Trudeau tells shul audience he might reopen Iran embassy

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is surrounded by audi-ence members after speaking at Shaare Zion Congregation. JANICE ARNOLD PHOTO

MONTREAL — Justin Trudeau said he would not lift sanctions against Iran if he becomes prime minister, but his government might reopen the Canadian Embassy in Tehran.

The Liberal leader was responding to an audience question during a July 21 appearance at Shaare Zion Congregation, a synagogue in Mount Royal riding.

He said it “would be nice” to resume diplomatic relations with Iran in light of the deal limiting Iranian nuclear activity, if the regime complies with the terms.

On July 15, Liberal foreign affairs critic Marc Garneau stated that the party welcomed the agreement brokered by the P5+1 nations, led by the United States.

Trudeau said a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat not only to Israel, but to the Middle East and the entire world. The country remains a sponsor of international terrorism and has a “horrific” human rights record, he said.

“But at the same time, there is cause to be cautiously optimistic… that Iran is on track to be drawn back into the community of nations,” he continued.

The Liberals also believe the deal is preferable to military intervention against Iran, he said.

“Reopening the embassy does not mean we would suddenly be best friends [with Iran]. We don’t just have diplomatic relations with our best friends,” said Trudeau, adding that the Canadian mission was closed “largely for security reasons.”

About 500 people attended what was billed as a public “meet and greet,” hosted by Mount Royal Liberal candidate Anthony Housefather.

Earlier in the day, Housefather said he faced a “challenge in winning over the Jewish community” in the federal election expected Oct. 19. He said that the majority of Jews in Mount Royal – who represent approximately 35 per cent of the electorate – did not vote Liberal in the 2011 election, despite MP Irwin Cotler’s staunch advocacy for Israel and the Jewish community.

Cotler, who has represented the riding since 1999, called Housefather an “exemplary mayor” of Côte St. Luc for the past 10 years and remembers him as having been an outstanding law student of his at McGill University.

Housefather said the Liberal party “stands four-square behind Israel.”

Trudeau stressed that the Liberals support Israel because that is in keeping with Canadian values. Its “disagreement” with Stephen Harper is in making Israel “a political wedge issue.”

Similarly, he said the common cause of protecting Canadians from terrorism while preserving their rights and freedoms should not be a partisan concern, as the Conservatives have presented it.

He suggested that Canada has lost standing on the world stage because of Harper’s foreign policy, and that a Liberal government would return to a more nuanced, multilateral approach.

“Is it the Canadian way to stand outside and criticize, or is it that Canadian way to roll up our sleeves and engage?” Trudeau asked.

Also in response to an audience question, Trudeau said his government would not support United Nations resolutions that “demonize, delegitimize or set a double standard for Israel.”

He denounced the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel as “part of the new anti-Semitism… which seeks to marginalize the Jewish state from the community of nations.”

Trudeau said Israeli Apartheid Week, which is held annually at several Canadian universities, is troubling to him.

“I believe in free speech, in airing strong views… but if students in Canada feel unwelcome or unsafe on their own campuses because of their religion, that’s unacceptable,” he said.

The MC for the event was Côte St. Luc councillor Mitchell Brownstein, who said all seven of the city’s councillors endorse Housefather.

Shaare Zion executive director David Moscovitch told The CJN that the synagogue’s 1,000-seat sanctuary was rented by the Liberal party, and the event being held there should not be construed as an endorsement of Housefather.

The congregation, he noted, has hosted talks by the candidates from the three major parties running in Mount Royal: Housefather, Conservative Robert Libman and New Democrat Mario Rimbao.

Mount Royal has been Liberal for 75 years, but the party’s share of the vote has dropped dramatically in the last two elections. The Liberal leader’s late father, Pierre Trudeau, held the riding from 1965 to 1984. The younger Trudeau referred to his father several times during the evening.

After the program, Trudeau was mobbed by many audience members seeking photos or a chance to have a word with him.