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International Criminal Court push to prosecute Israel, Hamas ‘unhelpful’: Trudeau

Jewish and Muslim groups in Canada have mounted petition campaigns, asking Ottawa to take a decisive stance
International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Karim Khan speaks at a press conference during his first official visit to Canada on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, on Friday, May 5, 2023. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has yet to join global peers in weighing in on Monday’s push by the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israeli officials as well as Hamas. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau opted against taking a stance on a push from the International Criminal Court to prosecute the Israeli prime minister and Hamas leaders over the war in the Gaza Strip Tuesday.

The court’s chief prosecutor requested arrest warrants Monday for Benjamin Netanyahu, his defence minister and senior Hamas leaders.

“The International Criminal Court is independent in its work, and I’ve said from the very beginning how important it is that everyone respect and abide by international law,” Trudeau said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference in Philadelphia.

“What I will say is troubling though, is the sense of an equivalency between the democratically elected leaders of Israel and the bloodthirsty terrorists that lead up Hamas. I don’t think that’s helpful.”

Trudeau and his ministers weighed in on the case a day after peer countries took clearer stances, with the U.S. on Monday rejecting a move to implicate Israel, while France and Belgium supported the decision.

Jewish and Muslim groups in Canada have mounted petition campaigns, asking Ottawa to take a decisive stance.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says Canada is “very closely” following the case and also raised concerns about an equivalency being drawn, while noting that the court is suggesting different charges for each side of the conflict.

“There’s no equivalency, because one organization’s a terrorist organization; the other one is a state. That being said, (the) charges that have been laid are different.”

She also wouldn’t say whether Canada would arrest Israeli officials if they did end up subject of an international arrest warrant and visited Canada, saying that this is a theoretical situation. Joly added that senior Hamas leaders are already barred from Canada due to terrorism and sanctions laws.

A handful of vocal Liberal MPs have taken more definitive stances since news of the arrest warrants were announced.

Iqra Khalid, who represents a Toronto-area riding, said in a post on X that Canada must respect the ICC and its independence.

Anthony Housefather, whose Montreal riding has a large Jewish population, argued the decision was drawing a moral equivalency between terrorist leaders and democratically elected politicians.

Their Toronto colleague Salma Zahid said Ottawa should support the ICC’s legal process, arguing its role is “not to judge moral equivalence, but to impartially consider the evidence.”

Another Montreal MP, Sameer Zuberi, added in his own social-media post that Canada must await the result of the request, while noting that “no party to an armed conflict is above the law.”

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland was repeatedly asked for Canada’s position on the developments earlier Tuesday at an unrelated press conference.

“It is entirely inappropriate to equate the terrorist leaders of a terrorist organization with the democratically elected leaders of a democracy,” she said.

But Freeland would not comment on whether or not Ottawa supports the request for warrants to be issued, characterizing that as “preliminary” and “hypothetical.”

The Liberals and NDP passed a parliamentary motion in March that called on Canada to “support the work of the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in a social-media post that Trudeau “must respect his promise to Canadians,” and asked for clarity in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press