IN RECENT YEARS, Canada has fallen from grace as an international peacemaker. While we think of ourselves as the country of Lester B. Pearson and the UN Peacekeepers, in reality, we currently provide fewer than 50 UN peacekeepers helping make peace.
On the diplomatic front, Canada has repeatedly tried to get a seat on the UN Security Council only to be unsuccessful. In 2010, under then Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada lost its bid for a seat on the security council.
In 2020 under Prime Minister Trudeau, Canada again failed to secure a seat, this time to Norway and Ireland. Norway spends more than three times per capita on international development than Canada, while tiny Ireland provides 523 peacekeepers. Both were seen as more able to help make the world more secure.
Canada is not seen as relevant as it once was in making the world a more stable place.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Canada’s reaction to the latest Israeli – Palestinian conflict is lackluster at best. Our response is shallow and unproductive.
It is not so much what the Canadian government said this week, but what was not said.
In a one-page statement issued by Global Affairs Canada on May 12, Marc Garneau, Minister of Foreign Affairs, stated, “The indiscriminate barrage of rocket attacks fired by Hamas into populated areas of Israel is absolutely unacceptable and must cease immediately.”
Fair enough. On May 18, media outlet Al Jeezera reported that 12 persons have died in Israel including two children as a result of Hamas shelling. Civilians should not be targets of military attacks.
But nowhere in the one-page statement is there any mention of rocket attacks by Israel, let alone calling their attacks indiscriminate. This, despite, according to Al Jeezera, as of May 18, at least 213 people in Gaza, including 61 children, have been killed as a result of Israeli rocket attacks. No civilians should be targets, in Gaza or in Israel. But Garneau’s statement mentions only Hamas shelling.
Also in the statement, Garneau states “Canada supports Israel’s right to live in peace with its neighbours within secure boundaries and recognizes Israel’s right to assure its own security.”
True enough. Every state has the right to live peacefully and assure its security. But there is no mention in the statement of Palestine’s rights to assure its own security as well.
The relationship between Israel and Palestine is extremely fraught right now. But looking back on history, the times when there was the most hope was when rights of both sides were upheld.
In 1991, there was a peace conference in Madrid brokered by the UN Security Council. This was followed in 1993 by the Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements between Israel and Palestine.
All through the 1990’s, 2000’s and 2010’s, the UN continued to bring the two sides together, and to recognize the right for Palestine to have voice.
The UN member states, and the UN Security Council have looked for ways to ensure Palestine and Israel’s voices are both heard.
Garneau’s May 12 statement walks away from that bilateral view. By calling out only Hamas’s rocket attacks as indiscriminate, it validates the use of force by Israel. By stating Israel has the right to assure its own security, but making no mention of Palestinians’ equal right, Canada has walked away from its historical role as peacekeeper and human rights defender, of ensuring both sides of a conflict are secure.
Garneau’s May 12 statement continues Canada’s decline from a once mighty peacemaker to a medium power country with little contribution to needed peace. Don’t expect Canada to be voted onto the UN Security Council any time soon.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.