ontario news watch

Timeline: the prime minister’s evolving statements on the war in the Gaza Strip

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was rebuked Tuesday by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a strongly worded statement calling for an end to violence in the Gaza Strip. 

Here is a look at how the prime minister’s position has evolved as the conflict has unfolded:

Oct. 7

Hamas militants stormed from the blockaded Gaza Strip into nearby Israeli towns, killing dozens and abducting others in an unprecedented surprise attack during a major Jewish holiday. 

Trudeau released a statement within hours condemning the attack. 

“These acts of violence are completely unacceptable. We stand with Israel and fully support its right to defend itself,” Trudeau wrote in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Backed by rockets, Hamas gunned down civilians and soldiers as Israel’s military scrambled to muster a response.

Israel would later estimate the death toll at 1,200 people, including hundreds of civilians.

Hamas fighters took 242 civilians and soldiers captive into Gaza.

Israel launched retaliatory airstrikes in Gaza, with Netanyahu saying the country is now at war with Hamas and vowing to inflict an “unprecedented price.”

Oct. 9

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators spilled onto streets in several Canadian cities on Thanksgiving Day.

Protesters gathered at Nathan Phillips Square in front of Toronto City Hall, many draped in or waving Palestinian flags as the crowd chanted, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” in a demonstration that was denounced by the city’s mayor.

One sign read, “Occupation is a crime, resistance is a response.”

Others at the rally indicated they were there not to spread hate against Jews, but to advocate for Palestinian liberation.

Trudeau attended a vigil in Ottawa in the crowded Soloway Jewish Community Centre later that evening. He condemned the “terrorist attacks” by Hamas, expressed solidarity with Israel and reaffirmed its right to defend itself in accordance with international law.

“These acts are sickening and completely unimaginable,” he said, demanding the immediate release of hostages. 

Trudeau also appeared to reference pro-Palestinian rallies across Canada as he addressed the solemn crowd with comments about the “glorification of death and violence and terror.”

“Hamas terrorists aren’t a resistance, they’re not freedom fighters. They are terrorists, and no one in Canada should be supporting them, much less celebrating them,” he said to rousing applause. 

Oct. 10

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly confirmed that Ottawa planned to airlift Canadians out of Tel Aviv as the conflict escalated.

She said the government felt it needed to step in because so many commercial flights from Israel were cancelled or delayed.

In what the Israeli government described as a total siege, the entry of food, fuel and medicine into the Gaza Strip was halted. It led the United Nations to warn Israel had blocked access to the essentials of life, thereby violating international law. 

Oct. 12

On a trip to the Northwest Territories, Trudeau announced $10 million in humanitarian assistance for urgent needs in Israel and the Gaza Strip.

“Israeli and Palestinian civilians deserve to live in peace, in security, in dignity and with their human rights respected,” he said.

Trudeau refused to say whether he agreed with the UN warning that Israel was violating international humanitarian law.

He instead said Canada is “working very hard” with peer countries to  protect lives, adding that “barbarity” from Hamas, which Canada lists as a terrorist organization, had caused the carnage.

Meanwhile, the first of three Canadian evacuation flights carried Canadians, permanent residents and family members out of Tel Aviv.

Oct. 14

Israel’s military told about one million Palestinians to evacuate northern Gaza and head to the southern part of the sealed-off coastal enclave ahead of an expected ground invasion.

A plan to allow foreign nationals to leave the territory via the border crossing with Egypt fell through.

Trudeau said Canada was “deeply concerned by the dire humanitarian situation” in Gaza.

“The loss of civilian life is deeply disturbing,” he said. “Canadians and people around the world must be steadfast in our support for the protection of civilians, both Israeli and Palestinian.”

Meanwhile, Joly announced plans to begin evacuating Canadians from the West Bank territory by bus.

Oct. 16

In his first speech to Parliament since the Oct. 7 attack, Trudeau called on Hamas to immediately release hostages in Gaza, which he said may include at least three missing Canadians.

“Terrorism is always indefensible and nothing can justify Hamas’s acts of terror and the killing, maiming and abduction of civilians,” Trudeau said.

He acknowledged the worsening crisis and called for “unimpeded humanitarian access and a humanitarian corridor so that essential aid like food, fuel and water can be delivered to civilians in Gaza.”

“It is imperative that this happen.”

Oct. 17

Gaza’s health ministry spokesman said an Israeli airstrike killed hundreds of people at the al-Ahli hospital in the Gaza Strip, but Israel said a Palestinian barrage had caused the blast.

Asked by a reporter to comment on an Israeli airstrike on a hospital, Trudeau called it “unacceptable,” saying in French that such a strike would be not be legal.

Oct. 18

On a visit to Israel, United States President Joe Biden told Netanyahu the hospital attack appeared to have been carried out by the “other team, not you.”

Oct. 19.

Trudeau said Canada was working with allies to determine “exactly what happened” in the blast at the Gaza hospital, and that Canada was taking the “necessary time” to probe the blast.

Toronto police warned of a spike in reported hate crimes since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas conflict. 

Oct. 20

The prime minister said in Brampton, Ont., that Canada remains firm and steadfast in its commitment to a two-state solution. “The world and the region needs a peaceful, safe, prosperous, viable Palestinian state alongside a peaceful, prosperous, democratic, safe Israeli state.”

He also acknowledged divergent views and common fears in Liberal ranks over the conflict.

Trudeau also attended a Toronto mosque. A Global News reporter posted a video to X of a moment during the visit when some were heard saying “shame” and urging a facilitator not to let Trudeau speak at the podium. The video showed Trudeau addressing the dozens gathered, thanking them for allowing him to “pray alongside you in this difficult time.”

