Canadian diplomats met with Lebanese officials yesterday to protest controversial remarks by Beirut's ambassador to Ottawa, who alleged in an Arabic-language newspaper that a "Zionist party" controls "90% of the Canadian media."
A senior-level delegation told the government of Lebanon it was concerned about comments by Raymond Baaklini, Lebanon's ambassador to Canada, that have prompted calls for his removal.
"Our embassy in Beirut has expressed our concerns about the interview to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Lebanon," said Rodney Moore, a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs in Ottawa. "The ministry expressed its understanding of Canadian concerns and indicated it would examine the matter carefully. Canadian-Lebanese relations have always been close and friendly and we're working to ensure that any and all misunderstandings are addressed."
Mr. Baaklini told a Canadian-Lebanese newspaper on Dec. 31 that Canada had outlawed the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah because of a "Zionist party" that he said is aided from abroad and controls Canada's media.
He also said that as a result of Canada's Hezbollah policy, Canadians should no longer wear Maple Leaf t-shirts when they travel to Lebanon and the Arab world, and that he understood that Canadian police treated all bearded men and all veiled women as suspects.
After the undiplomatic remarks were reported in the National Post last Friday, Bill Graham, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, condemned them and summoned Mr. Baaklini to a meeting where he was told they were "unacceptable and without foundation."
The ambassador declined to retract his statement.
Foreign Affairs has done its own translation of the Arabic-language article and concluded the Post's account of the remarks was accurate, Mr. Moore said.
Mr. Baaklini was summoned on Friday to a meeting with John McNee, the assistant deputy minister of Foreign Affairs for Africa and the Middle East. The ambassador may have to face another grilling from Mr. Graham before his future as part of Ottawa's diplomatic corps is decided.
"We still don't know if the Minister will get involved further. He is not back in Ottawa. He is going to want to speak to [Foreign Affairs officials]. We are still looking at the situation," said one source.
Canadian Jewish community leaders have written to Mr. Graham to protest the ambassador's comments, which they called typical of the Jewish conspiracy propaganda that circulates in the Arab world. Lebanese-Canadians have also complained.
Israel Asper, chairman of CanWest Global Communications Corp., which owns the Post, Canada's largest newspaper chain and the Global Television network, called the remarks "sickening" and said Ottawa should revoke his diplomatic credentials.
Mr. Graham said Canada put Hezbollah on its list of banned terrorist groups last month because of security concerns, not due to lobbying by any particular group.
Contacted last week by the Post, Mr. Baaklini confirmed he had made the comments in Arabic but said he might have chosen his words differently had he been addressing an English-speaking readership.
Asked whether he had said that Zionists were behind Canada's Hezbollah policy, Mr. Baaklini told the Post: "That's right. I wanted to say exactly that 90% of the mass media in Canada is controlled by Jews or Zionists and those Jews or Zionists are also supported by other organizations in the [United] States."