Excerpts from an interview by the Montreal-based Sada Al-Mashreq newspaper with Lebanon's Ambassador to Canada Raymond Baaklini
Published on Tuesday July 29, 2003

Q: How do you evaluate the Lebanese communities sympathy towards your person and the embassy after the campaign that targeted you following the interview with our colleague Joumaa?
A: The communities sympathy shows itself in two ways. First, there are a large number of people who considered the attack mounted by the media against us as an attack on me personally and on the embassy, and that is true. Many groups called and denounced the campaign and we received phone calls from Lebanese people who have been in Canada for more than fifty or sixty years and who do not accept that anyone attack their embassy.
Now there are other groups who questioned why the ambassador would make statements or discuss a specific subject, and there was room for confusion. We cannot forget that the Lebanese community includes different points of views and I received these issues with open arms. I reiterate that I cannot receive with open arms the positions of some Lebanese who showed extreme positions, in effect against Lebanon and in favor of Israel. That is to say, this radical love for Israel to that extent is simply something no one can accept. I see that the community was internally harmonious as a democratic society, and you know that the most important democracy in the region is the Lebanese democracy in spite of all that is said about the war and so on, Lebanon is still the democratic oasis of the region.

Q: There is a general feeling that the Lebanese Christian community in Canada is in the opposition against the Lebanese government and its president Emile Lahoud. And it is clear from statements published from time to time and through what is written in expatriate newspapers. Is that the reality?
A: I do not think so, and you are saying that this shows through statements.

Q: It is not just the statements, but also what is being written in newspapers by writers and analysts, as well as readers who are for the most part from a particular confession.
A: We should not forget that Canada is a refuge for the (Lebanese) Christian militias and these militias naturally are against the State. But that does not mean that the Christian community is against the State or against President Lahoud.
The vast majority of the Christian community in Canada supports the State and its president. As to statements that are published here and there, we take a look at them and we know who is behind them. They represent a point of view that is present on the Lebanese scene, the same as in Canada, America, and elsewhere, and they are groups from the Christian (Lebanese) immigrant community who have their points of view, but the vast majority effectively stand by the Lebanese government.

Q: It seems that these opposition groups have capabilities in the media and elsewhere?
A: That is true to a certain extent because these groups are organized. They have web sites on the Internet and financial backing. There are other groups that cannot at all be accused of having relations with Israel but they have certain points of views and see the situation in Lebanon differently, and these groups have financial backing. As to the (Lebanese) State, it does not provide support to any group with the intent of conveying its point of view, and I think the government should work on this issue.

Q: Does that mean that the State and its supporters are not doing enough, and that the opposition is really small in numbers?
A: I cannot accuse the State of delinquency, but what I am saying is that it is certainly incumbent on the State that it should include as part of its programs in the future its involvement in this area.

Q: There are campaigns that are carried out by Lebanese people that are raising many questions. Do you have evidence for the association of these groups with Israel?
A: I said it before and I say it again here. There is a very small group that is of the opinion that the salvation of Lebanon lays in the hands of Israel and that has relations with Zionist groups here in Canada. These groups are very small in numbers, but they have the means to present their point of view in certain venues and through modern electronic media. But they represent only a segment of the Christian Lebanese Canadian community that is so small as to make it hardly worth mentioning, much like in every country where there are extremist groups with their own views. As the Lebanese State, we interact with everyone and do not sympathize with those who work with, or have relations with, the enemy State that is Israel. There are even Lebanese journalists who dealt with Israel and they are well known and still express their opinions.

Q: There was talk lately about the arrival (to Canada) of a group of Lebanese agents who collaborated with Israel and who have Lebanese blood on their hands. Have you received this information and are you doing anything in that regard?
A: Truthfully we do not have confirmed information. We heard rumors and tried to investigate but we do not have a clear picture on this issue at all.

Q: It has been said that the Ambassador was strongly criticized by the Lebanese Foreign Ministry after stating his positions to our newspaper in the past.
A: My answer is this: If the Lebanese government was not happy with Ambassador Raymond Baaklini he would heave been part of the big reshuffling that took place recently. The fact that the State insisted on my staying in Canada specifically means the blessing of the State for my actions and my positions. 

Q: Do you communicate with the groups that oppose the Lebanese State in Canada to clarify the misunderstandings?
A: As an embassy, our duty is to communicate first with local groups and parties to explain Lebanon's point of view. As to contacting these groups, we are not charged with this task because these groups which are present in Canada follow without exception their leaderships in Beirut or some leaderships that reside outside of Lebanon. They receive instructions from outside Canada, and if a dialogue is to be started it should be with the leadership and not with branches in Canada or another country.

Q: There was a strong attack in the media against Lebanese diplomats for not properly receiving former President Amin Gemayel during his visit to Canada. The absence of the Ambassador and the Consuls from his reception was noticeable, and it was said that the Ambassador traveled outside of Canada in order to avoid receiving the former President. Any comments?
A: You did not name names, but I like to. There was an article in the Al Akhbar An Nahar's newspaper entitled Lebanon's Majesty Defiled by Dwarfs that criticized, without naming him, Lebanon's Consul General in Montreal. Firstly, I object to that article and its title because it does not correlate with the truth, and secondly, I do not accept that the Consul General be belittled. Thirdly, the issue of President Amin Gemayel whom we all love and respect. He is a former President who represents a legitimacy and to whom the embassy has obligations. Protocol dictates that the (Lebanese) Foreign Ministry should inform the chief of the delegation (the Ambassador) of the arrival of the former President and suggest a program, a dinner, or a reception in his honor, and we have no problem with that. I do not know if there was any coordination between the former President and the Foreign Ministry. We did not receive any information in this regard, neither the Embassy nor the General Consulate in Montreal, and I was on vacation outside of Canada that was authorized by the Lebanese government. This incident does not constitute a precedent since there were other instances where government ministers arrived to Canada without the Foreign Ministry notifying us of their arrival, as for example the visits by Ministers Marwan Hamadeh, Hovnanian, and Najeeb Mikati.

Q: What is your comment on the campaign against Canadian MP Tony Valery after his meeting with (Lebanese) MP Mohammad Raad?
A: The issue wasn't widespread. It was rather limited. We cannot conclude to a negative position from the Canadian government. We should not forget the campaign against Canadian Prime Minister Mr. Jean Chretien during his presence next to Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah (Hezbollah leader) at the Francophone Summit (held in Beirut).

(Translated from Arabic by the (Canadian Lebanese Human Rights Federation) CLHRF Media Committee)