MP Wrzesnewskyj resigns over Hezbollah comments
Updated Wed. Aug. 23 2006
CTV.ca News Staff
Embattled Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj has resigned as deputy foreign affairs critic following the uproar over his comments suggesting Canada should negotiate with Hezbollah.
Wrzesnewskyj found himself distanced from his own party when he made the statement during a fact-finding mission to Lebanon last week.
CTV's Graham Richardson told Newsnet that Wrzesnewskyj tendered his resignation on Wednesday and that his resignation was accepted.
After the Toronto MP suggested the Mideast peace process would benefit from Canada being more open to talking to Hezbollah, Liberal leadership hopefuls Scott Brison and Carolyn Bennett immediately demanded Wrzesnewskyj's resignation, saying his comments were "unacceptable."
The comments quickly became the central topic of the three-day Liberal caucus retreat in Vancouver, which was supposed to be a strategy session for the upcoming session of Parliament.
All 10 leadership candidates condemned the remarks, including Wrzesnewskyj's preferred candidate Gerard Kennedy.
At a news conference Tuesday, Tory MP Jason Kenney, parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, blasted Wrzesnewskyj, calling his comments nothing short of a sign of support for terrorist groups.
"Their idea of a balanced approach is one where Israel is always wrong," said Kenney. "This represents a totally irresponsible approach to foreign security policy."
Wrzesnewskyj, who was one of three opposition MPs on the Mideast mission, said Monday he favoured changing a Canadian law that forbids contact with known terrorist organizations.
He said the law undermines efforts to obtain lasting peace between Israel and Hezbollah fighters.
Wrzesnewskyj denied media reports that claimed he wants Hezbollah taken off Ottawa's official list of terrorist organizations.
"I've said all along that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization and will continue to be," Wrzesnewskyj told reporters.
"Where I have difficulty is with the legislation that says a group on the list cannot be communicated with."
Hezbollah on terror list
Liberal Opposition Leader Bill Graham issued a statement late Monday that did not refer directly to the Wrzesnewskyj controversy, but affirmed his party's commitment to keeping Hezbollah on the official terror list.
"The Liberal Party of Canada ... originally listed Hezbollah as a terrorist organization under Canadian law and ... we still strongly support keeping Hezbollah on that list," Graham said in the statement.
"Any suggestion to the contrary does not reflect the official position of our party.''
But Graham also took a shot at the Conservatives, saying that at least, unlike the government, Liberals are allowed to speak freely.
"You'll be able to go out and interview them... nobody's got them locked up in a bus and thrown away the key, the way (it was done) at a recent caucus of the Conservatives," Graham told reporters Tuesday.
The fact-finding Mideast mission, which was also attended by Bloc Quebecois MP Maria Mourani and New Democrat MP Peggy Nash, was organized by the National Council on Canada Arab-Relations. It was supposed to be an all-party affair until Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro backed out, citing security reasons.
The MPs visited the Lebanese towns of Qana, Bint Jbeil and Aytaroun. Qana was the scene of the single deadliest attack by Israel. It was hit by a missile which destroyed a building where civilians had been hiding, killing 28.
Liberal MP denies report he wants Hezbollah removed from terror list
Michael Hammond, Canadian Press
Published: Tuesday, August 22, 2006 Article tools
OTTAWA (CP) - Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj has denied reports he said Hezbollah should be taken off Canada's terrorist list.
The politician, from the Toronto riding of Etobicoke Centre, is one of three opposition MPs touring the southern region of Lebanon on a fact-finding mission.
The group has come under fire for comments suggesting that Canada should be more open to talking with Hezbollah. Wrzesnewskyj was quoted in some newspaper reports Monday as saying the group should be removed from Ottawa's official list of terrorist organizations.
Wrzesnewskyj said Monday he favours changing Canada's laws that forbid any contact with known terrorist organizations. He said the law undermines efforts to seek lasting peace between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas after a brutal 33-day war.
But Hezbollah's terrorist status should not change, he said in an interview from Lebanon.
"I've said all along that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization and will continue to be," Wrzesnewskyj said. "Where I have difficulty is with the legislation that says a group on the list cannot be communicated with."
