Lebanon Charges Calgary man with travelling to Israel
Tree-planter has spent weeks in Beirut jail
By: Mike Blanchfield
National Post Page A7 30/7/03

Ottawa: A Calgary man imprisoned in Lebanon goes to court in Beirut on August 11/03 to face a charge of travelling illegally to Israel. Foreign Affairs confirmed yesterday 52 year old, Bruce Balfour, will remain in Lebanese prison until that date, But they refused to disclose details of the charge he will face until they receive a written copy from Lebanese prosecutors."They 've heard the charges verbally, which is basically what we already know, that he has been to Israel," Mr. Balfour's sister, Laura Mackenzie, said, "And that's against their law".

Reynald Dorion, a spokesman for the Foreign Affairs, said a formal written charge was to be delivered to Canadian diplomats in Beirut today or tomorrow. He said Canadian diplomats in Beirut have spoken to Lebanese prosecutors, but he would not elaborate. Mr. Dorion said it is to early to gauge the severity of the charge. He said there's no reason to believe yet that "collaboration with an enemy state" automatically means Mr. Balfour is being accused of a serious such as espionage. "May be  he went too often to Israel for the liking of authorities (in Lebanon)," he said. "We don't know yet". Consular officials visited Mr. Balfour yesterday and he appeared to be in good spirits, said Mr. Dorion.

Foreign Affairs is also waiting on a response to a diplomatic note it sent to the Lebanese government asking for an explanation why Canada was not informed about Mr. Balfour's detention.
Under an international convention, to which Canada and Lebanon are signatories, Beirut had to inform Ottawa that it had imprisoned a Canadian citizen. Mr. Balfour was in prison for 11 days before a friend of his tipped the Canadian consulate in Beirut last week. Mr. Balfour is an evangelical Christian who had traveled previously to Israel, and was part of a symbolic tree-planting pilgrimage to Lebanon. Lebanon does not permit entry to travelers carrying a passport stamped by Israel. In most cases, people found to have visited Israel are sent back to their country of origin on the first available flight. It is rare for such travelers to be detained, said a source with the Lebanese government who asked to remain anonymous.

Though Mr. Balfour's family has been told he will likely be charged, nothing has been formalized in writing. "Ofcourse we would want him released if he's not charged,", Mr. Dorion said. "But if he's charged, then our job is to ensure due process of justice takes place, including full and unrestricted access to legal counsel".

Mr. Dorion said Mr. Balfour could face prosecution in a Lebanese military court. Ms. Mackenzie said there is no indication from the Lebanese authorities that her brother is considered a security threat. Ms.Mackenzie said he has traveled extensively to the Middle East - including Israel and Lebanon often for many months at a time. But she doesn't   him to be in serious legal danger. She said she believed Mr. Balfour was being detained merely because of his presence in Israel. "I've been told the average punishment for this crime is a fine".

Mr. Balfour sent a note out to his family yesterday telling them not to worry and informing them that he had stopped fasting. "He's eating now and drinking and in good company. He seems to be doing well, " Ms. Mackenzie said. "As long as he's comfortable that's my main concern. As long as he's not being mistreated. He has to follow due process and go through whatever they deem necessary. As long as he's treated humanely what can we do".

Lebanese cultural organizations in Canada denounced Mr. Balfour's detention because they say the behavior of the Beirut government reflects badly on the estimated 500.000 Lebanese-Canadians. "This government does not respect the values or the tolerance or the respect for human rights of the Lebanese people" said Elias Bejjani, spokesman for the Canadian Lebanese Human Rights Federation."The Lebanese community feels pissed off and appreciates the work Mr. Balfour was doing".

(Can West News Service (Ottawa Citizen) with files from the Canadian Press)