Trudeau must more publicly support ICC decisions amid Israel-Hamas war: ex-ministers

OTTAWA — A group of prominent former politicians and current academics is asking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to change his tone on the possibility of arrest warrants for senior Israeli leaders.

Former foreign minister Lloyd Axworthy and former attorney general Allan Rock are among 375 signatories taking issue with Trudeau suggesting the International Criminal Court committed a false equivalency by requesting charges against leaders of both Hamas and Israel.

"To assert that there is something objectionable about holding Israeli officials to the same standards of international criminal justice as Hamas officials is to promote a double standard, and to suggest that the rights of Palestinians matter less than those of Israelis," reads the letter.

"That is a racist, dehumanizing and discriminatory approach to international justice which Canada cannot countenance in any way."

The ICC's chief prosecutor requested arrest warrants last week for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defence minister, as well as three senior Hamas leaders.

Canada has avoided taking a clear stance on the issue, but Trudeau has raised concerns about what he called "an equivalency between the democratically elected leaders of Israel and the bloodthirsty terrorists."

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly made similar comments, which the letter argues has undermined a motion the Liberals passed in March that included a pledge to support the work of the ICC.

Joly has recently avoided saying whether Canada would arrest Israeli officials if they did end up subject to an international arrest warrant and visited Canada. She has said that this is a theoretical situation, while noting that senior Hamas leaders are already barred from Canada due to terrorism and sanctions laws.

The Wednesday letter calls on Trudeau to issue a statement of "unwavering" support for the court, including a pledge to co-operate with any requests, including for arrests, and to condemn threats of personal sanctions against the court's personnel.

The letter includes 11 former Canadian ambassadors, numerous lawyers and activists. One of the signatories, University of the Fraser Valley criminology professor Mark Kersten, a global expert on the ICC, has noted that the court laid different charges against Hamas and Israeli leaders.

The letter notes that the court considers charges based on suspected breaches of international law, instead of comparing the actions of warring parties.

"Strong support is vital at this time given that the prosecutor, ICC staff and the ICC as an institution are facing considerable political pressure, unfounded and inflammatory criticism (and) attacks on the Court’s independence," the letter reads.

"This is clearly no time for champions of international justice to waver or to be ambiguous."

The charges stem from the Israel-Hamas War, which started when the militant group killed 1,200 people in Israel last October, which the ICC prosecutor says included rape, torture and murder that amounts to crimes against all of humanity

In response to the Hamas attack, Israel has bombarded the Gaza Strip, saying it is trying to defeat Hamas. The group, which Canada deems a terrorist organization, runs the territory's health ministry, which says 36,000 people have been killed, including combatants.

The ICC prosecutor says Israel has been starving civilians as a method of warfare and intentionally directing attacks against civilians, which are war crimes.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 29, 2024.

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press