VANCOUVER – The two Canadian men arrested in Cairo on Friday are filmmaker John Greyson and physician Tarek Loubani.
Egypt was only intended to be a stopover for John Greyson, a Toronto filmmaker and York University professor, and Loubani, an emergency room physician and assistant professor at Western University, in London, Ont.
They were en route to Gaza and friends back in Canada say they were caught at the wrong place in the wrong time when Egyptian police detained them.
Both men have a history of supporting human rights in Gaza.
Refugee, doctor, humanitarian
Loubani’s plan was to work with the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza’s North Rimal District, where he has previously taken physicians to teach local doctors advanced cardiac life support and advanced trauma life support.
He has been working at Western University since 2010.
“Tarek is a true definition of a humanitarian,” his colleague Dr. Gary Joubert told Global News from London, Ont.
“He lives his values. He walks the walk and he talks the talk.”
Joubert said he was aware that Loubani had been to the area a number of times and that he has been to Gaza in times of turmoil before.
“I know that Tarek, on many occasions when he’s gone to the Middle East, has said this could be a potential eventuality because he’s going to an area in very much conflict,” he said.
But it’s always been important for Palestinian-born Loubani to give back to his homeland, Joubert said.
In a July 2011 opinion piece, Loubani wrote of coming to Canada as a refugee.
“My family arrived from Kuwait on a ticket bought with all of my mother’s jewelry and our family car. We lost our pots on the way, but I had my clothes,” he wrote.
As well as working to improve health care in Gaza, Loubani has been outspoken about refugee health care cuts in Canada.
“Those seeking refugee status do not migrate to take advantage of a health-care system. They migrate to flee violence and oppression. They are the most vulnerable citizens in our society — at least when they first arrive, he wrote in the opinion piece.”
According to The Canadian Press, he was arrested in Gaza in July 2003, while working as human rights observer in Gaza with International Solidarity Movement. He claimed Israeli authorities beat and tortured him and other observers while they were detained.
Filmmaker, professor, activist
Loubani’s colleague, Greyson, was reportedly travelling with him to explore the possibility of making a documentary about the al-Shifa hospital.
The award-winning director, who has taught film at York University since 2005, has championed human rights in Gaza.
“He’s probably the most principled person I know,” his friend, author Naomi Klein said in a phone interview with Global News.
Klein explained he’s been an activist for years and was “very involved in the anti-Apartheid struggle.”
She said he become committed to Gaza, following the three-week conflict between Israel and Hamas in 2008-2009.
He later got involved with the “Canadian Boat to Gaza” – a campaign, according to its website, to “challenge the legality of the inhumane blockade of Gaza.”
When he boarded in 2011, it was the second such effort. During the first mission, in 2010, Israeli forces raided the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara – one of six boats in the flotilla – and killed nine people.
“What happened last year, it was such an outrage… I think that was the motivation for me this year to become more involved,” Greyson said in 2011 before taking part in the second flotilla.
He’s remained outspoken on Palestinian issues at home and was one of a group of filmmakers, artists and academics who protested the Toronto International Film Festival’s celebration of films about Tel Aviv in its City-to-City program, saying it was tantamount to a propaganda campaign.
He pulled his film Covered from the festival in protest.
Greyson’s work was back on the screen at TIFF three years later, when the festival featured a retrospective of his work.
But, his stance on Israel drew harsh criticism from Canadian producer Robert Lantos.
In 2011, Lantos quit the jury of a York University student film showcase because of Greyson’s involvement.
“When someone has made a practice out of attacking my people and hence me, I don’t believe in simply passively waiting around until he does it again,” Lantos said in an interview with the National Post.
Klein is concerned about how “explosive” the situation is getting at the moment and worries Greyson and Loubani could get “lost in the system.”
While she’s among the chorus of supporters who are calling on the Canadian government to help the pair, she believes consular officials “are overwhelmed.”
“Regardless… They have a duty to Canadian citizens, in a volatile situation, to get them out.” Klein said.
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