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Vic Toews, currently Canada’s Minister of Public Security visiting Jordan in January 2010. All photos courtesy of Minister Toews.

Minister Toews visiting Jordan, January 2010.

Minister Toews visiting Jordan, January 2010.

Minister Toews meeting in Ramallah with General Dayton and Canadian soldiers that are training the Palestinian Authority’s police force.


By Rhonda Spivak, June 14, 2010


On January 13, 2010, I wrote an article published in the Jerusalem Post in which Vic Toews, then president of Canada’s Treasury Board, (now Canada’s Minister of Public Security) announced that Canada was not going to give untagged core funding to the general operating account of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) in 2009 for such items as education, but was going to fund food aid only. Toews clarified that Canada did not reduce its overall amount of aid to UNWRA but allocated it all to food aid, rather than to education, health etc.

Now, almost 6 months later, I want to inform the readership of the Winnipeg Jewish Review, what the “fall out” has been from that decision.
Following the decision, Frank Dimant, executive vice president of B’nai Brith Canada, said in a statement, “Canadian funding of UNRWA has always been problematic due to the fact that numerous reports spelled out the degree to which Hamas and other Islamic terrorist organizations have infiltrated UNRWA and diverted funding intended to benefit the Palestinian people.”

It’s safe to say that UNWRA itself has been very displeased with Canada’s decision. On January 17, 2010, an article in Israel National News by Hana Levi Julian reported that UNWRA was protesting the Canadian government’s decision to reduce its core funding. (  In it, Chris Gunness, the Jerusalem-based UNRWA spokesman, said B’nai Brith’s allegations that Hamas had infiltrated were “baseless.” Gunness said, “If these baseless allegations were even halfway true, do you really think the US and [European Commission] would give us hundreds of millions of dollars each year?"

According to Israel National News, Gunness also claimed that it is in Israel’s interest to maintain a strong  UNRWA, “contributing to the peace and stability of this region – a fact recognized by the Israeli government which regularly praises our work,” he said. “There are groups who seem to think that if UNRWA were de-funded and disappeared, the refugees would disappear too. This is a deluded fiction.”  

On January 21, 2010, Ma’an, the leading Palestinian newspaper published an article out of Bethlehem  regarding Canada’s decision in which a dissatisfied Gunness said, "We hope Canada sees the sense of continuing donations to the general fund,"  noting that the funds “focus on the provision of health, education and prosperity projects”

By the end of January 2010, the website of the Palestine solidarity Network ( was asking its readers to “Please take 30 seconds to help restore Canadian aid to UNRWA in this action call from Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.”  The website said,

“Last week, the Harper government quietly announced that after decades of support, Canada was ceasing aid to the [UNWRA] …… The Harper government’s decision represents a cruel break from Canada’s traditionally supportive and humane position vis-à-vis the Palestinian refugees.
“Please click here to send an email to the all Party leaders, as well as MPs in your locale, challenging them on this decision.”

In January 20, 2010, Lee Bertiume of the Ottawa based Embassy Magazine, quoted officials  in the offices of both CIDA Minister Bev Oda and Treasury Board president Vic Toews  that confirmed that Canada's $15 million will now be spent specifically on food aid instead of  being “untagged” core funding that supplemented UNRWA's  general fund.

Bertiume’s article, titled “Outcry erupts as Canada starts to move away from Palestinian refugee agency” ( noted that critics of the Harper government’s position say that UNWRA “provides an alternative to Hamas”, and “The argument is that taking core funding away from UNRWA will simply force Palestinians to rely on such groups. NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar said that is why Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told Canadian parliamentarians in Ottawa last year to continue supporting the agency.”

Interestingly enough, not long after my article was published in the Jerusalem Post, UNWRA began advertising in Ha’aretz, asking readers if they had “ misUNnderstood” UNWRA.  When a reader clicked on the ad going to the UNWRA website, the reader received information explaining that UNWRA was not anti-Israel, and didn’t encourage extremism in its schools, etc.

In February, Gunness advanced his case through The Jordanian Times. ( In an article in that publication on February 2010, UNRWA again “called on Canada to resume its financial support to the agency’s general budget’, noting that  in 2009 Canada “decided to redirect its core funding to UNRWA into food security programmes for Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”
Chris Gunness, told The Jordan Times via e-mail regarding Canada’s decision that:

“This is a shame as our General Fund supports our mainstream human development  work - educating people, young people and we hope, making them believe in a prosperous, dignified, stable and peaceful future. So we hope that Canada will see the sense in supporting not just our emergency work, but beyond that.”

He added that UNRWA faces a massive deficit that threatens its core services in education and health, adding: “We face a $50 million shortfall even on our much reduced budget. And we need a further $50 million if we are to deliver services of the quality which we would like.”

The article also said that, “Gunness rejected media reports that the decision was apparently taken due to concerns within the Canadian government about the lack of transparency and accountability regarding UNRWA’s expenditures.”

“We have accountability and transparency, which all UN agencies have. Indeed our oversight procedures have been strengthened by our reform programme known as organizational development,” Gunness said.

On February 7, 2010 Heather Robinson, a former Senior Writer for the New York Daily News, published an article very critical of UNWRA’s educational program in the Huffington Post. ( Robinson wrote,
 Last month, due to concerns Hamas had infiltrated UNRWA, the Canadian government quietly decided to redirect funding away from the agency; instead, the $300 million in aid Canada has pledged to the Palestinians for the next five years will go to food aid and the support of the Palestinian justice system in an effort to help the Palestinians build a civil society.”

“Perhaps the U.S. should follow Canada's lead.”

“In recent years, watchdog organizations have shined a light on the content of book

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.