A former Canadian parliamentarian who was arrested by Israel for trying to breach a blockade of the Gaza Strip was not released when fellow protesters from other countries were set free, and his supporters blame a lack of political pressure from Ottawa.
Jim Manly, a former New Democrat MP who is a week shy of his 80th birthday, was taken into custody on Saturday when the Israeli military boarded the Estelle, the ship carrying opponents of the maritime blockade who say the measure has created intense hardship for the 1.7 million people living in Gaza. Also on board were members of several European parliaments.
The Greek and Spanish members of the contingent were released on Sunday, said Ehab Lotayef, a spokesman for Canadian Boat to Gaza, the organization that helped organize Mr. Manly’s mission.
“Those who were released were released due to political pressure,” said Mr. Lotayef. “The Greek ambassador and the Spanish embassy staff were there from the very beginning on a political level rather than on a consular level and they put on enormous pressure. They both had members of parliament on the Estelle and they got their people out right away.”
But there has been no similar arm-twisting from the Canadian government, he said. “And this is really sad.”
A spokesman for Canada’s Foreign Affairs department said in an e-mail on Sunday that Canadian consular officials in Tel Aviv and in Ottawa are monitoring the situation closely and have been in contact with Mr. Manly. But questions to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird about whether the government was willing to exert political pressure to help free him went unanswered.
Israel has maintained a naval blockade since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, saying its aim is to prevent weapons smuggling.
Mr. Lotayef took part in a protest flotilla last year and ended up in the same prison where Mr. Manly was being held on Sunday. He said the Israelis acted very differently when governments sent their ambassadors to the prison to negotiate the release of their citizens. So, he added, “we have also tried very hard with different Members of Parliament to take a public stand in support of Jim but we have not gotten the expected support, even from his own party, from the NDP.”
Paul Dewar, the Foreign Affairs critic for the New Democrats, said his party has been concerned about Mr. Manly. Even before the Estelle was boarded by the Israelis, he said, the NDP urged both sides to show restraint and asked the Canadian government to ensure that consular services would be on hand should something happen.
Mr. Manly’s son, Paul, said Sunday he was relieved to hear that his father had been seen by an Israeli doctor, but now he wants him released.
“My father is a man of conviction,” the younger Mr. Manly said. “And if he was talking to you right now, he would be citing the UN report that came out in August of this year that says the humanitarian crisis in Gaza is going to create an unlivable area by 2020.”
That report said urgent action must be taken to improve access to water, electricity, education and health.
Mr. Manly, a former United Church minister who served as an MP for eight years in the 1980s, requires regular medicine following two bypass surgeries.