Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne left Lebanon after a 48-hour visit to Beirut, a battered city and so "devastated, as far as the eye can see." With its many victims and people who lost everything, its "heart is forever marked" by the voices of a population who aspire to "better days" and "seek to be heard"; by the "initiatives of these young volunteers who have put aside their responsibilities" to come to the aid of the disaster victims; and also by "this crisis that highlights all the tragedies of Lebanon." "There are no options. Lebanon has reached the end of the road, and international aid must now be accompanied by major reforms," Champagne told L'Orient-Le Jour in an exclusive interview at the end of his visit. Practically, "the world is ready to help the Lebanese, but these reforms must be undertaken and the political class must listen and even reform itself," he said. "Impunity must end. The people have spoken, including the young and the women. Listen to the people. The path is set. Follow this path and take action," he added in a clear message to politicians.
Canada Will not Validate Negligence
These sentences sum up all the determination of Canada, but also of the international community that rushed to Lebanon's side after the August 4 double explosion at the Port of Beirut, which killed more than 180 people, injured 6,500 and left some 300,000 homeless. And this determination, the Canadian minister of foreign affairs did not fail to express to President Michel Aoun who received him in Baabda on Thursday." I told the president about this feeling of a people waiting for better days and seeking to be heard," Champagne said. "I also said that we will participate in the investigation (into the port explosion) only if it is credible, independent and impartial. Canada will never be there to validate negligence if the investigation does not try to get to the bottom of things."
During his first visit to Lebanon, Champagne inspected the site of the explosion."You can feel the destruction as far as the eye can see. No one can be indifferent. And I felt sorry for the people who went through all that," he said emotionally. The Canadian minister also met with families of victims who "demand justice" for their loved ones, as well as reforms. "People are tired of prevarication, empty words and hasty analysis," he said. "They want something real, something concrete, something new."
At the heart of his meetings were talks with representatives of Lebanese civil society, the Lebanese Red Cross and its 13,000 volunteers, the World Food Program (WFP) and other organizations that "make a difference in people's lives." "This should be inspiring for the state," he said. Champagne came to Lebanon to accompany Canadian emergency humanitarian aid and ensure that it will go to those most in need. He explained that the aid consists of "a total of $30 million Canadian dollars in emergency assistance to the population, which is the result of the generosity of Canadians, in addition to an $8 million contribution from Ottawa."
At the same time, the Canadian Foreign Minister offered "technical assistance to the Lebanese authorities to reform institutions," because "the status quo is no longer acceptable" and there is today "an opportunity to be seized." "I even offered to train the diplomats of tomorrow on concepts of governance and integrity," he said, adding that his country also wants to contribute to the "revival of the Lebanese economy" and in particular to "Lebanon's food security." "We also decided to support education," he added. This is not only in terms of support for the Francophonie but also in terms of remote education in these times of Covid-19. "We must get involved quickly to provide young Lebanese men and women with remote education," he said.
A Heart Full of Hope
In spite of his sorrow for all those who lived through this tragedy, it is with "a heart full of hope" that Champagne left. "The Lebanese people gave me hope. I felt this unshakeable will to say, 'enough is enough,'" he said, promising that Canada, along with the international community, intends to support the Lebanese in their quest for change. "We will be at your side," he said.
Certainly, Canada remains a welcoming place for people who want to leave, and "representatives of the Canadian Immigration Department are already in Beirut at the Canadian Embassy" as part of the process. "I asked them to be humane, to have the necessary empathy," the minister said in this regard. Nevertheless, the Canadian minister of foreign affairs is deeply convinced that "the real answer is to build a country that will live up to the expectations of these young people who want deep reforms for Lebanon."
Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs François-Philippe Champagne left Lebanon after a 48-hour visit to Beirut, a battered city and so "devastated, as far as the eye can see." With its many victims and people who lost everything, its "heart is forever marked" by the voices of a population who aspire to "better days" and "seek to be heard"; by the "initiatives of these young volunteers who have...