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Canada's Shame II

The Jamal Akkal Affair and our Foreign Policy Hypocrisy
Beryl P. Wajsman 6 December 2003

Every Canadian can now feel wonderfully protected since our Department of Foreign Affairs decided to call in the Israeli Ambassador to offer a protest over the arrest of Canadian citizen Jamal Akkal by Israeli authorities on suspicion of terrorist activities. Our authorities are also upset that Ambassador Divon made reference to Akkal’s confession, which his family claims was coerced, and that the Ambassador was thereby prejudicing Akkal’s chances of a fair trial. The egregious hypocrisy of our foreign policy establishment makes one’s head reel.

Akkal, born in Gaza and a naturalized Canadian, was on a visit in the region. Akkal’s own Palestinian lawyer admitted that his client met with several Hamas leaders, engaged in strategy sessions and fired automatic weapons with trainees at a militia base. But he claims that there was no reason for alarm on the part of the Israelis since the meetings were only social, the strategy sessions merely "ideological" and the firing of weapons was done "…just to see how it felt…" The actions to which his lawyer admitted would have gotten Akkal arrested on any of a dozen charges in any other western country.

But what is particularly astounding in Canada’s speedy reaction in delivering a diplomatic note to Israel in this affair is that it begs comparison to Canada’s inaction in several other recent files. Our Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade has decided to criticize the one nation in the region that has a functioning democracy, where due process of law is followed, and where the accused received immediate legal counsel and multiple visits from Canadian consular authorities. The one nation in the region with the national political culture courageous enough to launch public investigations each time there is any suggestion of human rights abuses. Would that we in Canada have the same courageous political, and diplomatic, culture.

Where was our voice of national indignation when Maher Arar, also a Canadian national, was held in Syrian prisons for a year undergoing psychological and physical torture? Why did we remain silent as he was whisked from the United States to Syria even as his family in Canada pleaded just to see him one more time? Where was our diplomatic courage when his friends and relatives lobbied in Ottawa for some action.

Where were our protests in the William Sampson case? Not only was Sampson held for two years by Saudi authorities under a death sentence on trumped up murder charges, with no access to legal counsel of any kind for months until a Saudi lawyer was appointed for him, but there was not even an attempt by Canadian consular officials to intervene even though they knew within 72 hours that he had been arrested. When Liberal MP Aileen Carroll, Parliamentary Secretary to Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham, interrupted Sampson’s scathing indictment of her Department in front of a Commons Committee by suggesting that Canadian officials did all they could, Sampson responded "Ms. Carroll, our officials did not even try to see me for four months and when they finally did they said to me that in light of my guilt I should co-operate with the Saudis."

Where is our concern in the Abdullah Almaki affair? Amnesty International is gravely concerned that Almalki, also a Canadian/Syrian national, has been subjected to prolonged torture and ill-treatment in incommunicado detention in Syria. Almalki was arrested as he arrived at the airport in the Syrian capital in May 2002 and was held at a secret location until this October. He is now believed to be held in Sednaya prison on the outskirts of Damascus. Almalki has not been granted permission to see representatives from the Canadian Consulate and has been denied access to legal counsel and family members.

The answer is a clear one and a sad one. Our Foreign Affairs bureaucrats can muster up interest only when an opportunity arises to criticize the one transparent and free nation in the region. Israel is DFAIT’s whipping boy not because the Department is anti-Semitic, though some in it may be, as has been suggested by many critics, nor even because many of its functionaries have been rendered senseless by decades of a bankrupt policy of moral relativism and multilateralism. They criticize Israel because it gets them points.

Our nation, which has sacrificed more sons and daughters for the defense and expansion of freedom in the past century than even the United States as a proportion of population, has been hijacked by careerists. Canadians never counted the number of men in the Kaiser’s armies, nor the number of tanks in Hitler’s Panzer Divisions, nor the missiles in China’s arsenal aimed at Korea. We understood, viscerally, that man’s millennia long struggle to break out of the forests of barbarism was a precious quest. We lionized and celebrated those who stood with us in vigilant opposition to any assault on our values of democracy and freedom.

Today, sadly, our Foreign Affairs officials count. But what they count are not weapons or soldiers. No, they count chancelleries. And that count shows them twenty-four Arab countries where they can advance their careers and become Ambassadors. But they count only one democracy. As Hannah Arendt wrote in The Origins of Totalitarianism, one need not search too deeply for the root causes of injustice in this world. One need not make complicated psychological constructs to explain duplicity and mendacity. One need not question too long why good and gentle people are put upon while tyrants and tyranny triumph. The answers are summed up in four words "…the banality of evil…" The banality of counting capitals on a map.

Our national pride and purpose, which was never compromised nor cudgeled by mountains of munitions, has now fallen victim to the ambitions of avarice. We have forfeited the authenticity and legitimacy of our inherent responsibilities to, acceptance of and engagement with the development of freedom in the international order in return for a higher rating on the bureaucratic pay scale and a few more barrels of oil. We have compromised truth by timidity and mortgaged our honour to expediency. Shame on us.


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