TORONTO (Dec. 2)
B’nai Brith Canada has filed a lawsuit to force the government to ban Hezbollah from operating in Canada.
The lawsuit was filed after Canada decided last week to add Hamas, Islamic Jihad and four other radical groups to its list of banned terrorist organizations.
“We want the federal court to review the actions of the government of Canada,” said Frank Dimant, B’nai Brith’s national executive vice president.
“We believe that the government of Canada is being erroneous and negligent in not listing Hezbollah and all of its components as a terrorist organization.”
Dimant added: “Canadians can no longer tolerate the progress of a government moving at a snail’s pace in dealing with organizations and groups who have shown themselves to be bent on the destruction of the West.”
The lawsuit, which was filed Saturday, names Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham and Justice Minister Martin Cauchon as co-defendants, along with the Canadian government.
B’nai Brith has simultaneously launched a national awareness campaign, consisting mainly of several full-page newspaper ads, to inform Canadians that the government still tolerates the domestic presence of an organization that Canada’s intelligence agency, CSIS, unequivocally describes as a terrorist group.
The government’s list of terrorist groups, created under legislation passed after the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, now includes 13 groups that are banned from the country.
Anyone belonging to or helping the groups faces a possible 10-year prison sentence.
In July, the solicitor general outlawed Al-Qaida and six Al-Qaida affiliates.
Hezbollah is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans and Israelis. The United States has branded it a terrorist organization, and the United Nations has placed it on its list of terrorist entities.
However, the Liberal government of Prime Minister Jean Chretien has resisted such moves, saying Hezbollah’s charitable wing provides social services in Lebanon and the group is well represented in the Lebanese Parliament.
Despite mounting criticism from within and outside Parliament, Graham makes a distinction between Hezbollah’s military wing — which cannot raise funds in Canada — and its social or humanitarian wing, which still can engage in fund-raising activities.
B’nai Brith isn’t buying the distinction.
“We contend that it’s impossible to differentiate between the various components of a terrorist organization,” Dimant said. “We believe that it is unacceptable and unconscionable that Canada should defend any branch of a terrorist organization that is committed to killing Americans and Jews and seeks the total destruction of Israel.”
“We have to ask the Canadian government, what is it waiting for?” said Keith Landy, national president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, which has lobbied the government to blacklist Hezbollah.
“Is it waiting for a terrorist attack within Canada, God forbid, before it will wake up?” said Landy, who called Canada’s blacklisting of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and four other groups “a good start.”
Solicitor General Wayne Easter has indicated that his department will outlaw more terrorist organizations soon. Signs are emerging that Hezbollah may be among them.
Hours after B’nai Brith announced its lawsuit, Revenue Minister Elinor Caplan told reporters the government intends to outlaw Hezbollah as soon as it has gathered enough material to support the action.
In the meantime, at least three Liberal members of Parliament have publicly broken ranks with the government over the issue.
Liberal lawmakers Irwin Cotler and Anita Neville, who represent districts in Montreal and Winnipeg, respectively, have spoken out several times in Parliament in recent weeks about the immediate need to ban Hezbollah.
Former Defense Minister Art Eggleton, who now represents a district in the Toronto area, has conveyed a similar message in letters to both the Jewish and the mainstream press.
Cotler, a leading human-rights activist and former professor of international law, calls Hezbollah “the most dangerous transnational terrorist entity in the world,” and says it is “inexplicable and unacceptable” that Canada allows any of its branches to operate here.
“It is an affront to the moral, juridical, financial and diplomatic struggle against terrorism, and it is a breach of our undertakings under international law as well as under Canadian law,” Cotler told JTA.
For B’nai Brith, the court action will not be necessary if the government decides to outlaw all branches of Hezbollah.
“We are hopeful that we don’t have to go to the court system, because that would mean years,” Dimant said. “And we in the West don’t have years to spend debating this issue.”