Controversial envoy is spying on us, Canadian Lebanese groups charge
Jack Aubry - The Ottawa Citizen
Tuesday, August 19, 2003
Patrick Doyle, The Ottawa Citizen
Raymond Baaklini said his embassy is actively watching the Canadian Lebanese community.

Canadian Lebanese groups are examining the options they might take in response to what they call tactics of "intimidation" and "terror" by Lebanon's controversial ambassador to Canada.

Eight Canadian Lebanese non-governmental organizations issued a joint statement this week condemning Ambassador Raymond Baaklini's interview with the Montreal-based Arabic-language newspaper Sada al Machric, published on July 29.

In the interview, Mr. Baaklini indicated the Lebanese embassy is actively watching the activities of the Canadian Lebanese community. This activity is revealed when he responds to a question about "a group of Lebanese agents" arriving in Canada "with Lebanese blood on their hands."

"We heard rumours and tried to investigate, but we do not have a clear picture on this issue at all," Mr. Baaklini told the interviewer.

Elias Bejjani, a spokesman for the Canadian Lebanese Human Rights Federation, which opposes the current Lebanese government, says that remark shows the Lebanese Embassy is spying on the Canadian Lebanese community members and organizations.

"There is a very small group (in the Lebanese Canadian community) 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," Mr. Baaklini also told the interviewer.

By accusing some in the Lebanese Canadian community of being collaborators with Zionists, Mr. Baaklini is inviting extremists to take action against them, Mr. Bejjani said.

"Anyone who knows anything about the Middle East knows this is an invitation for extremists to take action -- it is an open threat," added Mr. Bejjani.

The eight Lebanese-Canadian NGOs indicate in their statement that they are considering legal action. "In fact, numerous NGOs and community members are seriously considering suing him and the Lebanese government for defamation and uttering threatening remarks," the statement said.

Mr. Baaklini has twice been advised by Foreign Affairs in the past year that his statements to Arabic-language media have been inappropriate and inaccurate. The ambassador apologized in January to Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham for some of his comments.

Last week, the department's acting deputy minister, John McNee, rapped Mr. Baaklini on the knuckles after Mr. Baaklini criticized Canada's media for exaggerating the case of Bruce Balfour, a Calgary man being held in a Beirut prison because he had an Israeli visa stamp in his passport. The Lebanese government accuses Mr. Balfour of spying for Israel.

But Reynald Doiron, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs, said the recent interview with Mr. Baaklini does not place him in any additional hot water with the Canadian government.

"What is questionable would be whether there was any direct action in recruiting people. But just analyzing trends within the Canadian Lebanese community is part of his regular duties, we suppose, as instructed by his authorities," said Mr. Doiron. "What he said in this interview is not reprehensible, but just surprising that it is expressed out there in the open."

Mr. Bejjani said the groups are consulting lawyers about Mr. Baaklini's statements, but have been advised that diplomatic immunity likely protects him from civil action. Mr. Bejjani said it has become obvious from Mr. Baaklini's failure to stop "spewing outright hostility" that the proper action by Foreign Affairs is to send the ambassador back to his homeland.

Mr. Bejjani said he is disappointed with Foreign Affairs' reaction to the latest translated interview.

The Lebanese Embassy in Ottawa has not responded to numerous requests for an interview with Mr. Baaklini.

The ambassador has defended his actions in the July 29 interview with Sada al Machric.

"If the Lebanese government was not happy with Ambassador Raymond Baaklini, he would have 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."

Last December, Mr. Baaklini said Canada had outlawed Hezbollah, a terrorist group based in Lebanon that also has a charitable arm, under pressure from a "Zionist party" that controls most of the Canadian media. He also said Canadians should no longer feel comfortable identifying their nationality while in the Middle East, stating the Maple Leaf flag is no longer a welcome sign. The comment was viewed by many at the time as an "implied threat."

Copyright 2003 The Ottawa Citizen