Some Liberal MPs are continuing to demand a ceasefire in the war between Hamas and Israel, saying Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s call for temporary pauses in the fighting is not a strong enough stance against the escalating violence.
The Prime Minister has openly acknowledged divisions in his party’s caucus over the war that broke out when Hamas invaded Israel on Oct. 7. Those divisions burst into public view last week, when 23 Liberal MPs signed a letter asking Mr. Trudeau to call for a ceasefire in the conflict.
The government has resisted internal pressure to take a harder stance on Israel, but on Tuesday the Prime Minister said he supports “humanitarian pauses,” which are shorter and narrower in scope than ceasefires.
On Wednesday, Mr. Trudeau explained that the goals of the pauses would be to allow aid to enter the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, ensure hostages taken by Hamas can be released, and allow foreign nationals to leave the besieged Palestinian enclave.
“But we recognize that Israel has the right to defend itself, must do so in accordance with humanitarian law, international law, and we continue to monitor this,” Mr. Trudeau said.
The Liberal who spearheaded the creation of the letter, Ontario MP Salma Zahid, said Wednesday that humanitarian pauses fall short of what is needed, considering the scale of the civilian deaths reported in Gaza. She said two of her friends have each lost more than a dozen family members there.
“We have to call for a total peace. It’s important that we make sure that we save the lives of the innocent civilians,” she said.
On Wednesday, Sukh Dhaliwal, a British Columbia Liberal MP who did not sign the letter, added his name to the list of those calling for a ceasefire.
“I personally think that humanitarian aid should be there and a ceasefire should be there,” he said in brief comments to reporters on his way into the weekly Liberal caucus meeting.
The United States and Britain have also supported humanitarian pauses. The Israeli Embassy in Ottawa has not yet commented on Canada’s call for such a break in fighting.
According to the United Nations, a humanitarian pause refers to a temporary stop in hostilities, only for humanitarian purposes. The international organization says such a pause has to be agreed to by all parties, occur over a limited period of time and cover a defined geographic area.
Other members of the Liberal caucus expressed opposition to a ceasefire on Wednesday. Such a measure “would make Israel vulnerable” to Hamas, Ontario Liberal MP Robert Oliphant said. “A pause will allow them to maintain readiness but also ensure that aid will be delivered,” he said.
But Mr. Oliphant, who is also the parliamentary secretary to the Foreign Affairs Minister, said he has no confidence Hamas, which Canada has designated a terrorist group, would respect a humanitarian pause.
Manitoba Liberal MP Ben Carr said he is still reviewing the government’s new stance. He said any pause in the fighting shouldn’t detract from Israel’s right to defend itself.
“If we have opportunities that allow Israel to continue to defend itself, and [in] particular to ensure the release of its hostages safely, while at the same time ensuring the protection of life in Gaza, absolutely I’m supportive of it,” he said.
He added that differences of opinion are expected in caucus. But, he said, “This one happens to be more personal.”
Some MPs have direct ties to the region, and many of them are receiving feedback from their constituents that differs widely depending on the riding they represent, Ontario Liberal MP Chris Bittle said.
“I’m hearing a lot more from the pro-Palestinian side of it, but I have colleagues for whom it’s the exact opposite,” he explained.
He said he supports the government’s position in the conflict, and the call for humanitarian pauses.
Quebec Liberal MP Anthony Housefather told reporters he doesn’t agree with his colleagues who are calling for a ceasefire. He said he supports a call from Defence Minister Bill Blair on Tuesday for Hamas to be eliminated.
He said the Liberals need to keep lines of communication open and acknowledge there are “divergent voices” in the party.
“We have people with strong views on opposite sides and we can still talk to each other, and that’s what Canadians need right now,” Mr. Housefather said.