Jewish groups call on Trudeau to clarify Gaza blast comments, Canada won’t comment on culpability

Facing calls to clarify his previous comments, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday the Canadian government is working “rapidly” with allies to determine exactly what happened in the Gaza hospital blast that’s become a point of contention amid the Israel-Hamas war.

Calling it “the destruction of the hospital,” Trudeau said Canada is taking the time needed to investigate “carefully” beyond the “preliminary evidence” before reaching any final conclusions.

“We are taking this extremely seriously because of all the intensity with which people are living this horrific loss of life,” he said.

Dodging questions about who Canada believes to be responsible, the prime minister restated the line he’s been repeating since the start of the conflict on Oct. 7 about the need to always protect civilian lives and always respect international humanitarian law.

His comments come as a trio of prominent Canadian Jewish organizations are calling on the prime minister to retract and clarify what he said earlier this week, as in their view it “can only be interpreted as giving credence to the false narrative of the Hamas terror group.”

“Canadian elected officials, the media, and other influencers have a responsibility to verify facts before commenting, particularly during times of war,” said B’nai Brith, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center in a statement.

After the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry reported that hundreds have been killed in a blast at a Gaza City hospital on Tuesday, Trudeau was quick to say that the news coming out of Gaza on was “horrific and absolutely unacceptable.”

Trudeau was asked in the context of what at the time were reports that an Israeli airstrike was to blame, and he said that bombing a hospital was not legal.

Soon after, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said intelligence indicated Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another militant group distinct from Hamas and considered a terrorist entity by Canada, was responsible for the failed rocket launch. That group then denied the IDF’s claim as “a lie and fabrication.”

As the conflicting claims surfaced, tensions rose both in the region and among Israeli and Palestinian communities in countries across the world, prompting protests in major cities, including in Ottawa where an antisemitism conference was targeted.

“These false and ill-advised statements have fuelled hateful rhetoric targeting Jews online and on our streets,” read the joint statement from Jewish groups. “It is a matter of urgency for the Government of Canada to set the record straight.”

Asked about these calls for clarity, and why Canada has not pronounced yet on who is responsible for the hospital blast, Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said she understands Canadians want answers, but the government “will make sure to know what exactly happened,” first.

Amid a flurry of social media misinformation, during a visit to Israel on Wednesday, U.S. President Joe Biden indicated that based on what he had seen, it appears as if the strike “was done by the other team.”

In an interview on CTV’s Power Play with Vassy Kapelos on Wednesday, IDF spokesperson Jonathan Conricus was asked to comment on some of the questions being asked about the intelligence that has led Israel to unequivocally place blame for the bombing elsewhere, given the military force’s intelligence challenges at the outset of the war.

He said that while the IDF couldn’t prevent Hamas’ initial slaughtering of Israeli men, women, and children, it “doesn’t mean that we don’t have a tremendous intelligence collection machine that is working overtime.”

Asked Thursday whether she had seen any Israeli evidence about the explosion, Joly wouldn’t say beyond noting the issue is under discussion and “Canada has a right to an answer.”

As numerous MPs noted during a special take-note debate on Monday, with now thousands dead on both sides, including six Canadians, and hundreds still seeking federal assistance evacuating the conflict zone, the events of the last 13 days have had deep impacts across the country.

Trudeau said the “horrific situation in the Middle East” is having a “deep, direct personal impact” on families and communities in Canada, but all are in agreement that “the deaths of innocents in that hospital in Gaza never should have happened.”

Asked whether he has plans to travel to the region, Trudeau said he’s been on several occasions and “we will see what happens next.” 

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