Liberal caucus meets after Canada votes for Israel-Hamas ceasefire at United Nations

Liberal caucus meets after Canada votes for Israel-Hamas ceasefire at United Nations
Salma Zahid, Liberal MP for Scarborough Centre, speaks during a discussion titled

Liberal MPs gathered Wednesday for what was expected to be their final caucus meeting of the year, a day after Canada shifted its stance to join international calls for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Canada’s vote at the United Nations General Assembly was a departure from its long-standing policy of backing Israel at the international body, which on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted to demand a halt to hostilities.

The decision came amid conflict within Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal caucus over how to respond to the latest eruption in violence, which was triggered when Hamas militants launched their brazen Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

Liberal House leader Karina Gould nodded to the conflict within her party earlier Wednesday, saying that it “may not satisfy anyone” to take a “principled position.”

“There are very strong emotions on both sides of this problem, and understandably,” Gould said. “There have been horrific tragedies in Israel and in Gaza.”

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather said he was “very disappointed” in Canada’s vote.

“I don’t believe the majority of my constituents support an unconditional call for a ceasefire,” Housefather said.

“It’s my obligation as an individually elected MP to speak out when I think that Canada has abandoned its traditional position at the UN in support of Israel, at a time when Israel is at war.”

SEE PREVIOUS: Canada breaks with long-standing Israel stance at UN in voting for Gaza ceasefire

He said he thought the resolution “singled out Israel” and was inconsistent with a statement earlier in the day.

That statement, from Trudeau and his counterparts in Australia and New Zealand, said Canada continues to support Israel’s right to defend itself, and condemned Hamas for its atrocities.

While the UN resolution did not specifically name Hamas, Canada supported a U.S. amendment that would have done so. But it didn’t get the two-thirds support that would have been required for it to pass.

Housing Minister Sean Fraser said “it would have been preferred” for that language to be in the main resolution. But the UN is “never going to have the perfect draft that Canada would have drafted,” he said.

“I wish that the world at the UN had supported that amendment,” added Liberal MP Julie Dabrusin. “But we can also say that we want the world to move towards a peace in that region. I think that we can say both.”

Liberal MP Ben Carr argued that the resolution should have also laid out conditions for a ceasefire, saying it “fell short.”

Asked about the divisions within his caucus, Carr said: “I’m a Liberal, and it’s OK for me to at times question or disagree or ponder the positions on certain issues that my party has taken.”

Many Liberals were insisting on Wednesday that the earlier statement from Trudeau was the most robust explanation of Canada’s position and should be considered alongside the vote.

“I think in this debate, we lose a lot of nuance. And it’s important that multiple things can be true at the same time,” said MP Chris Bittle.

Addressing MPs and staff at a holiday gathering Tuesday evening, Trudeau acknowledged the war was reverberating across the world and within the party.

He said he knows it has been “extremely difficult” for many and that he has been speaking with those who have been directly affected by the conflict.

Trudeau characterized what he called the “hard, but necessary conversations” happening with the party as a product of its diversity.


Earlier that day, Liberal MP Salma Zahid — who had helped organize an open letter signed by more than 20 other government MPs calling on Canada to press for a ceasefire — welcomed the vote.

In a statement, she thanked fellow MPs who “raised their voices for peace,” as well as thousands who took to the streets in “peaceful protest” to push for a ceasefire.

The UN vote is about “protecting innocent civilians,” Zahid said Wednesday.

The latest war between Israel and Hamas began after the armed group’s militants launched their surprise attack in Israel, killing 1,200 people, including hundreds of civilians, and taking about 240 people hostage.

Israel retaliated with airstrikes and a military ground offensive on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, cutting off its access to many essential supplies. Local authorities say more than 18,000 Palestinians have been killed.

The federal Conservatives called for Hamas to surrender unconditionally to Israel and release all hostages, and wouldn’t directly address the vote on Tuesday.

But the NDP’s foreign affairs critic, Heather McPherson, lauded the move and said it was “about time.”

Trudeau’s government has faced massive pressure from Canadian Jewish and Muslim advocacy groups over its position.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said in a statement on Tuesday it was both “shocked and “disgusted” by Canada’s UN vote, saying that the country was turning its back on the Jewish community and Israel’s right to defend itself.

In explaining Canada’s shift, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said that while Canada believes in Israel’s right to defend itself, it matters how it defends itself.

“What is unfolding before our eyes will only enhance the cycle of violence,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 13, 2023.

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