British Columbia

A year after Beirut blast, Lebanese diaspora in Canada demands accountability

A year after the explosion in Beirut that killed 214 people, destroyed much of the city and sank Lebanon's economy further into despair, Lebanese Canadians are demanding accountability and calling on Ottawa to act.

Activist group brings together Lebanese people in 35 cities around the world

Julnar Doueik is a member of the United Diaspora Network — also called Meghterbin Mejtemiin — a group based in 35 cities around the world including Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa, that seeks to support Lebanon from abroad. (Antonin Sturlese/CBC)

A year after a massive explosion in Beirut killed 214 people, destroyed much of the city and sank Lebanon's economy further into despair, Lebanese Canadians are calling on Ottawa to redirect its financial assistance away from Lebanon's government while demanding a complete investigation into the blast.

On Aug. 4, 2020, a fire at the Port of Beirut ignited a stash of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that had been stored for six years in a warehouse, without proper safety measures, after having been confiscated by the Lebanese authorities from an abandoned ship.

It was one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history. Two Canadians, including a three-year-old girl, were among those killed. 

Documents have since shown that high-level officials were warned multiple times of the risk but failed to act.

An investigation has so far failed to determine who ordered the shipment of chemicals and why officials ignored those warnings.

Julnar Doueik, who moved from Beirut to Vancouver just weeks before the explosion, says there has been little to no accountability, making it impossible to move on.

"Our wound is still open, our emotional and psychological bruises are as painful as they were a year ago — but we're also very furious because justice is nowhere to be found in Lebanon. The political class that is the cause of the Beirut blast, because of criminal negligence, they're still obstructing the investigation," she said.

"A lot of lives were lost. A whole city was destroyed. Canadian lives were lost as well during this explosion and we don't have answers." 

People in Beirut carry pictures of some of the victims of the blast in the city's port district, during a march on Wednesday, as Lebanon marks the one-year anniversary of the explosion. (Mohamed Azakir/Reuters)

Doueik is part of the United Diaspora Network — also called Meghterbin Mejtemiin — a group based across 35 cities around the world including Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa, that seeks to support Lebanon from abroad.

The group is calling on the Canadian government to provide technical assistance in the investigation, to halt humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese government and to, instead, redirect funds to civil society groups.

Over the past year, Canada has provided around $50 million toward early recovery efforts, humanitarian assistance and long-term reconstruction of the city. 

Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau said Wednesday that Canada continues to call for a full and transparent investigation.

"We continue to firmly stand with the Lebanese people and are ready to support them further. Canada will continue to reiterate that Lebanon's leaders must act now to form a government that can and will begin the reforms the country so desperately needs," Garneau said in a statement.

Economic crisis deepens

Since the explosion, Lebanon has fallen further into economic crisis while trying to rebuild, leading to a devastating currency crash, hyperinflation and widespread shortages.

Doueik says the United Diaspora Network is fundraising to send supplies, including life-saving medicines, in suitcases with people travelling back to Lebanon.

"We're trying here to mobilize the Lebanese community in Canada. We need to gather our energy to support the people back home," she said.

"We get calls every day from our families back home, from friends, about how hard it is the get the basic supplies. Mothers cannot find milk for their babies. Sick people cannot find medicine. There's a shortage of electricity and fuel. It is heartbreaking." 

A vigil for the victims of the blast will be held at UBC Robson Square in downtown Vancouver at 6 p.m. PT on Wednesday.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Ghoussoub

Reporter, CBC News

Michelle Ghoussoub is a television, radio and digital reporter with CBC News in Vancouver. Reach her at michelle.ghoussoub@cbc.ca or on Twitter @MichelleGhsoub.

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