Ottawa backtracks on aid pledge to Canadian-Syrian group
Published Wednesday, August 15, 2012 2:28PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 15, 2012 11:10PM EDT
The federal government abruptly reversed its decision to give $2 million to a relief group to distribute medical supplies in war-torn Syria, citing concerns about where the money would end up.
Just two days after Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he's been told that government officials did their “due diligence” in choosing Canadian Relief for Syria to distribute the aid, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced Ottawa won’t be giving money to the group.
"We wanted to ensure that supplies could make their way to the victims of the Assad regime in the best way possible, and that it wouldn't fund things like warehouses and infrastructure," Baird told reporters in Ottawa Wednesday.
However, the group's proposal to the federal government, which was obtained by CTV News, shows that Ottawa was specifically asked in late July to increase its humanitarian assistance to Syrian civilians “to help establish field hospitals and medical sub-warehouses.”
Vice-president of Canadian Relief for Syria Dr. Anas Al Kassem wrote the proposal and said the government was made aware that the medical equipment would be stored in warehouses or used in field hospitals.
“We agreed about this,” he told CTV News.
Baird said concerns about where the money would be going arose after government officials sat down with Canadian Relief for Syria representatives to work on a contribution agreement.
He had announced Ottawa’s $2-million contribution to Syrian relief efforts in Jordan last week.
"The current intention will not be pursued," Baird said Wednesday. "We will find alternatives."
Momtaz Almoussly, a spokesperson for Canadian Relief for Syria, told The Canadian Press Wednesday he was shocked by Baird’s sudden decision to pull the aid pledge.
"Maybe they sent an email or something, but nobody has spoken to us from the government about this decision," he said, and insisted there was never any suggestion the money would be used for anything but medical supplies and equipment.
Some media reports have linked the group to a charity with an office in Pakistan that was once run by alleged alQaeda financier Ahmed Said Khadr, the father of Guantanamo Bay prisoner and Canadian citizen Omar Khadr.
Other reports said Canadian Relief for Syria was chosen by the Canadian government over more established aid groups because it was in a better position to reach out to opposition fighters and ensure they get medical care.
Almoussly said he has no idea why some believe his group would be channeling the aid directly to Syrian rebel groups.
"Because maybe of our connections and networks in areas that are difficult for international organizations, they labelled us that way," he said.
In an earlier interview with CP, Almoussly said doctors on the ground would treat everyone who needed medical attention, whether “you are from the left or from the right.”
Baird said Canada's aid money was not directly intended for opposition forces.
He said medical assistance will go to “all the victims of Assad,” which includes those fighting against the regime, but the money is not meant to support the rebels’ military efforts.
"It's entirely 100 per cent medical supplies,” Baird said.
Helping victims of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime remains a “top priority” for Canada, Baird said.
He said Canada will now look to its allies -- United States, the United Kingdom and Turkey -- to see what the countries can do “co-operatively” to help those affected by the civil war.
With a report from CTV’s Daniele Hamamdjian and files from The Canadian Press