Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee
Canada vetoes key UN motion on refugees

Sides with U.S. on non-binding resolution to return Palestinians to their homes

[11 March, 2006]
JEFF SALLOT

OTTAWA — Canada voted against a controversial resolution on Palestinian rights at the United Nations yesterday, an early sign that the new Harper government is aligning its Middle East policy more closely with the views of Israel and the United States.

The previous Liberal government had abstained on the identical resolution last year. But on instructions from Ottawa, the Canadian delegation at the UN joined the United States to vote against a non-binding motion calling on Israel to allow all Palestinian refugee women and children to return to their homes.

The South-African-sponsored resolution was adopted by the UN Economic and Social Council by a vote of 41-2 with only Canada and the United States voting against it.

This was the first Middle East resolution to come before a UN body since Stephen Harper’s Conservative government was sworn in last month.

"It’s not a flip to go from neutrality to taking a position," Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay said yesterday.

But those who have followed the debates on these resolutions for years saw far greater significance in Ottawa’s vote. Shimon Fogel, chief executive officer of the Canada-Israel Committee, said that with this vote Canada is showing the world its displeasure with resolutions that pose as human-rights measures but in fact single out one country, Israel, for criticism.

"We’re very pleased with the Canadian vote," Mr. Fogel said.

Hussein Amery, the president of the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations, said that unlike the Liberals, the Conservatives did not even consult with Canadian Arab and Muslim groups before making such a significant policy shift.

"Now we [Canada] sit isolated, alone with the United States, against a resolution calling on Israel to allow displaced persons and refugees to return home. Is that the kind of image we want to project to the international community?" Mr. Amery said.

Gilbert Laurin, Canada’s representative at the UN council session, said Ottawa was switching its vote from abstention to a nay because of the failure of the sponsors of the resolution to come back this year with a balanced document. "We have consistently called for more balance in resolutions dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian issue."

The resolution’s call for a return of refugees is also a problem, Mr. Laurin said, because the right of return is an issue to be dealt with as part of the final peace settlement.

Canada chairs an international working group that deals with the issue of refugees.

Mr. MacKay, who was making his first visit to UN headquarters in New York, said the vote should not be seen as any special sign or indication of how Canada will vote on other Middle East resolutions coming up at the UN next week.

"Today’s vote was simply a signal that unfortunately after a year there had been no movement, there had been no progress in a direction that we hoped, and that is one of more balance and a greater reflection of sensitivity to both sides, if I can put it that way," Mr. MacKay said.

The Prime Minister’s Office has been keeping a tight grip on Middle East policy. Mr. MacKay was forced to issue a clarification this week to get his public pronouncements about aid to the Palestinian Authority in sync with Mr. Harper’s policy.