TORONTO (May. 20)
Canada has denied refugee status to a Lebanese man on the grounds that he was an accomplice to alleged Israeli war crimes, including murder and torture, in southern Lebanon.
The claimant, known only as Mr. X, spied on Hezbollah in southern Lebanon for Israel’s Mossad intelligence service, according to the Immigration and Refugee Board, which denied Mr. X’s application.
Ronen Gil-Or, a representative of the Israeli Embassy, rejected the board’s allegations that Mr. X had participated in war crimes in Israel’s service.
“Israel did not and has not been involved in any war crimes or crimes against humanity in southern Lebanon or any other place,” he said.
Mr. X, 41, reportedly was a merchant with business throughout Lebanon.
According to a partially classified document from the immigration board, Mr. X supplied the Mossad with a wide range of information about Hezbollah operatives, including the names of some 40 members of the organization.
He was paid $800 a month in 1998 and 1999 for this information.
Concerned for his safety after Israel withdrew from its security zone in southern Lebanon, Mr. X came to Canada in May 2000 and applied for refugee status later that year, after reading a report in an Arabic-language newspaper in Montreal that convinced him that Hezbollah was aware of his involvement with the Mossad.
A representative of Canada’s Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration took the rare step of intervening in the case, arguing for Mr. X’s exclusion because of his alleged involvement in war crimes, including “civilian displacements, house demolitions, murders, torture” and other acts.
However, the citizenship and immigration minister, Denis Coderre, repudiated the board’s decision during a media scrum in Ottawa last Friday, saying it did not reflect Canadian policy toward Israel.
The board is a quasi-judicial independent body that operates at arms-length from the government.
The government representative who intervened, identified in the board document as a Ms. Shahin, cited a Geneva Convention article in her argument against Mr. X. Those articles relate to someone who has been involved in war crimes or crimes against humanity.
Several members of the right-wing, pro-Israel Canadian Alliance Party, the official opposition party in the Canadian Parliament, denounced the board’s allegations about Israel, which came six months after the Canadian government listed Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
“I think that the government of Canada as a whole has been confused and inconsistent about the true nature of Hezbollah,” Jason Kenney, a member of Parliament from Canadian Alliance, told JTA.
“It was only a few months ago that our foreign affairs minister was referring to Hezbollah as a legitimate social and cultural organization, and it was less than a year ago that our prime minister shared a platform with” Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan “Nasrallah, without blinking an eye.”
“So I think it’s fair to say that the government of Canada has had a less than sterling record about recognizing the evil of Hezbollah,” he said.
Jewish groups also reacted angrily to the board’s depiction of Israel as a rogue nation that routinely commits atrocities.
Joseph Wilder, national chairman of the Canada-Israel Committee, said the board’s conclusion was “baseless” and reflected “a blatantly biased stance.”
Stephane Handfield, the board adjudicator who penned the 10-page decision, based the conclusion on secondary sources such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and a Yahoo news service but failed to note that Canada has listed Hezbollah as a terrorist entity, observed David Goldberg, the Canada-Israel Committee’s director of research.
“This is a civil servant who is ostensibly nonpartisan, and dealing with information that is clearly well beyond his ken and his knowledge base,” Goldberg said.
For reasons of confidentiality, the board has declined to comment on the case. Refugees whose claims are denied have 15 days to request leave to appeal from a federal court, according to Simone MacAndrew, a spokesperson for the Citizenship and Immigration Ministry.
Both the Canadian Jewish Congress and B’nai Brith Canada have sent letters of protest to the government.
“Mr. Handfield cites no credible support for his accusations of war criminality and breaches of the Geneva Convention, relying on anecdotal ‘evidence’ and speculations from newspaper clippings and NGO reports,” the congress letter read, referring to non-governmental organizations.
The letter also noted that both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International “have habitually accepted at face value egregious anti-Israel Arab propaganda and have displayed an unseemly willingness to rush to judgment to condemn Israel for events, such as the putative ‘massacre of Jenin,’ that never happened.”
B’nai Brith Canada officials expressed dismay that the board “would apparently take the position that Israel is guilty of war crimes, based on ‘documentation’ that comes from sources that are known to be predisposed against Israel.”
Kenney said he would attempt to raise the matter in Canada’s House of Commons when it reconvenes later this month.