Oct. 21

Defence Minister Bill Blair announced Ottawa has a “high degree of confidence” that Israel did not strike the Gaza hospital.

Meanwhile, the first truckloads of humanitarian aid were able to enter the besieged territory. 

Oct. 24

Trudeau emerged from a three-hour cabinet meeting and announced support for a humanitarian pause in the conflict.

“Our priority throughout this needs to be the continued protection of innocent civilians, the liberation of the hostages,” Trudeau said.

“That’s why we’re engaged closely with our allies on trying to build humanitarian corridors, get aid in, get civilians and foreign nationals out of Gaza. I think there’s a lot of conversations going on now about the need for humanitarian pauses and I think that’s something that Canada supports.”

The prime minister faced increasing pressure to call for a ceasefire, including from within his own caucus. 

Oct. 26

The prime minister met with opposition parties to brief them on the situation in Israel and the Gaza Strip. 

Oct. 27

A Canadian effort to formally criticize Hamas for the “deliberate cruelty” of its deadly Oct. 7 attacks on Israel was defeated at the UN.

Bob Rae, Canada’s ambassador to the UN, urged delegates to back an amendment that would have named Hamas in a draft resolution calling for a temporary pause in the conflict.

Opponents of the amendment, however, derided it as one-sided, unequal and unfair, noting that the original resolution was expressly designed to avoid chastising either party.

Nov. 1

No Canadians were on a list of more than 400 foreign nationals permitted to leave Gaza.

Nov. 2

In Ottawa, Trudeau called the evacuation effort an “extremely complicated” situation.

“We’re pushing on our friends in Israel, our friends in Egypt, working with the Americans and others to make sure that Canadian families get on the list. We’re not going to stop until we get them out.”

The death toll in Gaza rose to at least 9,061 and more than 23,000 people had been wounded, the Gaza Health Ministry said, without providing a breakdown between civilians and fighters. 

Nov. 7

Two Jewish institutions, including a synagogue, were firebombed overnight in the Montreal suburb of Dollard-des-Ormeaux. No one was injured.

The first 59 people connected to Canada made it out of the Gaza Strip.

Nov. 8

Trudeau cited the firebombing as one example of what he called a “terrifying” increase in antisemitism across the country.

“Molotov cocktails thrown at synagogues, horrific threats of violence targeting Jewish businesses, targeting Jewish daycares with hate — this needs to stop,” Trudeau implored. “This is not who we are as Canadians.”

He also recognized an increase in Islamophobia, saying hateful language and acts aimed at Muslims and Palestinians are equally unacceptable.

“If Canada can’t figure this out, tell me what corner of the world is going to figure this out,” the prime minister said to reporters.

Nov. 9

Trudeau again denounced antisemitism after two Jewish schools were hit with gunfire overnight in Montreal. 

“I want to be clear, this hate has no place, not here in Montreal, not anywhere in Quebec, not anywhere in Canada,” he said. “We need to remind ourselves who we are. I know that emotions are strong. People are scared and in mourning. But for Canadians to attack each other, it’s not what we do.”

Trudeau also said that recently agreed upon humanitarian pauses must last long enough for people to leave the area and for aid to arrive.

The White House said Israel agreed to put in place four-hour daily humanitarian pauses in its assault on Hamas in northern Gaza.

“We’ve been calling for weeks now for humanitarian pauses,” Trudeau said.

“They need to be significant, they need to last long enough to get people out (and) to get supplies in. And we have to start using them to start thinking about what the medium term and long term is.”

Nov. 14

The Israeli military raided Gaza’s largest hospital, conducting what it called a targeted operation against Hamas as troops seized broader control of northern Gaza.

While Israel said it was willing to allow staff and patients to evacuate, Palestinians said Israeli forces had fired at evacuees and that it was too dangerous to move the most vulnerable patients. Doctors said the facility had run out of fuel and patients were beginning to die.

In a strongly worded statement at an event in Vancouver, Trudeau said Israel should use “maximum restraint,” and referenced the hospital specifically. 

He said the world was witnessing the killing of women, children and babies, and that it must stop.

“The human tragedy that is unfolding in Gaza is heart-wrenching, especially the suffering we see in and around the Al Shifa Hospital,” he said.

“I have been clear that the price of justice cannot be the continued suffering of all Palestinian civilians. Even wars have rules.”

He also said Hamas needs to stop using Palestinians as human shields and release all hostages “immediately and unconditionally.”

His statements came the same day the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, confirmed its fuel storage facility in Gaza was empty and its relief operations would be halted before long.

Trudeau said the violence urgently needed to stop, “so that Palestinians can get access to life-saving medical services, food, fuel and water, so that all hostages can be released, so that all Canadians and other nationals can leave Gaza.”

The comments were met with a swift rebuke from Netanyahu.

“It is not Israel that is deliberately targeting civilians but Hamas that beheaded, burned and massacred civilians in the worst horrors perpetrated on Jews since the Holocaust,” Netanyahu wrote on X. 

“While Israel is doing everything to keep civilians out of harm’s way, Hamas is doing everything to keep them in harm’s way. Israel provides civilians in Gaza humanitarian corridors and safe zones, Hamas prevents them from leaving at gunpoint.

“It is Hamas not Israel that should be held accountable for committing a double war crime — targeting civilians while hiding behind civilians.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 15, 2023.

— With files from The Associated Press

Laura Osman, The Canadian Press