Poilievre calls UNRWA a ‘terrorist’ organization, after Canada freezes funding following allegations
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has accused UNRWA, the United Nations relief and works agency, of being a “terrorist” organization and vowed to cut its funding if he becomes prime minister.
Israel last week said some UNRWA staff members took part in the October 7 attacks by Hamas-led militants in southern Israel that killed about 1,200 Israelis. Palestinian health officials say about 26,000 people have died in Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip since that date.
The UN aid agency said it was investigating the allegations and had already fired several employees.
In a statement released Friday, Canada’s international development minister, Ahmed Hussen, expressed alarm at the allegations and said Canada would freeze its funding of the organization.
That puts Canada among several countries, including the US, Britain and Germany, that have blocked the flow of money.
UNRWA is a key provider of aid to Gaza, including food, water and shelter. It also plays an important role in coordination with other agencies and organizations. Aid agencies and humanitarian groups have expressed concern that halting funding could worsen an already dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
“UNRWA is severely under-resourced right now. Gaza is severely under-resourced. And any funding stopped by anyone puts humanitarian relief efforts at risk,” said Rex Brynen, chair of Middle East Studies. program at McGill University, told CBC News.
Canada unequivocally condemns the October 7 attack on Israel. I am very concerned about the allegations related to some UNRWA employees. I have instructed Global Affairs Canada to freeze all further funding to UNRWA pending the outcome of the investigation. Read my statement: pic.twitter.com/YfEbwhKvzx
On Sunday, Poilievre addressed the news and the fallout in Canadian politics, and sought to tie the issue to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“Trudeau should be ashamed of himself for the way he spent our money to fund this terrorist organization,” Poilievre said.
On Sunday, Canada’s United Nations ambassador, Bob Rae, said Canada has nothing to do with the financing of terrorism.
“What we have done in support of UNRWA for the last 70-75 years is to help the humanitarian work of UNRWA…. And we want to be very clear that we will continue to support the humanitarian situation in Gaza precisely. because it is very seriously,” he said.
“And we’re not going to make a political football out of it. It’s about saving lives, and we have to keep our focus on that.”
Rae said Canada will take the allegations against UNRWA seriously while ensuring that humanitarian aid reaches those in need in Gaza.
The federal government had already drawn criticism earlier in the weekend, when NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson called the decision to freeze funding “wrong.”
All states, including 🇨🇦, have a responsibility to end the suffering in Gaza. Canada’s decision to stop funding UNRWA is a mistake. Investigations must continue, but this punishes the starving people of Gaza who need a ceasefire and for whom UNRWA is their only source of aid.
Hussen said on Saturday that Canada remains committed to providing assistance to the Palestinians in Gaza.
“While UNRWA conducts this investigation, Canada will not reduce its support to the people of Gaza. Canada will continue to work with other partners to provide life-saving assistance to civilians in Gaza,” he said in his statement on Friday.
Canada has announced that it will provide $60 million in humanitarian aid for the Gaza crisis, and it has also opened a special immigration program for some people in Gaza who are family members of Canadians.