked by Ms McDonough and other Opposition MPs:
Canadian International Development Agency
Canadian Red Cross
Canadian Lebanese Human Rights Federation
World Lebanese Cultural Union
Monastery Saint Anthony the Great
Canadian Assembly for Lebanon
Canadian Coalition for Democracies
Khal Ishraki, as an individual evacuee
The subject matter for the hearing was specifically Lebanon, yet Opposition MPs passed a procedural resolution that effectively denied all Lebanese witnesses the right to speak. These witnesses included people with family members in the southern war zone of Lebanon and those directly affected by the evacuation. The Opposition used a procedural motion to silence these voices. As a result, Opposition MPs, with no first hand knowledge of the situation, were able to criticize the government without fear of contradiction from Lebanese witnesses or by CIDA and the Red Cross who were directly involved in the evacuation and humanitarian effort.
CCD strongly condemns Alexa McDonough and other Opposition MPs for excluding Lebanese, CIDA and Red Cross voices with first-hand experience on the situation in Lebanon from providing testimony to a committee whose mandate was specifically the tragic situation in Lebanon.
The testimony that CCD had prepared but was prevented from presenting is below.
Alastair T. Gordon
President, Canadian Coalition for Democracies
before HOUSE OF COMMONS
1st Session, 39th Parliament
Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs
and International Development
Meeting No. 16
Tuesday, August 1, 2006 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM
Room 237, Centre Block, Parliament Buildings
The Canadian Coalition for Democracies would like to thank the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development for the opportunity to express our views on Canada’s position and actions in the latest chapter of the ongoing tragedy of the Middle East.
Canada has long had a policy of so-called neutrality in the Middle East. We have referred to ourselves as an “honest broker” in the conflict between a sister democracy and organizations – specifically Hamas, Hezbollah and Fatah – whose governing charters all call for the destruction of the Jewish state.
Fatah, the party of Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, is the only one of those three entities that has not yet been designated as an illegal terrorist organization by the Government of Canada. Yet the Fatah charter, available for all to see on its website, states, “Judaism … is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation.” To achieve the goal of denying a state to the Jewish people, the charter of the most moderate of Israel’s opponents states that, “Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine.”
It is important to realize that even Fatah, the so-called “moderate” of the Middle East factions, is governed by a charter – as inviolable as Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms – that calls for the destruction of Israel through violence. And Hezbollah and Hamas consider Fatah to be unacceptably moderate. This is the neighbourhood in which Israel struggles for survival.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has rightly chosen democracy over terror in this conflict. He is not seeking the ephemeral and short-lived popularity enjoyed by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in 1938 when he chose to negotiate with Adolf Hitler and sacrificed Czechoslovakia for “Peace in our time”. That contrived “peace” gave the Nazis the time, opportunity and tacit approval to grow to a near-unstoppable force that resulted, by the end of World War II, in 45 million dead and Europe in ruins.
In today’s terms, Prime Minister Harper recognizes that sacrificing Israel to the demands of a fascist enemy will not bring peace. Just as Hitler peddled his self-inflicted and self-serving grievances to gullible Western leaders and peace activists while pursuing his well-publicized charter, so too will Hamas and Hezbollah. And they will be further emboldened by the apparent weakness of today’s gullible Westerners.
In contrast to Prime Minister Harper’s moral clarity, we now hear former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defence, Bill Graham, tell the Guardian newspaper on July 18, "Mr. Harper is proud of the fact he wasn't nuanced … Nuance has kept us in a position where we could help.”
Nuance? Does Mr. Graham actually believe that nuance will curb the homicidal ambitions of an organization that has amassed over 10,000 missiles and sent 1,500 of those missiles packed with flesh-shredding ball bearings into Israel, and done so from positions within densely populated Lebanese cities and towns? Does he believe that nuance is an effective weapon against an organization that is the heavily financed and armed proxy of Iran, whose president has called for the nuclear annihilation of Israel? It would be laughable were it not for the slaughter of innocents and the threat to Canada that flows from Mr. Graham’s deadly naiveté.
