Canada’s new Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau (l) had to do some fast footwork after the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced it had authorized its chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda (r) to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes. This posed a dilemma for Minister Garneau. How to claim support for international law, while at the same time protecting Israel? His staff at Global Affairs Canada found him a neat legalistic loophole. But it doesn’t bring any distinction to him, or to Canada. Read more….
“Canada strongly supports the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the important work that it does as a key pillar of the rules-based international order”, bravely announced Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau on February 7th, immediately after the ICC announced it would go ahead with an investigation of Israeli war crimes. “Canada continues to respect the independence of its judges and of the ICC Prosecutor.”
But a few lines later in the same press release, Minister Garneau continued, “Canada (…) does not recognize a Palestinian state and therefore does not recognize its accession to international treaties, including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court”, Garneau, thereby justifying Canada’s opposition to the ICC investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes.
The Trudeau administration’s dilemma comes from the fact that Canada was one of the initial sponsors of the ICC, and Canada likes to promote itself as a supporter of international law. On the other hand, the Trudeau Liberals have already indicated their strong support for Zionism and the State of Israel, and is subject to intense pressure from the pro-Israel lobby in Canada.
GAC lawyers to the rescue: find a way to support the ICC and undermine it at the same time
Garneau, whose personal bias in favour of Israel has already been documented in an earlier CTIP post, used the fact that Canada has chosen to not recognize the State of Palestine, as a reason to oppose an ICC investigation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Of course, Canada’s decision not to recognize Palestine as a state is a political one. Garneau knows perfectly well that 139 other states DO recognize the State of Palestine, that Palestine is also recognized as a permanent observer state by the UN, and belongs to many UN bodies, including the ICC.
The original rationale for the creation of the ICC was to carry out prosecutions “when national courts are unwilling or unable to prosecute criminals” which applies perfectly to the Israel/Palestine situation. Israel has repeatedly been shown unwilling to investigate its own war crimes as pointed out in repeated UN reports.
According to the New York Times, ICC prosecutor Bensouda has cited “a reasonable basis to believe” that war crimes have been committed pointing to what she described as Israel’s disproportionate use of force in the 2014 war in Gaza and its continuing settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Also under scrutiny is Israel’s deadly response to Palestinian protests in 2018 along the border fence in Gaza. She also proposed to investigate potential crimes by Hamas in indescriminate use of rockets against Israeli citizens.
While it would be almost impossible for the ICC to prosecute anyone inside Israel, it could issue arrest warrants that would make it risky for Israeli officials to travel abroad. Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, led the 2014 war on Gaza, while Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz was the military chief of staff at the time. And nearly every Israeli political leader has at some time been involved in furthering the settlement enterprise, which is illegal under international law. The Israeli daily Haaretz has reported that Israel has already begun secretly briefing over 100 senior military and political figures about their potential exposure to arrest if they travel abroad.
But Garneau’s two-faced approach may not let him off the hook in the eyes of the Canadian public.
An EKOS poll in 2020 commissioned by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) found that a strong majority of Canadians want the ICC to investigate war crimes wherever they occur, including those committed by Israel. The survey found that 84% of Canadians would support an investigation of Israeli officials. It also found that 86% of Canadians disagree with the idea that Canada should overlook Israel’s human rights violations just because it is considered to be an ally.
What if the victims had been Canadians?
Many Canadians will remember the horrific case of Izzeldin Abuelaish, who became known as “The Gaza Doctor” after Israeli shells slammed into his house in Gaza in 2009 killing three of his daughters.
Five years later, in 2014 Israeli missiles again slammed into civilian areas of Gaza killing over 1300 Palestinians. One cannot help wondering how messrs Trudeau and Garneau would have reacted if dozens of (white) Canadians had been among them. Would they still be loudly shouting “we strongly support international law, but just not in this case”?
Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about Canada’s response to the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers with different points of view are invited to make comment.
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