Canadian to be part of proposed inquiry

OTTAWA — Israel has asked Canada’s former top military lawyer to help investigate its attack on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

OTTAWA — Israel has asked Canada’s former top military lawyer to help investigate its attack on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

A statement from the Israel government says one of two foreign observers for a proposed inquiry would be retired Brig. Gen. Ken Watkin, Canada’s former judge advocate general.

Watkin served as a Canadian Forces legal officer for more than 25 years and has been involved in various inquiries arising from the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

He also served as legal advisor to an inquiry that was set up after the brutal killing of a teenager at the hands of Canadian soldiers in Somalia in 1993.

Watkin is also known for his involvement in the Afghan detainee transfer issue currently boiling over on Parliament Hill.

In February it came to light that a 2007 memo from Watkin warned the military that it was a crime to ignore allegations of prisoner abuse. The memo, which was sent to the chief of defence staff, stated that senior officials ignore warnings of prisoner torture at their own peril.

Foreign affairs minister Lawrence Cannon welcomed Israel’s decision to set up the independent commission, saying Watkin’s career makes him well-suited to participate.

“Canada fully supports an impartial, credible, and transparent investigation into the tragic incident,” said Cannon in a statement released Sunday.

The proposal for the commission goes before Israel’s cabinet for approval on Monday.

It would be chaired by retired Israeli Supreme Court justice Yaakov Turkel. A second foreign observer proposed for the probe is Irish Nobel Peach Prize laureate Lord William David Trimble.

Israel has come under heavy international criticism after its May 30 raid on the flotilla, which killed at least nine pro-Palestinian activists.

But Cannon said Canada understands and sympathizes with Israel’s legitimate security concerns in the face of terrorism against its people and called on both Israel and Palestine to return to negotiating a lasting peace in the region.

“States and international bodies should not rush to judgment before all the facts are known,” he said.

“While we fully support the importance of delivering humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, we also fully support Israel’s right to inspect ships to ensure military material and armaments do not reach the hands of Hamas terrorists.”

Cannon added that it was expected the findings of the proposed inquiry would be presented to the international community.

The raided convoy of ships were enroute to Gaza with aid supplies in defiance of an Israeli blockade when they were boarded by commandos in international waters two weeks ago.

The naval blockade was imposed more than three years ago in an effort to prevent weapons smuggling to Hamas, which controls the territory.

Three Canadians caught up in the raid —Kevin Neish, Farooq Burney and Rifat Audeh — were detained in Israel and later released.

The trio have sent an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper Sunday expressing their “outrage and indignation” over his government’s “despicable silence” on the raids.

In the letter, they say they are “appalled at the muted response” of their government, and demand to know why Ottawa didn’t ask for their release.

Israel claimed activists ambushed Israeli commandos as they boarded one of the ships in the flotilla.

Israel maintains the blockade of Gaza is necessary to stop weapons from reaching Hamas.