Mr. Graham actually believes that Israel should negotiate with an organization that his own government has designated as a terrorist entity. He is telling Israel that she must deal with Hezbollah, whose opening demand is the release of hundreds of prisoners with Israeli blood on their hands, starting with Samir Kuntar, a Palestinian whose gang kidnapped 4-year-old Israeli Anat Hanan and his father, and took them to Gaza where they smashed in the head of the child in front of his father before shooting the man to death. For this atrocity, Kuntar is a Hezbollah hero.
It is Prime Minister Harper, not Bill Graham, who is the honest broker, for honesty demands that we not be impartial between the fireman and the arsonist, to paraphrase Winston Churchill.
Canada and other UN members pressured Israel to give up “land for peace” in Lebanon and Gaza, land that was originally secured by Israel as a result of its being used for terror attacks against Israeli civilians. Now that “land for peace” has proven to be “land for war”, surely we at least have the obligation to allow Israel to defend herself against the blood-soaked consequences of our own failed policies.
Prime Minister Harper has recognized that the Middle East is not a distant regional conflict, but a struggle for the existence of Israel against the same enemy that may have recently been thwarted in our own backyard from slaughtering thousands in Canada. Israel faces the same enemy that has massacred innocents in Mumbai, Kashmir, London, Madrid, New York, Philippines, Bali, Thailand, Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Russia and countless other places around the world. The Middle East is not a regional conflict. It is a global conflict – our conflict -- and “nuance” will not defeat this enemy any more than “nuance” defeated Hitler.
The people of Lebanon are suffering horribly. Their nation – once described as the “Switzerland of the Middle East” – has again been shattered by Islamist extremism. As one young Lebanese evacuee told the New York Times on July 27, “Hezbollah came to [our town] Ain Ebel to shoot its rockets … They are shooting from between our houses … Please write that in your newspaper.” Sixty innocent Lebanese were killed when Israel returned fire on a Hezbollah launch site deliberately and cruelly located in the village of Qana, about which Human Rights Watch said, “The use of human shields [by Hezbollah] is a war crime.” The Cedars Revolution of Lebanon issued a press release on July 30 entitled, “Hezbollah is responsible for the massacre.” Were Hezbollah not using women and children as human shields to protect their fighters and weapons while they launch missiles into Israel, not a single Lebanese would have been harmed by Israel’s defensive actions.
This committee also asked witnesses to comment on Canada’s evacuation of Lebanese Canadians from the war zone. Whereas CCD can evaluate the ethical case for supporting Israel, we are not experts in the logistics of such a difficult operation. However, the fact that the Government of Canada successfully arranged for 31 ships and 48 aircraft to remove over 12,500 evacuees, and that the worse complaints from evacuees were uncomfortable conditions and delays, we can only conclude that our public servants and armed forces deserve enormous credit for a difficult job well done.
In conclusion, it is the position of CCD that Prime Minister Harper is the first Canadian Prime Minister in many years to “get it” – to understand that being an honest broker requires a leader who has the moral clarity to distinguish between democracy and terror, between those who wish to live in peace and those committed to their destruction. Like Winston Churchill, Prime Minister Harper is a leader who will be judged, not by transient blips in popularity, but in the fullness of history. We stand behind the Prime Minister in his support for defeating, not accommodating, the fascist death cult that is tearing apart our world.
Alastair Gordon, President
Canadian Coalition for Democracies
Alastair Gordon, President
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Founded in 2003, the Canadian Coalition for Democracies (CCD) is a non-partisan, multi-ethnic, multi-denominational organization of concerned Canadians dedicated to the protection and promotion of democracy at home and abroad. CCD focuses on research, education and media publishing to build a greater understanding of the importance of a pro-democracy foreign policy. http://canadiancoalition.com/