Canadians to board Gaza flotilla expect federal help

Canadians joining a maritime convoy to bring aid to Palestinians are counting on federal government help if the mission goes awry.
Nine people were killed after Israeli soldiers boarded the Mavi Marmara ship in May 2010. Canadians are set to board another flotilla this summer. Burhan Ozbilici/Associated Press

Canadians joining a maritime convoy to bring aid to Palestinians are counting on federal government help if the mission goes awry.

But Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has already denounced the effort to visit the Gaza Strip — which is under a naval blockade by Israel — as "provocative."

The first mission by the international fleet last year ended in bloodshed. Nine people were killed and 45 injured after Israeli soldiers boarded a Turkish ship.

Organizers insist they are not transporting arms to the Palestinians but Israel has already indicated it will stop this year's effort from getting through the blockade.

Among the Canadians are Manon Masse of Quebec solidaire, a small left-wing provincial party, and Marie-Eve Rancourt of the Quebec league of human rights and freedoms.

They insisted Friday that the trip is necessary and the travellers' actions are peaceful.

But Rancourt acknowledged the mission is risky and said she expects she might end up in jail.

"What we're doing is legal," she said. "Killing people who are delivering humanitarian aid — that's illegal and, frankly, it's immoral."

Both women said they expect the Canadian government to intervene and protect its citizens if there is trouble.

They criticized the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which they accused of doing nothing for Palestinians.

"We're not going there to get shot at," Masse said. "But if anything were to happen to us, we would turn to our governments. All governments have a responsibility to protect."

Rancourt said the Canadian government would have several responsibilities to fulfill in case protesters are arrested, including providing diplomatic and consular services.

"If the Canadian government doesn't work to free us in case of imprisonment or to insist that our rights be respected, it will be responsible," Rancourt said.

Other Canadians setting sail on the Tahrir as part of Freedom Flotilla 2 are Robert Lovelace, a former chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and now a Queen's University professor and filmmaker John Greyson.

Beside the Canadians, there will also be delegates from Australia, Belgium, Denmark and Germany.

They say that humanitarian aid to the Palestinian territory is at a trickle and insist the blockade is illegal and isolating, resulting in a humanitarian crisis.

The vessel, which will carry medicine and medical supplies, will leave from Greece early next week in a convoy of 10 ships.