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Recording revealed Liberal MP’s consideration of quitting secretary role due to Ottawa’s pause on UNRWA funds

Liberal MP Rob Oliphant said he repeatedly thought of quitting his parliamentary secretary position following Canada’s “political” decision to pause funding to the UN organization for Palestinians, according to a recording.

Canada and several allies have paused funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) after it came to light that a dozen of its members participated in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
In a recorded conversation between Mr. Oliphant and a constituent, which CBC obtained, the MP said, “I’ve come many times thinking, ‘Do I quit that job? Do I just go back to being an MP?’”

Mr. Oliphant, who did not know he was being recorded, said the pause in funding was political.

“When I read that we were pausing money to UNRWA—I’m going to be very clear—it was political,” he said.

“And I don’t just mean domestic politics. It has to do with our allies.”

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Mr. Oliphant, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, went on to express his commitment to defending UNRWA indefinitely, highlighting their work in Lebanon and Jordan and his visits to refugee camps. He disputed claims of antisemitism in the organization’s curriculum, asserting his belief that UNRWA faces unjust criticism daily.

UNRWA, established in 1949, is mandated to deliver aid to Palestinian refugees and operates in several locations, including the Gaza Strip. After allegations were made tying some of its employees to the Oct. 7 attack, UNRWA said it fired the staff members.
“Any UNRWA employee who was involved in acts of terror will be held accountable, including through criminal prosecution,” said UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA Commissioner-General in a Jan. 26 statement.
Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have alleged further links between UNRWA and Hamas in recent days. The IDF reports it discovered a tunnel shaft near a UNRWA school leading to an underground passage beneath UNRWA’s main headquarters. It said the tunnel’s electrical infrastructure was connected to UNRWA’s main headquarters, indicating it supplied electricity to the tunnel with fuel that came from humanitarian aid.

This 700-metre-long, 18-metre-deep tunnel had multiple blast doors and contained Hamas intelligence assets, according to the IDF, which also reported uncovering large quantities of weapons, including rifles, ammunition, grenades, and explosives hidden in the building’s offices.

The IDF has heavily bombarded the enclave following Hamas’ terrorist attacks. This issue has caused division within the Liberal caucus, with some wanting Canada to more forcefully oppose Israel’s operations, saying they’re concerned for Palestinian lives being lost, while others say Israel has the right to self-defence, pointing out that Hamas is still holding Israeli hostages and that Hamas still poses a threat to the Jewish state.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was circumspect when reporters asked him to comment on Mr. Oliphant’s remarks Feb. 15.

“There are people from different perspectives and different places that are hurting deeply,” he responded, which is a “strength” of the Liberal Party.

He added that Canada recognizes the “ongoing humanitarian catastrophe” in Gaza, and advocates for a “two-state solution” to the crisis.

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