The following post is part of a new series that brings a fresh perspective to global news from our team of foreign correspondents.
For a few Canadians – born in Jerusalem – the Harper government puts “Palestine” as their ‘country of birth’ in their Canadian passports.
That may come as a bit of a surprise, given the Harper government doesn’t recognize the existence of any such state. If it failed to secure Canada’s usual seat in the Security Council in part because of its pro-Israeli stance, it would be echoing the United States in blocking any UN vote recognizing Palestine.
Meanwhile, a Jewish-Canadian born in Jerusalem who wants “Israel” listed as their place of birth – tough luck.
There’s an explanation for this seeming inequity, but the Harper government – probably most stridently pro-Israeli in Canadian history – doesn’t want to explain.
If you like to know why it’s okay for some to have “Palestine” as a country of origin in a Canadian passport but not “Israel,” don’t bother asking officialdom in Ottawa.
That’s what The Globe and Mail did in August after a brouhaha over the same issue in the United States.
Since then, a tale of Ottawa obfuscation and delay.
It only took Moses 40 days to extract the ten commandments from God, which turns out to be far faster, and considerably more informative than the stalling and stonewalling by bureaucrats at Foreign Affairs and Passport Canada. They just won’t answer why “Palestine” is an okay country of birth for some Jerusalem-born Canadians but “Israel” is verboten.
Although both the passport agency and the policy group report to Foreign Minister John Baird, they have spent the last 41 days (and counting) trying to finger the other as responsible.
There have been moments of hope. On Aug 23, a diplomat charged with handling the query wrote: “I have consulted with Passport Canada and they are ready to answer your questions on the place of birth in Canadian passports.” Sadly, it wasn’t true. Passport Canada wasn’t ready then and, at last communication, an official said she didn’t know when, or even whether, an explanation might ever be forthcoming.
Perhaps bureaucrats are embarrassed by what may be a logical, if odd, policy. Perhaps the Prime Minister’s iron-fisted control over information now reaches down to minor policy issues.
The explanation lies is the terse statement. “Canada does not recognize Israel’s unilateral annexation of East Jerusalem.”
A similar conundrum exists in the United States. There, the matter is headed to the Supreme Court. But the State Department, rather than bobbing and weaving like its Ottawa counterpart, has issued a clear and complete explanation of the policy of placenames in passports, available for all to read. Ottawa offers nothing comparable for Canadians.
What follows is apparently (but not officially) what Ottawa doesn’t want to admit. Canadians born before 1948 (i.e. before the Jewish state of Israel was created) in Jerusalem are considered to have been born in “Palestine.” Until and unless Palestinians and Israelis agree on the status of Jerusalem, it will remain a city without a country, at least in the passports of Jerusalem-born Canadians younger than 63.