Trudeau: International Criminal Court push to prosecute Israel and Hamas 'unhelpful'

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is refusing to support or condemn a push from the International Criminal Court to prosecute the Israeli prime minister and Hamas leaders over the war in the Gaza Strip.

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

Trudeau says there is a "troubling" sense of equivalency between the democratically elected leaders of Israel and those running Hamas, which Canada deems to be a terrorist organization.

He called that apparent equivalency "unhelpful."

Liberal ministers are weighing in 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.

"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."

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.

"We respect the independence of the ICC. All parties must make sure that they abide by international law, including international humanitarian law. We've been calling all parties to do so for months now, and so therefore we are closely monitoring the process," Joly told reporters Tuesday afternoon on Parliament Hill.

"Of course 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."

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 argued the decision was drawing a moral equivalency between terrorist leaders and democratically elected politicians.

Their 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 Liberal 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."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2024.

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press