John Baird cut pro-Palestinian remarks from his UN address (THE GLOBE AND MAIL) MIKE BLANCHFIELD OTTAWA— The Canadian Press 02/20/12)
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A Canadian expression of goodwill toward the Palestinian people was
left on the cutting-room floor when Foreign Affairs Minister John
Baird addressed the United Nations General Assembly last fall.
Mr. Baird rejected early departmental drafts of his maiden address to
the UN that said Canada is a “leading supporter” of the Palestinian
people and outlined major spending that backed that assertion.
Mr. Baird ended up delivering a much tougher address than envisioned
by his speech writers, one that unequivocally emphasized Canada’s
support for Israel – a position for which he makes no apologies and
which has generated much criticism of the Harper Conservatives.
Copies of the draft texts of the speech, obtained under the Access to
Information Act, show Mr. Baird used a radically reworked text when
he represented Canada for the first time at the General Assembly on
Sept. 26, 2011.
In his address, Mr. Baird drew a parallel with pre-Second World War
appeasers of Nazi Germany, saying: “Canada will not accept or stay
silent while the Jewish state is attacked for defending its territory
and its citizens. The Second World War taught us all the tragic price
of ‘going along’ just to ‘get along.’”
The only direct reference to the Palestinian people in Mr. Baird’s
address was to emphasize Canada’s opposition to the Palestinian
Authority’s stated plan to seek recognition of statehood at the
The Palestinian statehood issue dominated last fall’s session of the
assembly, and Canada’s opposition – mirroring that of many countries,
including the United States – was well known at the time.
Indeed, the first draft of Mr. Baird’s speech noted that “Canada has
been very clear that it does not support the recognition of
Palestinian state.” The early drafts as well as the final version
also urged the Palestinians to get back to the negotiating table with
But a lengthy paragraph that expressed positive Canadian sentiments
toward the Palestinians was eventually trimmed over the course of a
handful of early revisions and was eventually cut altogether.
“Canada is a leading supporter of the Palestinian people, having
committed $300-million over five years to assist the Palestinian
Authority to build capacity in the key areas of justice sector
reform, security, and sustainable economic growth, as well as
providing humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in West Bank and
Gaza, including refugees,” the first draft stated.
It went on to say that Canada provided $64.61-million in development
and humanitarian assistance in 2009-10.
“Our support for the West Bank and Gaza demonstrates Canada’s ongoing
commitment to assist Palestinians in building the foundations of a
viable, independent, democratic and peaceful Palestinian state living
side by side in peace and security with Israel,” the excised
Three days before Mr. Baird’s address, Palestinian president Mahmoud
Abbas formally announced his intent to pursue the Palestinian
statehood bid in his own general assembly speech.
Two days before Mr. Abbas’s speech, Prime Minister Stephen Harper
held a face-to-face meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu at the United Nations. The two leaders expressed their
mutual admiration and friendship.
Last month, Mr. Baird travelled to Israel, accompanied by an orthodox
Jewish rabbi from his Ottawa riding, and repeatedly told his hosts
that Israel has no greater friend than Canada. Mr. Baird told Mr.
Netanyahu he was proud to watch his UN speech last September.
On a trip to the West Bank, Mr. Baird told Mr. Abbas in a separate
meeting that the Palestinians should get back to the bargaining table
with the Israelis – without preconditions – to search for a peaceful
solution to the Middle East conflict.
Mr. Baird’s office declined to comment on the UN speech writing
“The speech he delivered is Canada’s foreign policy,” spokesman
Joseph Lavoie said.
Mr. Baird’s speech clearly bore his own personal stamp, and reflected
his characteristic penchant for fiery oration.
He injected the speech with previous quotes from Mr. Harper,
Conservative icon Margaret Thatcher, and former Conservative Canadian
prime minister John Diefenbaker as well as Winston Churchill.
Mr. Baird also changed the fact that the speech writers did not
directly mention the government’s plan to set up an Office of
Religious Freedom in the department, a promise the Conservatives made
in last spring’s federal election campaign. Mr. Baird emphasized that
point in his actual address.
As an example of religious persecution, both drafts cited violence
against Coptic Christians in Egypt. But in the final version, Baird
added some pointed criticism of China, adding the example of, “Roman
Catholic priests and other Christian clergy, and their laity, driven
to worship underground in China.”
Mr. Baird also added criticism of Myanmar for discriminating against
Buddhists and Muslims.
And he singled out the East African country of Uganda, a country he
has since come to repeatedly criticize for criminalizing the
activities of gays and lesbians. (© Copyright 2012 CTVglobemedia
Publishing Inc. 02/20/12)
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