Canada: Harper government fails tens of thousands of Lebanese Canadians


Ottawa administration cosy-up to the Bush/Blair agenda

Clare and Craig Hudson, British Colombia, CWI Canada

As the situation in the Lebanon and Israel continues to escalate, thousands of Lebanese Canadians are desperately trying to leave Lebanon. There are an estimated 50,000 Canadian citizens in Lebanon, who make it one of the largest groups of foreign nationals in the country. There are 38,000 registered with the Canadian Embassy in Lebanon, many of whom are pleading to leave.

So far, a few thousand have left Beirut, heading for the ports of Cyprus and Turkey and are getting flights back to Canada. During the first days of the evacuation, there were reports of chaotic scenes of thousands of people trying to board ships leaving Beirut. Lebanese Canadians arriving from the first ship to Cyprus told of ‘being treated like animals’ on their journey, as there was not enough water or food. Some passengers were carried off the ship on stretchers. A representative of the shipping company used to transport people to Turkey told the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) that their ship were not full to capacity and the journey was slow, due to speed and route restrictions imposed by the Israeli army.

The arrogant pro-US policy stance over the bombing of Lebanon and the slow response by Canadian Premier, Stephen Harper, leader of the federal (national) conservative government, to the plight of Lebanese Canadians, left many people in Canada angry. In the first days of the war, the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not commit to help to evacuate Canadian-Lebanese people. The Ministry simply said they would "evaluate" it if the situation escalated.

To add to widespread anger in Canada over the government’s callous attitude towards Lebanese Canadians, Prime Minister Harper was quoted as saying the Israeli reaction was ‘justified and measured’ while he visited Europe for the G8 Summit. At the same time, back in Canada, news came through of the massacre of eight Canadian citizens in Lebanon, of which seven were members of a Montreal family.

What this crisis shows is that the Harper government is extremely inexperienced at dealing quickly to international events, indifferent towards the plight of its citizens in Lebanon, and the Canadian armed forces are overstretched, with much of their military capability already being committed to the ever growing quagmire in Afghanistan.

Prime Minister’s private jet evacuates handful

Harper’s belated attempt to ‘help’ some of the Lebanese Canadians trying to get back to Canada, amounted to no more than a blatant publicity stunt. Harper’s private plane, which was due to take him back from Europe from the G8 meeting, stopped in Cyprus to collect around 120 people. But the Prime Ministers’ plane ended up taking just 63 people, who were hand picked by the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police). This meagre effort was done due to the huge domestic pressure Harper is under. Prime Minister Harper is desperately trying to undo the mess he and his government made of the Canadian nations issue.

Less than a year after federal elections saw the minority Conservative government come to power and Prime Minister Harper promise an administration of authority and strength, Ottawa faces widespread criticism over its policies. Once in power, the right wing government restricted access to and freedom of the media and introduced laws which duplicate already existing laws, such as the ‘road racing bill’, which is already covered by existing traffic offences. One of the first pieces of legislation passed was supposedly on accountability and against corruption. Yet, less than a year into the new government, Harper was shown to have deliberately lied to the families of Canadian soldiers who died in Afghanistan. He did this to try to stop the televising of repatriation ceremonies (when the soldiers’ bodies were brought back to Canada). These actions and other government policies proved the Harper government is just as rotten as other previous pro-capitalist administrations.

Harper is still desperately trying to prove he is a ‘real alternative’ in Canadian politics. But with his response to recent events in the Middle East, combined with the growing death toll (including Canadian troops) and chaos in Afghanistan, and neo-liberal cuts and policies, Harper is seen as out of touch by many Canadians and is already on very shaky ground.

However there is no alternative from the main political parties. While criticising Harper’s slow response over evacuating Canadian-Lebanese, the other main parties, the Liberals and the social democratic NDP (New Democratic Party), showed they are incapable of offering any alternative to the crisis in the Middle East. This brings home the urgent need for a new mass working class party in Canada, fighting for international socialist solidarity with the oppressed, and an end to capitalist rule in the Middle East and Canada and for a democratic, socialist society.

The Harper government’s neo-liberal policies and its desperate efforts to firmly sidle up to Bush and Blair, which sees Harper giving uncritical support to the Israeli regime as it indiscriminately bombs Lebanese civilians, will further isolate Harper from many Lebanese-Canadians, as well as from many other workers and youth in Canada.

The people who will pay the biggest price for the actions of the Israeli regime are the working class, both in Lebanon and Israel. The only alternative to years of violence and attacks on the working class is for a socialist Palestine and a socialist Israel, as part of a socialist confederation of the Middle East. This would see the national, religious and ethnic rights of all minorities will be guaranteed and workers and poor peasants deciding how society is run.

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