John Baird defends Ottawa's efforts to free Mohamed Fahmy
Foreign minister rejects allegations that ties with Israel stand in the way of assisting imprisoned journalist
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is hitting back against a former ambassador's allegations that the government is taking a quiet approach to freeing Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy because of its close ties with Israel.
On CBC Radio's The House, Baird tells Evan Solomon that "there are some people in this world that want to blame every single problem on Israel, the Jews… it's deeply offensive and ridiculous."
Baird was being asked to respond to comments Canada's former ambassador to Egypt, Ferry de Kerckhove, made on CBC News Network's Power & Politics on Tuesday.
De Kerckhove said, "I think our government puts the security of Israel ahead of some of the fundamental values they pretend to be fostering."
"It's very interesting, because I'm absolutely convinced that the policy adopted has far less to do with dual citizenship of Mr. Fahmy than it has to do with not rocking the boat in the region," he said.
Fahmy holds Egyptian and Canadian citizenship, which can make it more complicated for Canada to intervene.
Baird rejected the criticisms and said de Kerckhove was working for the interests of Qatar's government.
"Let me be clear, he's working for the interests in Qatar. He does work for Qatar Airways.… That's a pretty important conflict of interest to raise, don't you agree? He's on the payroll of the Qatari government," he said.
Al-Jazeera, the news organization the three imprisoned journalists work for, is funded by Qatar. There are concerns that those ties and Qatar's connection to the Muslim Brotherhood are why the journalists were imprisoned, in retaliation by Egypt.
Baird said "they [Qatar] were funding the Muslim Brotherhood, so it's more than a relationship."
In an email, de Kerckhove responded to Baird's allegations and clarified that he was not on the payroll of the Qatari government, but was doing government relations for Qatar Airways from Aug. 1, 2012, to July 31, 2013. His contract was not renewed.
On Israel, he said, "I have no qualms saying that Mr. Netanyahu is a hindrance to his own country as to the Palestinian issue. But I have always said that Israel's security is important not just for Israel but for the whole world, and the Middle East needs Israel and vice versa for the region's progress and prosperity."
"This is not 'blame the Jews.' It is hoping for peace," de Kerckhove said.
Defending Canada's approach
Despite the criticism, Baird insists the government is doing everything it can to free Fahmy. He cites the government's success at negotiating the release of Canadians John Greyson and Tarek Loubani from an Egyptian prison last year.
"This is exactly how the government worked when the two Canadians were incarcerated last year… and ultimately we were successful taking that kind of approach," he said.
Baird also pointed out that while the Americans, British and Australians have been very vocal on this issue, that approach has not worked yet either.
"We're perhaps not the loudest. I'll point out that hasn't worked. I think if you want to get someone to do something and you have a relationship with them, you're best to try and be effective rather than loud. And that's what we're doing," he said.