Canada’s Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney recently told a United Nations Assembly that Canada would show “zero tolerance’ towards the movement to boycott Israel. What does that mean? Mr. Blaney and Mr. Harper seem to think that criticizing Israel should be made illegal in Canada. Not everyone agrees. See more.
Almost 100 Canadian civil society organizations have spoken out against what appears to be a campaign by the Harper government to build support for criminalizing any criticism of Israel in Canada. The organizations issuing the warning include unions, civil liberty organizations and church groups.
In his speech to the Knesset in 2014, Harper said “Of course, criticism of Israeli government policy is not in and of itself necessarily anti-Semitic”. But actions speak louder than words, and based on the actions of his government, it appears that Mr. Harper would like to protect Israel from allegations that it continually violates UN resolutions, the Geneva Conventions and decisions of the International Court of Justice. Even discussing these violations, as Mr. Harper and some MPs see it, is hateful and anti-Semitic.
Some of the government actions so far include a dramatic speech by Minister Blaney at the United Nations in January, a special debate and vote in Parliament on February 24th which purposely conflated criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, and a “Memorandum of Understanding” between Israel and Canada signed by then foreign minister John Baird.
So far, no specific legislation has been proposed or enacted, but it could conceivably try to use Bill C-13 which expanded the Criminal Code definition of ‘racial hatred’ to include hatred toward “nations”.
Harper’s special target appears to be the movement to boycott Israel, popularly known as the BDS movement.
“Canada has taken a zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination including rhetoric towards Israel, and attempts to delegitimize Israel such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement,” Blaney said during his UN speech.
But if the Harper government thinks it will stop the criticism of Israel by threats or intimidation, it may backfire. Even before any charges are laid, civil society has indicated it will not be cowed. Resistance is growing for two reasons.
First – it would be a very serious assault on freedom of speech, a Charter right which Canadians hold dear, (and which this government claims to support).
In a statement entitled “Freedom of Speech and criticism of Israel”, one of the country’s most important civil liberties groups, The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) has spoken out. “The BCCLA joins many organizations in calling on the Canadian government to ensure that citizens’ Charter rights are protected in the context of political speech and legitimate political actions, such as boycotts, with respect to criticism of the state of Israel,” read its statement.
Second – and equally importantly – Canadian public opinion is slowly opening to a serious discussion of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
Among the many signatories to IJV’s statement are church groups, student groups, Palestinian human rights support groups, The Green Party of Canada and many other organizations from Prince Edward Island to Victoria. According to Tyler Levitan, who coordinated the declaration, there are currently 80 signatories to the declaration.