Some time ago we sent you our op-ed piece condemning the appointment of MP Yvon Charbonneau to the post of Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Security. We had been told by government sources that somehow Mr. Charbonneau's relationships to FLQ and PLO leaders had been "overlooked". This past week added insult to the injury of the Charbonneau appointment.
Prime Minister Martin wanted to appoint a candidate of his choosing for the Liberal nomination in the Ontario riding of Brampton-Springdale. Early this week he offered the sitting Liberal MP, Sarkis Assadourian, a post as an advisor inside the PMO. Mr. Assadourian's exact title will be Special Advisor to the Prime Minister on Near East and South Caucasus Affairs. This is the first time such a position has been created inside the PMO. Mr. Martin could have made a more enlightened choice.
Mr. Assadourian has had a very problematic record on Mid-East and national security questions particularly as they relate to the threats to Canada from the radical Islamic world and on our position in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The "Women in Black", an anti-Israeli group that protests regularly in Ottawa, considers him an important interlocutor in the Liberal caucus on a par with MP's Mark Assad, Colleen Baumier and Carolyn Parrish. Mr. Assadourian was outspoken in his criticism of former Prime Minister Chrétien's support for a Canadian Holocaust Museum arguing that the Jewish Holocaust should be commemorated in a general exhibit on the "...genocides of the twentieth century..." He also took the extraordinary step, for a Canadian parliamentarian, of hosting a reception where the representative of the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem expounded on the reasons why his organization was suing the Israeli government over the issue of the Israeli security fence.
The Charbonneau-Assadourian appointments are truly troubling.
Later in the week the government rejected a motion in the House that sought to prevent Saudi Arabia's chief cleric, and rabid anti-Semitic preacher, from entering Canada for an Islamic conference. The motion was introduced by Conservative MP Jason Kenney to condemn the planned visit of Sheikh Abd al-Rahman al-Sudais who has called for the destruction of Jews from his post as the Imam of the Grand Mosque of Mecca. After the spate of anti-Semitic violence in Toronto and Montreal and after the government's stated commitment to crack down on acts designed to incite hate as part of its security policy, it was astounding to see Mauril Belanger, Deputy Leader of the government in the Commons, deny consent for the motion to be adopted. This effectively vetoed it.
Al-Sudais has referred to Jews as "...the scum of the earth..." and he has regularly exhorted his followers against the Christian "...worshippers of the cross..." and the "...idol-worshipping Hindus...". Yet Mr. Belanger said he did not give his consent because Mr. Kenney had failed to let him know of his plans sufficiently in advance so that he could check with DFAIT. This of course begs the question as to why DFAIT officials had not blacklisted Al-Sudais on their own since his visit was first reported in Arab News, the Arab world's leading English language daily, on March 22. Shortly thereafter Reuters and the Associated Press carried a worldwide release on an address Al-Sudais gave to 2 million followers at the Grand Mosque in which he stated that he "...prayed to God to terminate the Jews..." whom he called "...the scum of humanity, the rats of the world, prophet killers...pigs and monkeys..."
This affair reminds me of my first advocacy encounter with the PMO on the issue of Arab extremism. It was 1975 and Canada was considering extending an invitation to Yassir Arafat. I was serving on Prime Minister Trudeau's Executive and decided to call him about this. Within four days I had set up an Ad Hoc Committee Against PLO Entry into Canada. We collected 4500 signatures on petitions in Trudeau's riding alone, presented all the paperwork to the PMO within a week, and four days after our meeting received a letter from the Prime Minister confirming that our actions and views would be given serious consideration. Two days after receiving the letter the government issued a statement that Mr. Arafat would not be invited to Canada.
The actions of the government this week are wholly inconsistent with Canadian values and compromise Canada's stated national security objectives. Indulgence of controversial opinions should never be allowed to degenerate into license for incitement and prejudice. We need to make this message clear to Ottawa before silence is interpreted as acquiescence.
It is a time for us all to act with clarity, candour and courage.