Frank Dimant, vice-president of B'nai Brith Canada, said he finds it "outrageous" that Canadian MPs want to speak with a known terrorist organization when Canadian troops are dying at the hands of another terrorist group in Afghanistan.
"(Wrzesnewskyj) doesn't seem to understand that we're at war with terrorists, and that includes Hezbollah," he said. "It is not Canada's job to be a peacemaker here, but to stand with a sister democracy."
Bill Graham, the Liberal Opposition leader, issued a statement late Monday saying "Hezbollah is a terrorist organization and should be treated as such under all applicable Canadian laws."
Without referring directly to the controversy, he added: "The Liberal Party of Canada . . . originally listed Hezbollah as a terrorist organization under Canadian law and . . . we still strongly support keeping Hezbollah on that list.
"Any suggestion to the contrary does not reflect the official position of our party."
That comment wasn't enough for the Canada-Israel Committee. National chair Marc Gold released a statement Monday calling on Graham and the Liberal caucus to formally censure Wrzesnewskyj.
Gerard Kennedy, who counts Wrzesnewskyj as one of his supporters in the race for the Liberal leadership, said Hezbollah is a terrorist organization and should not be negotiated with "unless and until they repudiate violence and recognize the State of Israel.
"We will continue to support the State of Israel's right to defend itself within the boundaries of domestic and international law," Kennedy said.
Another Liberal leadership candidate, Joe Volpe, also rejected negotiations with Hezbollah.
"A state can only make agreements with other states, period," Volpe said. "It is delusional to think that negotiations with a non-governmental entity can commit a state government to a peace accord."
In a statement, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said there is "no way we will delist a terrorist group."
"I can't think of anything more damaging for the hope of peace than to encourage the very group, Hezbollah, that is intent on the genocide of the Jewish people and the annihilation of Israel."
Meanwhile, Tory MP Jason Kenney, parliamentary secretary to the prime minister, was to hold a news conference early Tuesday to respond to comments made by the three MPs. Over the weekend, New Democrat MP Peggy Nash suggested Canada could follow the lead of Lebanese political parties who are in contact with Hezbollah, despite their opposition to its tactics. Nash said Hezbollah's terrorist label is not helping the delegation's efforts.
The group of MPs, which includes the Bloc Quebecois's Maria Mourani, met Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora on Monday to discuss how Canada can contribute to the ceasefire process. The group told Saniora that Canada does not have enough resources to commit a substantial number of troops to a peacekeeping force near the Lebanon-Israel border. Wrzesnewskyj said Canada might be able to deploy a small observer team to patrol the front lines where United Nations troops sit. He said the Canadian government needs to make a commitment to the peacekeeping process as soon as possible, since so many Canadians live in Lebanon.
"We have thousands of family ties between the two countries," Wrzesnewskyj said. "And Canadians are generous."
The MPs have all slammed Prime Minister Stephen Harper for calling the Israeli military's reply to Hezbollah's provocations a "measured response."
Wrzesnewskyj said Israel has wrought "utter devastation" on Lebanon in response to two Israeli soldiers being kidnapped by Hezbollah militants.
The damage he saw in the southern towns of Qana, Bint Jbeil and Aytaroun was "far removed" from a measured response, he added. Bits of clothing, toys and thousands of other personal articles litter the streets alongside the remnants of hundreds of collapsed apartment buildings.
Qana was the scene of the deadliest single incident of the war, a July 30 Israeli missile attack that destroyed a building where civilians had been hiding. The attack killed 28 people.
Aytaroun was where eight Canadians, all members of one extended family, were killed at the beginning of the conflict when their house was hit in an Israeli air strike.
Wrzesnewskyj said Canada might want to consider rebuilding this town as a goodwill gesture to its Lebanese-Canadian community.
Dimant said the world should not be so quick to forget about the hundreds of missile attacks that were aimed at civilian targets in northern Israel.
The Canadian Middle East trip, organized by the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations, was supposed to have been an all-party affair until Conservative MP Dean del Mastro pulled out at the last moment, reportedly on orders from the Prime Minister's Office.
Del Mastro said he pulled out based on the advice of officials at the Department of Foreign Affairs