Canada confirms it will resume funding United Nations relief agency for Palestinians

The Canadian government confirmed Friday it will resume funding to UNRWA. Israeli soldiers take up position as they enter the UNRWA headquarters, where the military discovered tunnels underneath the U.N. agency that the military says Hamas militants used to attack its forces during a ground operation in Gaza, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024. (Ariel Schalit/AP Photo - image credit)

The Canadian government has confirmed it will restore funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.

International Development Minister Ahmed Hussen confirmed the move at a press conference Friday in Mississauga, Ont.

Canada suspended funding to UNRWA in January after Israel alleged 12 employees of the aid agency were involved in some capacity in the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

CBC News first reported on Tuesday that the government intended to resume funding after receiving an interim report from the United Nations investigation of Israel's allegations.

A senior government official said that, based on the information in that interim report, the federal government was comfortable with resuming funding.

CBC News is not naming the source because they are not authorized to speak publicly about the decision.

"Canada has reviewed the interim report of the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) on this matter and looks forward to the final report," says a press release accompanying the announcement.

"While these investigative processes continue, UNRWA has taken immediate measures to strengthen oversight, accountability and transparency.

"UNRWA plays a vital role in Gaza, providing over 2 million people with humanitarian relief, in addition to its crucial operations supporting 4 million people elsewhere in the region."

Hussen told reporters that Canada is resuming funding to UNRWA in part because of the dire situation on the ground.

"Lives are at stake and this support simply cannot wait," said Hussen. "UNRWA forms the backbone of the humanitarian response in Gaza and in the region.

"We have been reassured by the contents of this interim report, but in addition to that, we've been reassured by the number of processes and steps that UNRWA itself has undertaken, as well as reforms introduced through the leadership of the UN secretary general."

After Israel alleged 12 UNRWA employees were involved in the Oct. 7 attack, the relief agency fired 10 of the accused employees. The two other accused employees were later confirmed dead, UNRWA said.

In addition to lifting the suspension on funding to UNRWA, the federal government is providing $100,000 in funding to a charity in Jordan for the purchase of supplies which will be delivered to Gazans, in part through Jordanian airdrops.

The Canadian Armed Forces also will be providing the Jordanian air force with approximately 300 cargo parachutes to replenish their supplies for humanitarian aid airdrops.

United Nations and Red Crescent workers prepare aid for distribution to Palestinians at the UNRWA warehouse in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza Strip on Monday, Oct. 23, 2023.
United Nations and Red Crescent workers prepare aid for distribution to Palestinians at the UNRWA warehouse in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza Strip on Monday, Oct. 23, 2023.

United Nations and Red Crescent workers prepare aid for distribution to Palestinians at the UNRWA warehouse in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza Strip on Monday, Oct. 23, 2023. (Hassan Eslaiah/Associated Press)

A draft version of the news release for Friday's announcement, shared with CBC News, said that the donated parachutes "are entering the end of their lifecycle and that would otherwise be destroyed. However, they are still suitable for the purpose of dropping cargo."

That information was not included in the news release published by Hussen's office.

Canada's Ambassador to the United Nations Bob Rae echoed Hussen's explanation for the resumption of Canadian funding to UNRWA in an interview with CBC Radio's The House airing Saturday.

Host Catherine Cullen asked Rae if this decision by Canada to restore funding should be interpreted as an exoneration of UNRWA. "Not at all," Rae said.

"There's only been a partial report from the first investigation and that investigation has not yet had the opportunity to meet with the Government of Israel," he said. "The secretary general wrote to the government of Israel at the end of January asking for full cooperation with this UN investigation team and, to this point, the Israeli government has not shared any detailed information with respect to the original allegations of the 12 employees.

"We decided that this is taking a very long time. We can't wait now because of the situation on the ground. Children are starving. People are dying. There is not enough food getting in. That must be the priority for everybody, including Israel."

The United Nations says approximately 500,000 Palestinians in Gaza are facing catastrophic levels of food insecurity. An estimated 1.7 million Palestinians are internally displaced within the besieged enclave.

Israel insists that UNRWA must be replaced as the primary aid agency for Palestinians. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed last month that the relief agency has been "totally infiltrated" by Hamas.

On Tuesday, the relief agency's Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini accused Israel on the floor of the UN General Assembly of conducting a "deliberate and concerted campaign to undermine [UNRWA's] operations and ultimately end them."