Canadian held in Lebanese prison
Visit to Israel behind arrest; no charges laid
Jack Aubry - The Ottawa Citizen
Monday, July 28, 2003
A Canadian citizen has been detained for the past three weeks in a Beirut prison in Lebanon without any formal charges, CanWest News Service has learned.
Bruce Balfour, a 52-year-old Calgarian, was stopped on his arrival at the Beirut airport on July 10 and brought to the Rumy prison, where family and friends say he is being held without formal charges.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs said a staff member from the Canadian Embassy in Lebanon visited Mr. Balfour in prison on July 24 and a diplomatic note has been sent to the Lebanese government requesting further information about his detention.
Marie-Christiane Lilkoff said the Canadian government is trying to find out the reasons for Mr. Balfour's detention. She did not know whether there had been any delay by the Lebanese government in informing the Canadian Embassy of Mr. Balfour's detention, as is normally done in these cases.
Canadian Alliance MP Stockwell Day says Mr. Balfour's treatment is another example of the Chrétien government's "flawed and failed" foreign affairs policy, which sees countries ignore and mistreat Canadians.
He linked the recent death of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi in Iran with Mr. Balfour's treatment.
"It is clear that tyrannical undemocratic governments have no fear about mistreating Canadian citizens because there are no consequences to their action. They have completely disregarded Mr. Balfour's human rights, including his right to due process," said Mr. Day.
"They have detained him without charges and the Canadian government should be demanding his immediate release."
Mr. Day also scoffed at the weekend announcement in Iran that five guards are being detained in Iran for Ms. Kazemi's death: "I think it is a joke. They are thumbing their noses at us and burying all the evidence."
Ms. Lilkoff said the department had still not confirmed the announcement, which was reportedly made on state-run radio Saturday, adding that the government welcomes the move, if true.
Mr. Balfour was detained in Beirut at the beginning of a visit to the country on behalf of the Cedars of Lebanon reforestation project, in association with the Maranatha Evangelistic Association. In a January article in the Calgary Herald, Mr. Balfour said he was planning to return to Lebanon to replant the biblical Cedars of Lebanon, which have almost vanished from the country's high central mountain range.
Mr. Balfour's sister, Laura Mackenzie, said the Canadian consulate in Beirut was not made aware of Mr. Balfour's detention until 10 days after the fact when "an informant" in Lebanon contacted friends in Canada about his situation.
In a letter written July 22 to the Canadian ambassador in Lebanon, Mr. Balfour says he was arrested at the airport because Lebanese computerized records indicated he had once visited Israel.
"I was arrested because a computer entry said that I have been in Israel at one time, which is true. But please tell me where the crime in this is. My freedom has been taken away and I have been treated horribly," wrote Mr. Balfour.
"This is against all international law and moral code of every civilized country in the world. I need to get out of here now, every hour multiplies the possibility of my being moved to another location and disappearing forever."
He says in the letter that he has tried in vain for 11 days to make contact with the Canadian Embassy: "I have tried more than 100 times to make contact, but nothing worked."
Fred Van Vlot, a spokesman for Cedars of Lebanon in Calgary, said the group agrees that the Canadian government should be acting more forcefully, especially since Mr. Balfour was "secretly" detained for 11 days.
He says a fax they obtained from Mr. Balfour on July 22 indicates his situation was getting more desperate as he tried in vain to contact friends.
"I desperately need your help now!! I pray you will not forsake me! May you be richly blessed in your concentrated effort!! I am in Rumy prison on the top floor with south Lebanon prisoners," said the letter.
Mr. Van Vlot said the writing indicates Mr. Balfour is in distress, since he is generally fairly laid back and calm.
He also criticized the embassy staff for not providing a change of clothing to Mr. Balfour during their visit. Instead, Mr. Van Vlot said the embassy has asked the group for money to provide Mr. Balfour with clothes and food.
"You would think they would provide immediate assistance rather than simply relay the request," he said.
Ms. Mackenzie says her family -- Balfour has two brothers and one sister -- are in contact with Foreign Affairs and they are satisfied the Canadian government is doing everything possible to help Mr. Balfour.
She said they have been told their brother has not been mistreated in prison and that his physical well-being is not threatened. They've also been told their brother is fasting, which he normally does when he first arrives in Lebanon, while in prison.
She said her brother was informed at the Beirut airport that it is illegal to enter Lebanon if a person has already visited Israel and their records showed that he had been to the neighbouring country. She says if that is the case, he should be simply charged and fined, as the law apparently provides, and subsequently released.
Mr. Day said only one year ago, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien visited Lebanon to attend the francophone summit, with Canada contributing $7 million toward the cost of the biannual conference of French-speaking countries.
"It is this kind of soft diplomacy that is getting us nowhere on the international stage. Countries don't take us seriously," said Mr. Day.
© Copyright 2003 The Ottawa Citizen