Pro-ceasefire Liberal MPs see Trudeau's call for 'humanitarian pauses' as first step to ending Israel-Hamas hostilities

‘I think that a pause is a starting point for a ceasefire,’ said René Arseneault, a Liberal MP from New Brunswick who co-signed the letter

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OTTAWA — Some Liberal MPs who have been calling on their government to support an immediate ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war said Wednesday that they see the “humanitarian pauses” supported by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a “starting point.”

But those MPs of the governing party — among them, six parliamentary secretaries and 17 backbenchers — are still pushing for Canada to call for a complete and permanent ceasefire in the region, which is against their government’s policy to support Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas.

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“I think that a pause is a starting point for a ceasefire,” said René Arseneault, a Liberal MP from New Brunswick who co-signed the letter, on Wednesday morning.

“I hope, I trust and it is my ardent hope that we will succeed in achieving a ceasefire, and that the Western countries that we are a part of will find a solution to end this ordeal in the Middle East,” he added on his way to the weekly caucus meeting.

His colleague, Ontario Liberal MP Arielle Kayabaga, said her position on the necessity of a ceasefire remains unchanged but welcomed the idea of a “pause.”

“I think it’s a start. The goal is to make sure that less civilians die, less children die,” she said. “It’s a start that is appreciated, but we need to continue to do more.”

Adam van Koeverden, one of the parliamentary secretaries who co-signed the letter calling for a ceasefire, said he supports a call for a humanitarian pause.

“The nomenclature, what exactly they call it, is perhaps above my level of knowledge, but what I do know is that humanitarian aid needs to find its way to the people in the utmost,” he said.

Trudeau told reporters on Tuesday that Canada supports the idea of “humanitarian pauses,” as does the United States, to allow humanitarian aid to get into Gaza and to get foreign nationals out. His office has insisted that a “pause” is not a ceasefire nor is it a truce in the war.

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A spokesperson for Trudeau said that a “pause” would actually mean an extension of the humanitarian corridors during moments in the war when aid can arrive.

“A ‘ceasefire’ is often a more formal, long-term agreement to cease hostilities that is negotiated between two willing parties whereas ‘humanitarian pauses’ provide temporary breaks in a conflict in order to assist vulnerable civilians at risk,” said another senior government official.

The war began when Hamas terrorists attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians, in a bloody rampage, and taking more than 200 people hostage into Gaza.

On Wednesday, some MPs were unclear on the distinction made by their own government.

“Pauses, truces… all those are synonyms,” said Arseneault.

Others, like Peter Fragiskatos, said they were fully on board with what the prime minister said.

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“It’s not a ceasefire. A humanitarian pause is something different, very different,” he said.

But questions remain as to how such “humanitarian pauses” would work in the war. Rob Oliphant, who acts as parliamentary secretary to Minister of Foreign Affairs Melanie Joly, said he was himself a bit unclear on that question.

“How that will actually work, I can’t tell you. What I know is a ceasefire would mean Israel is vulnerable, and a pause will allow them to maintain readiness but also ensure that aid will be delivered,” Oliphant said.

Trudeau’s marching orders, however, seemed to rally even the most pro-Israel Liberal MPs like Ben Carr who, just last week, was calling on his party to reject the idea of a ceasefire.

“Any measure that can be taken within reason that allows Israel to continue to protect itself while at the same time protecting Palestinian life… of course I’m open to that,” he said.

When asked if the Liberal caucus was still divided on how to respond to the Israel-Hamas war, something even Trudeau has acknowledged, Arseneault answered by the negative.

“I don’t know if the caucus is divided; we’re talking about the same thing but from different angles,” he said.

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Michael Chong, foreign affairs critic for the Conservatives, said his party supports the idea of “temporary pauses” in military activity to allow Canadian citizens and other foreign nationals to safely exit Gaza as well as humanitarian corridors to bring aid to innocent Palestinians.

His colleague, Marty Morantz, added a small caveat to that support on Wednesday.

“Certainly, at some point, a pause might be a good idea but not until all the hostages are released,” he said.

“Hamas has it within their power to release all the hostages today. If they really cared about the state of the Palestinian people, they would release those hostages and make sure that humanitarian aid would flow quickly,” he added.

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Originally posted 2023-10-25 17:16:57.