Photo: US Embassy Canada/Wikimedia Commons

On Tuesday, when Opposition members questioned the government about the findings of the massive Voices-Voix report, Dismantling Democracy, Public Security Minister Steven Blaney answered that the government would “take no lessons” from people who “support terrorist organizations.”

Blaney was referring to a one-paragraph reference, in the 62-page Voices-Voix report, to IRFAN Canada — the International Relief Fund for the Afflicted and Needy — which the government recently classified as a terrorist organization.

You can find that brief reference on page 57, in the chapter entitled: “Silencing Voices Through Foreign Affairs and National Security.”

Here it is:

“IRFAN Canada, a non-profit Canadian organization focused on humanitarian relief in the West Bank and Gaza, is currently embroiled in a long-running dispute with the federal government over its charitable status. In May 2014, this dispute took a grave turn, with IRFAN Canada being listed by the government as a terrorist organization. IRFAN has been forced to abandon its pursuit of charitable status while it focuses its attention on getting itself removed from the government’s terror list.”

A long history

The Conservatives’ concerns about IRFAN go back to at least 2004, when they were in Opposition.

Stockwell Day, then the Conservative Foreign Affairs Critic, asked the Chrétien government to investigate IRFAN, claiming the charity provided funds to the Palestinian organization Hamas.

In 2011, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) removed IRFAN’s charitable status. The CRA said IRFAN had funnelled over $14 million to groups associated with Hamas.

Although Hamas is the elected government in Palestinian Gaza, it is officially classified in Canada and other western countries as a terrorist organization.

IRFAN has defended itself on the basis that it is impossible to provide medical and humanitarian relief to the people of Gaza without dealing with their elected government, whatever the stripe of that government.

Some of the more than $14 million in question went, for instance, to the Gaza Ministry of Health and other service agencies controlled by the Hamas government.

The CRA has admitted that such agencies do provide health and humanitarian services. Nonetheless, the Canadian Revenue Agency argues, such services cannot be disentangled from Hamas’ terrorist activities.

The lawyer for IRFAN, Naseer Syed, told the Toronto Star, in 2011, that “the charity was trying to send a dialysis machine to Gaza.” He then added: “The issue is, how to you get aid to Palestinians, especially in Gaza? All the parties that we’re dealing with are legal in their jurisdictions.”

Is it possible to provide help in Gaza without dealing with ‘terrorist’ groups?

The CRA has other complaints against IRFAN, including diverting some of the money that donors had given for disaster relief in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia to Palestine, and keeping improper records.

IRFAN’s lawyer did raise a troubling basic issue, though.

Does an organization itself become itself “terrorist” if, in an uncontested effort to get medical and humanitarian aid to people in a conflict zone, it transacts with a duly elected body that is also classified as terrorist?

Neither CRA nor the RCMP nor anyone else in authority has accused IRFAN of knowingly and deliberately supplying funds or resources to Hamas, or any other group, for violent, military purposes.

IRFAN is condemned as being terrorist because the organizations it has worked with in Gaza are associated with the governing body, Hamas.

Hamas, in turn, openly pursues what it would call armed resistance — what others choose to call terrorism.

It is, if you will, a kind of guilt by association.

In the end, Voices-Voix made its brief mention of the IRFAN case only as an example of how Canadian foreign policy and security considerations can severely hamper the activities of groups in Canada that seek to do charitable and humanitarian work.

It was, perhaps, politically unwise for Voices-Voix to include this one small, but highly contentious example. Its report has a long litany of other, perhaps stronger, cases. But Voices-Voix did so in an entirely factual and neutral way.

The Dismantling Democracy report makes no judgment on the veracity of the claim that IRFAN is terrorist-linked. It only lays out the basic, pertinent facts.

For his part, the Minister for Public Security was happy to dismiss the entire report on the basis of that one, short paragraph. His philosophy seems to be: when in doubt, reach for the t-word.

Many will see Minister Blaney’s argument for what it is: an effort to establish guilt by association. In this case, it is association with terrorists that is at least twice removed.

At other times there has been a word for that sort of accusatory tactic. That word is McCarthyism. 

Photo: US Embassy Canada/Wikimedia Commons

Karl Nerenberg

Karl Nerenberg joined rabble in 2011 to cover news for the rest of us from Parliament Hill. Karl has been a journalist and filmmaker for over 25 years, including eight years as the producer of the CBC...