Canada’s Gaza Flotilla

Early in the morning of May 31 on the international waters of the Mediterranean Sea, nine people were killed and dozens more wounded when Israeli soldiers raided a flotilla of ships carrying 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian supplies and more than 600 activists to the Gaza Strip. The activists were trying to break Israel’s three-year blockade of Gaza, which has reduced food and medicine entering the tiny coastal territory to a fraction of what is needed.

Governments around the world strongly condemned Israel’s actions. Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, called the raid “an act of inhumane state terrorism”.

United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-moon said the deaths aboard the flotilla were the result of Israel’s blockade of Gaza. “Had Israelis heeded to my call and to the call of the international community by lifting the blockade of Gaza, this tragic incident would not have happened.”

The Canadian government took a much different approach. Only 10 hours after the raid, Stephen Harper held talks with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Ottawa. Rather than being cut short, the meetings were extended and a number of Canadian ministers joined in. Harper’s office simply said it “deeply regrets” the loss of life and injuries. It added: “We are currently looking for more information in order to shed light on what exactly happened.”

Translation: the Harper government was waiting for Israel to decide how exactly to spin this war crime and contravention of international law, the crime being that Israeli commandos attacked ships in international waters and killed civilians.

Beyond making Canada the world’s most pro-Israel country, the Harper government has strongly backed Israel’s onslaught against the 1.5 million people living in Gaza. Canada has refused to criticize the blockade. For example, Canada was the only country at the UN Human Rights Council to vote against a January 2008 resolution that called for “urgent international action to put an immediate end to the siege of the occupied Gaza Strip”. The motion was adopted with 30 votes in favour and 15 abstentions.

Canada has further legitimized Israel’s siege of Gaza by directly participating in it. In early 2009, Canada joined the Gaza Counter-Arms Smuggling Initiative alongside the Netherlands, France, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Italy, and the U.S. “We look forward to continuing work with our partners on the program of action to coordinate efforts to stop the flow of arms, ammunition and related material into the Gaza Strip,” Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon said in a June 2009 statement. “By addressing arms smuggling and the continued threat of terrorism through this initiative, Canada continues to contribute to a sustainable peace in the region, along with its international partners.”

Cannon, of course, was not referring to Israel Defense Forces weaponry, which has killed thousands in Gaza. A March 2008 Israeli incursion into Gaza claimed more than 120 lives. In response, 33 members of the UNHRC voted for a resolution accusing Israel of war crimes. Thirteen countries abstained and only Canada opposed the resolution.

Israel unleashed a much greater assault on Gaza in December 2008. Ottawa wholeheartedly supported Israel’s 22-day campaign, which left 1,400 Palestinians dead.

“Canada’s position has been well known from the very beginning. Hamas is a terrorist group. Israel defended itself,” Minister Cannon proclaimed, even though only 13 Israelis died during the campaign (three of whom were civilians).

Ottawa even justified Israel’s killing of 40 Palestinian civilians at a UN–run school in January 2009. Junior foreign affairs minister Peter Kent said, “We really don’t have complete details yet, other than the fact that we know that Hamas has made a habit of using civilians and civilian infrastructure as shields for their terrorist activities, and that would seem to be the case again today.” Kent added that Hamas “bears the full responsibility for the deepening humanitarian tragedy.…In many ways, Hamas behaves as if they are trying to have more of their people killed to make a terrible terrorist point.”

Presumably the “terrible terrorist point” was that the Israeli army brutally murders Palestinian civilians. It’s not hard to prove.

Compared to Ottawa’s cheerleading, most of the world was hostile to Israel’s actions. Many countries criticized the killing of civilians. In solidarity with Gaza, Venezuela expelled Israel’s ambassador at the start of the bombardment and broke off all diplomatic relations two weeks later. Israel didn’t need to worry, since Ottawa was prepared to help out. The Canadian Embassy in Caracas took over Israel’s diplomatic relations there. Canada officially became Israel, at least in Venezuela.

What can we expect this time, after more and more countries expel their Israeli ambassadors? Will Canada become Israel in Turkey? Jordan? Bolivia?

When will Canadians wake up and demand that Ottawa stand up for international law and justice for Palestinians?

YVES ENGLER’s most recent book is Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid. For info:





Yves Engler’s latest book is Stand on Guard for Whom?: A People’s History of the Canadian Military.