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Organizations across Canada oppose government effort to criminalize criticism of Israel

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In recent years, Israel and its allies have become increasingly concerned about the growing international movement to expose and sanction Israel’s behaviour. Their chosen response appears to be one designed to intimidate and suppress this opposition through the threat or actual use of legal punishments. Nowhere has Israel’s call for help in this outrageous endeavor been more enthusiastically embraced than in the right-wing Canadian government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which is widely considered Benjamin Netanyahu’s strongest ally.

In the face of growing intimidation from the Harper government, Independent Jewish Voices – Canada (IJV) decided to write a statement that identifies the tangible threat to criminalize criticism of the state of Israel in Canada. We reached out to civil society organizations across the country, with the goal of finding broad public support in defense of our civil liberties, which are already under attack through the terrifying Bill C-51.

Here is the full text of the statement, entitled “Oppose the Canadian government’s threat to criminalize criticism of Israel”:

In 2009, the Canadian government gave major support to the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA), a group of parliamentarians who accused those challenging Israel’s unjust treatment of Palestinians of being anti-Semitic. The goal of the CPCCA was to create a climate in which criticism of Israel could be criminalized in Canada. Fortunately, that initiative was unsuccessful, thanks to widespread opposition from members of the Canadian public.

In what appears to be another attempt to suppress criticism of Israel, the Canadian government has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Israel which makes the claim that “the selective targeting of Israel is the new face of anti-Semitism” and declares that Canada will oppose those who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Shortly after the MOU was signed, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney announced to the UN General Assembly that the Canadian government would exercise “zero tolerance” toward “all forms of discrimination including rhetoric towards Israel, and attempts to delegitimize Israel such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.” 

All this follows on the fact that in October 2014 the Canadian government passed changes to the criminal code in Bill C-13 which expanded the definition of identifiable groups to be protected against public incitement to hatred to include “nations”. This change to Canadian law parallels the situation in France, where alterations to the French penal code have led to the conviction of twenty French citizens who support the BDS movement, on charges of inciting racial hatred. 

It is not yet clear how the Canadian government intends to implement a policy of “zero tolerance” to those who exercise their freedom of speech by advocating and participating in boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns to pressure Israel to respect the rights of Palestinians. What is clear, however, is that the Canadian government is determined to target people who expose and oppose Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians. Such efforts by the government can only put a chill on Canadian democracy and may lead to the criminalization of such dissent down the road. 

We are unequivocal in our condemnation of all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. It must be stressed that it is not anti-Semitic to criticize the state of Israel. Those who equate such criticism with a hatred of Jewish people are simply attempting to silence Israel’s critics. 

In the face of these actions on the part of the Canadian government, we must defend the right of people in a democracy to criticize any government’s behaviour and to participate in boycotts designed to alter that behaviour if they choose to do so.


We, the undersigned organizations, oppose attempts by the Canadian government to criminalize criticism of or opposition to the actions of any country. 

The positive response to this IJV initiative has been inspiring. At last count, 81 organizations from across English-speaking Canada and Québec – including major trade unions, labour councils, civil liberties, anti-war, faith-based, student and other groups — have endorsed the statement.

The Harper government has yet to take punitive actions in pursuit of these outrageous assaults on our freedom of expression. But progressive forces in Canada clearly stand ready to mount a vigorous response if and when they do.

Sid Shniad

Sid Shniad is a member of the national steering committee of Independent Jewish Voices – Canada.

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43 Responses

  1. pabelmont on April 22, 2015, 3:11 pm

    The Canadians should do their speaking and advertising this way: “We call on all human-rights-supporting Canadians to join us in calling for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against all companies which profit from, and against all countries which practice, violations of the international law of belligerent occupation, where such occupation has been on-going for 25 years or longer and where any practices of such occupation have been continued after UNSC resolutions and/or ICJ opinions calling for their cessation.”

    The group of countries “caught up” in this would include Israel (Palestine; UNSC 465/1980; ICJ July 2004). Perhaps China (Tibet) but I am not sure that either the ICJ or UNSC have demanded that China end any practices in Tibet.

    Who could say that this call by Canadians was singling any particular country out?

  2. oldgeezer on April 22, 2015, 3:22 pm

    The majority of countries do not consider Tibet to be occupied but to be a part of sovereign Chinese territory as it has been for hundreds of years. I’m not well versed enough to argue that position but the claims that it is occupied seem to be largely driven by only a minority segment.

    On the larger issue here’s hoping that harper goes down to defeat. The organ grinders monkey shames both the office and the nation. Time for us to take our country back from his financial backers.

    • Walid on April 22, 2015, 5:01 pm

      Oldgeezer, last week’s poll had Harper back on top. Unless Trudeau can pull a rabbit out of the hat as his father did in on the eve of the elections of 1968, there’s a good chance that Harper will beat him.

      A couple of days back, 60 business leaders wrote an open letter critical of Bill C-51.

      From the National Post:

      “How C-51 will undermine Canada’s business climate: An open letter from 60 Canadian business leaders

      CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

      … Many have spoken of the impact that Bill C-51 will have on Canadians in their everyday lives, so let us speak to the business impacts. We work with international clients, and we fear that this proposed legislation will undermine international trust in Canada’s technology sector, thereby stifling the kinds of business our respective technology companies can generate when that level of trust is high.

