Credits: REUTERS/MARK BLINCH
OTTAWA - Postal union members in Brazil for a political conference had the chance to rub elbows this week with supporters of a listed terror group and its leader.
The Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) were in Porto Alegre for the World Social Forum's "Free Palestine" conference, which wrapped up Saturday.
There, the five-person delegation had the option of attending a session devoted to calling for the release of Ahmad Saadat from an Israeli jail.
Saadat was sentenced in 2008 to 30 years behind bars for heading the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Israel suspects he helped orchestrate the 2001 assassination of Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi by the PFLP - a militant group with a history of violence.
In 2003, Public Safety Canada listed the PFLP as a group associated with terrorism for its history of hijacking planes and the use of suicide bombers and car bombings.
Supporters view Saadat as a political prisoner. His predecessor, Abu Ali Mustafa, was killed in 2001 by Israeli forces.
On its website, the PFLP promotes the forum and Saadat himself penned a jailhouse letter to delegates calling for an end to imperialism and an expanded boycott of Israeli products.
On Sunday, CUPW national president Denis Lemelin said the union wasn't aware of the group's involvement and the delegation's focus was networking with their Brazilian counterparts.
"Our orientation has always been peace first. If you look at our constitution we support non-violence."
Tory MP Pierre Poilievre - who supports optional union dues and backs legislation seeking to have them open their books - called the trip "indefensible."
"What does any of this have to do with representing the interests of postal workers?" he asked.
Canada Post has said won't pick up the tab for sending CUPW members down south. The union had hoped to pay for the trip through a global solidarity fund negotiated with the Crown corporation through its collective agreement.
A union rep warned Friday that CUPW would fight Canada Post's refusal through a grievance procedure.
On Friday, Lemelin defended flying members to the conference despite its political bent.
"The union is there to represent the members but I think the union is (also) there to develop social and political views about what's happening globally," he said.
Lemelin pointed to a resolution ratified by CUPW members in 2008 calling for a boycott and sanctions against Israel.
He also said all union spending from the fund was fully transparent.