A court martial in Canada heard on January 6 the basics of the government’s case against Captain Robert Semrau. He is charged with killing a wounded Taliban in Helmand Province on October 19.
According to the prosecution, following a battle which began with an ambush by Taliban fighters, the Taliban were beaten. Returning to the battlefield, Canadian forces found one Taliban on the ground, still alive but so badly wounded that he could not be treated on the field. He would have required medical evacuation. It is claimed by the prosecution that after his weapon had been removed from him, Semrau fired two shots from a rifle into his body, killing him.
Speaking for Canada’s Conservative minority government, Peter Kent, Canada’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs (Americas), has put full blame for the Gaza tragedy at the feet of Hamas. Siding unconditionally with Israel, he stated:
“Canada believes there should be an immediate ceasefire, but only if it’s a permanent ceasefire, if it’s a durable ceasefire, and if Hamas is prevented or is willing not to rearm and resume its terrorist rocketing at some point down the road.”
We are yet to hear from any major Canadian politician who clearly spells out Israel’s responsibility in this humanitarian disaster. Uri Averny, an Israeli peace activist, has argued that the rockets and missiles from Gaza were parallel to Israeli aggression: the blockade and embargo.
Canadian witness reports on Israeli raid on Gaza
On December 27, Israel launched a massive air attack on Gaza. Foreign human rights advocates are in Gaza, most having arrived on boats that defied the Israeli blockade. They are from Britain, Poland, Spain, Italy, Australia, and Canada.
Eva Bartlett, a Canadian member of the International Solidarity Movement, is one of those present in Gaza. Her report follows:
“At the time of the attacks I was on Omar Mukhtar Street and witnessed a last rocket hit the street 150 meters away where crowds had already gathered to try to extract the dead bodies. Ambulances, trucks, cars—anything that can move—is bringing injured to the hospitals. Hospitals have had to evacuate sick patients to make room for the injured. I have been told that there is not enough room in the morgues for the bodies and that there is a great lack of blood in the blood banks. I have just learned that among the civilians killed today was the mother of my good friends in Jabalya camp.”
Abdelkader Belaouni is a blind Algerian refugee who has been in sanctuary in St. Gabriel’s Church in the community of Pointe St. Charles, Montreal, since January 2006.
Abdelkader Belaouni, a blind Algerian, has been in sanctuary in a Montreal church since January 1, 2006, to avoid deportation. In his case, he is not claiming to be a refugee. Rather, he wants to remain in Canada on humanitarian grounds.
Belaouni fled Algeria in 1996 to avoid ongoing violence in the country, going to the United States, where he sold phone cards from a booth on a New York City street. When he was given a deportation order, he left for Canada.
Canadian Immigration also issued a deportation order, resulting in his seeking the protection of the church. In Canada, he has not been employed but has done volunteer work. A committee of support has lobbied for him to be allowed to stay in Canada. It has garnered support from various religious, ethnic, legal, and social organizations.
Gaza sit-ins, protests across Canada
On January 7, eight Jewish women sat in at the Israeli consulate in Toronto, to protest against the assault on Gaza. Among the participants were Judy Rebick, a well-known activist, and Judith Deutsch, president of Science for Peace. They were removed by police. That same day, other Jews in Toronto spoke out against the slaughter, including physicist Ursula Franklin and pianist Anton Kuerti.
The next day, it was Montreal’s turn. Thirty demonstrators entered the office building housing the Israeli consulate, and when they were unable to enter they blocked it, until police took them out.
A thousand people gathered in a Montreal synagogue on January 9 to support Israel, but 15 Jews demonstrated outside. One of them, Aaron Lakoff, told the media, “We’re here to denounce the massacre.” The day before, 4,000 attended a rally to support Israel in Toronto, again with a smaller group of opponents demonstrating outside.
All across Canada, from New Year’s Eve on, there have been protests against Israeli actions, beginning on December 31 with a small rally in chilly Calgary. There were demonstrations of 5,000 in Toronto and Montreal, thousands in Ottawa, and smaller numbers in other places. Rallies have taken place in Halifax, Vancouver, Edmonton, Hamilton, Kitchener, Windsor, Chatham, Fredericton, Quebec City, Saskatoon, and Victoria.
In Windsor, Brian Masse, a socialist New Democratic Party Member of Parliament, chided Prime Minister Stephen Harper for simply blaming Hamas. Demonstrators responded with shouts of “Shame!”
Canada-Israel trade increasing
Jonathan Levy, Israel’s trade commissioner in Canada, reports a boom in trade between the two countries in 2008. From January to September, trade was up 45%. Imports from Israel were close to $828 million and exports to Israel were worth $580 million.
Hi-tech has been a key sector for this international trade. On the Canadian side, Research in Motion (RIM) and Bell Mobility are prominent.
Former Canadian ambassador to the UN, Paul Heinbecker
Paul Heinbecker, former Canadian ambassador to the UN, continues his criticism of Canada’s sharp tilt from a balanced, independent position on Middle East questions to a strongly pro-Israel stance. In the latest instance, Canada cast a vote in the U.N. Human Rights Council against a resolution condemning Israel for its behavior in Gaza.
In the vote, European members of the Council, as well as Japan and South Korea, abstained, because the resolution did not also offer a strong condemnation of the Hamas rocket attacks. Said Heinbecker, “You find ten other countries abstaining because the resolution is not sufficiently balanced and one country voting against it, and that’s Canada. This puts Canada squarely in the Israel-U.S. camp.” This shift in Canada’s position reflects the attitude of the current minority Conservative government.