OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sat down behind closed doors with senior members of opposition parties on Thursday to discuss Canada's approach to the latest conflict between Israel and the armed militant group Hamas.
"My greatest preoccupation is here at home, where people are grieving, people are angry, people are hurt, people are worried for their loved ones," Trudeau told reporters on Parliament Hill.
"In my conversation with fellow parliamentary leaders this morning, we committed to continuing to work to bring people together, even as this terrible, terrible situation continues to unfold in the Middle East."
Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said Thursday the meeting included a frank, helpful exchange on Canada's posture in the region and its perception of ongoing events.
"The meeting was held in a very candid way, by Mr. Trudeau and his entourage," Blanchet told reporters in French.
His office said the meeting included NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Conservative foreign-affairs critic Michael Chong. Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre was in Nova Scotia on Thursday.
Both the Bloc and NDP say they had requested such a meeting.
Blanchet said he had argued that a closed-door meeting might be more informative than heated exchanges in the House of Commons, which, he said in French, can be "a bit undignified."
Singh's office said he raised the issues he had outlined in his earlier letter to Trudeau.
"I am asking for an urgent meeting between us to discuss how we can work together to end the bloodshed with a ceasefire, get Canadians out of the region, ensure the safe return of all hostages and insist that international law be respected," reads the Oct. 22 letter.
The Conservatives did not provide a comment Thursday about their perspective of the meeting.
Global Affairs Canada confirmed Thursday that it is providing support to the family of a seventh person "connected to Canada" who waskilled during ongoing hostilities between Israel and Hamas. The department later specified the death happened in Israel but said it would not share further information due to privacy considerations.
The department also said this number includes "six Canadian citizens and one with deep connections to Canada" and that all seven Canadian families are receiving consular support.
The federal government also confirmed that two Canadians remain missing in the region.
The Associated Press reports that Israeli airstrikes have ravaged swaths of the Gaza Strip, as residents are running out of food, water and other supplies. Palestinian militants have also fired thousands of rockets into Israel since a brazen Oct. 7 attack by the group Hamas.
Aid groups took to Parliament Hill on Thursday to ramp up their calls for more humanitarian assistance to reach Hamas-controlled Gaza. Israel has cut access to food, water and electricity since its latest war with Hamas began.
Canada has joined peer countries in calling for "humanitarian pauses" to the fighting, in order for aid to reach civilians in Gaza.
But Canada has not called for the territory to receive fuel. Israel has said it fears Hamas would use fuel for rocket attacks. Aid groups say it is vital to maintain health services.
"The Canadian government's call for a humanitarian pause does not align with the collective demands of Canada's charitable sector," said Mahmuda Khan, the head of Human Concern International, a Canadian Muslim international relief charity.
Her group has lost contact with numerous workers, and has had warehouses in Gaza bombed, she said. Khan said the lack of fuel means electricity is running out for some 2,000 cancer patients, a thousand people needing dialysis and scores of babies in hospital incubators.
The United Church of Canada argued a ceasefire could prevent "the human desire for retaliation" from sowing more chaos in the region.
"Grief, suffering and loss do not create winning conditions for long-term peace, justice and healthy relationships," said Rev. Éric Hébert-Daly, the regional executive minister for eastern Ontario and Quebec.
Trudeau told reporters that Canada is "very much impressing upon Israel" the need to "take the utmost care to protect civilian life."
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said this week he is "deeply concerned about the clear violations of international humanitarian law that we are witnessing in Gaza," but Trudeau would not say whether he agrees with this finding.
"The protection of civilians needs to be at the top of any country's priorities when we're talking about a conflict like this," Trudeau said.
Global Affairs Canada said trucks Israel has allowed to bring aid into the territory represent only "a small fraction of what is needed to address the needs of Palestinian civilians."
Canada is expected to weigh in on aid access to Gaza during a UN General Assembly debate on the matter on Friday.
The Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry says more than 7,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war in less than three weeks, a figure that includes the disputed toll from an explosion at a hospital in Gaza City last week.
Israel's government says the fighting has killed more than 1,400 people in Israel. They are mostly civilians slain during the initial Hamas attack, including hundreds at an outdoor music festival and families living in agricultural co-operatives known as kibbutzim.
Canada designates Hamas as a terrorist group and Trudeau has continued to say that Israel has the right to defend itself.
As of Wednesday, Global Affairs said it is helping 430 Canadians and their family members who have requested helpin Gaza, as well as 176 people in Israel and 76 in the West Bank.
In Israel, 5,765 Canadians in total have officially registered with Global Affairs Canada, while 451 Canadians have indicated they are in either the West Bank or Gaza.
There are also 17,135 Canadians who have registered as being in Lebanon. The Canadian Armed Forces has said it is preparing for a possible evacuation of Canadians from Lebanon, which borders Israel to the north, if it gets caught up in a wider conflict.
Hezbollah, an Iran-funded militant group allied with Hamas that operates out of Lebanon, has repeatedly traded fire with Israel along the border.
On Thursday, Trudeau did not say whether he agreed with a statement by Guterres that "the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum," noting Israel's "56 years of suffocating occupation" of Palestinian territories.
"There is no justification for what they did," Trudeau said of Hamas, despite the region's history being "extraordinarily complex."
Meanwhile, Trudeau did not say whether he has plans to visit Israel, following heads of government of the U.S., the United Kingdom and France making the trip.
"I'm always open to going there, but we'll still look at how we can make a positive difference with our presence," Trudeau told reporters in French.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 26, 2023.
— With files Michel Saba, Mia Rabson and The Associated Press.
Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press