      We believe that, despite the rising tide of the knowledge economy, this legislation threatens to undermine Canada’s reputation and change our business climate for the worse:

      First, we must not allow censorship to become commonplace. Bill C-51 provides too much leeway for the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) to take unjustified actions against our businesses, including the takedown of websites. As it stands, C-51 criminalizes language in excessively broad terms that may place the authors of innocent tweets and the operators of online platforms such as Facebook, and Twitter, along with Canada’s Hootsuite and Slack, at risk of criminal sanction for activities carried out on their sites. The Bill further empowers CSIS to take unspecified and open-ended ‘measures’, which may include the overt takedown of multi-use websites or other communications networks with or without any judicial supervision.

      We understand that harmful activity can occur online, however Canadian law already prohibits hate speech and promotion of criminal offences. This legislation proposes unnecessary and excessive speech prohibitions which, as Professors Forcese and Roach have pointed out, “contains no defences for legitimate expression of political or religious thought.” Taking down websites without these safeguards can unduly impact our ability to do business and commerce.

      Second, we believe that Bill C-51 will effectively grant the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), which is empowered to assist CSIS, an implicit offensive mandate to act within Canada. There is little sober second thought in the new open-ended world of covert action that C-51 creates for CSE. New CSE digital disruption activities can include measures such as the false attribution of disreputable content to individuals, and even planting of malware on individual computing devices.

      We are already concerned about the negative impact the activities of CSE and CSIS, including reports of spying on our trading partners, have had on Canada’s reputation. The impact of these new rules could collapse the necessary distance between investigative and executional powers. This distance should be increased, not done away with.

      Furthermore, Bill C-51 leads to expanded powers to detain or revoke travel for people on the Specified Persons list. We need to rethink the fundamental problems with the “false positives” on this list, and instead address this flawed process. Travel to and from Canada is a necessity for international trade.

      Most importantly, we ask for data security. We know that many of our clients, including our government, will only host services in Canada because of the invasive privacy issues in the U.S. The U.S. tech industry has already lost billions in revenue because of this, and we don’t want it to happen here.

  3. Walid on April 22, 2015, 3:50 pm

    The Canadian Union of Postal Employees (CUPW), the first North-American union (51,000 employees) to boycott Israel since 2008 is one of those that would be immediately touched by the new law. Another very active boycotter of Israeli-settler products is the United Church of Canada, Canada’s largest Protestant Church with 2 million adherents. There are 9 Canadian university student unions that are also into BDS. The new law would silence them all.

    The opposing Liberal Party as well as the Bloc Québécois support Harper’s Conservative Party law, so there is no stopping it.

    • lysias on April 22, 2015, 4:03 pm

      Would the Canadian courts find that this law is consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

      • Donna on April 22, 2015, 4:10 pm

        The Canadian government is trying to abolish our Charter of Rights & Freedoms… just like the US did to their citizens !!!!

      • Walid on April 22, 2015, 4:46 pm

        Security concerns would probably overrule the Charter. The War Measures Act overruling rights and freedoms was invoked 3 times in Canada’s history, during the the 2 World Wars and in October 1970 for 6 months when the country was threatened by terrorists. The act while in effect suspended all civil liberties including habeas corpus. In 1970, about 500 people were arrested and held without charges being brought against them and it degenerated into an abusive free-for-all for all police forces to arrest people across the country even in those areas where there was a zero chance of terrorism. In 1988, the “Emergencies Act” ws enacted that repealed the War Measures Act and it contained a provision that any temporary laws made under the Act are subject to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

      • lysias on April 22, 2015, 4:53 pm

        But could any court find that the criticism of Israel that such legislation would prohibit implicates Canadian security concerns?

      • Walid on April 22, 2015, 5:14 pm

        Lysias, check out the wording, or rather the word acrobatics in the MOU signed in January (linked in above article) and you’d see how criticising Israel is made to dovetail into a security issue that could affect the country. Canada has signed past MOUs with Israel on moonless nights without much fanfare to not rile the natives; I’m thinking of the one of about 4 years back that duplicated the MOU with the US about allowing Israeli security people to monitor and train immigration officials in profiling of travelers at US/Canadian international airports.

      • oldgeezer on April 22, 2015, 6:10 pm


        Good questiom butnonly one the supreme cort can answer. Canadians do have a charter of rights and freedoms but it is not as expansive or iron clad as that in the US. Many constitutional lawyers have said it would not pass a court reciew and similar legislation encroaching on our freedoms have run into trouble (hence the current bill).

        I would bet it would not pass a supreme court review but i wouldn’t want to make a high value bet on it.

      • oldgeezer on April 22, 2015, 6:12 pm


        I think the existence and use of the war measures act would actually work against this new bill. The gov already has the powers it needs and can invoke them when needed.

      • Walid on April 23, 2015, 10:12 am

        “The gov already has the powers it needs and can invoke them when needed.” (oldgeezer)

        The Emergencies Act (the former War Measures Act but with a leash on it) is for an actual terrorist situation. The new C-51 law up for third reading, with which the Liberals and the BQ agree is to give powers to the government to snoop on people in anticipation of a possible terrorist act, to get into a no-fly list, to monitor the internet chatter such as on Mondo and to put people on a black list. It’s a Canadian version of the Patriot Act of the US that’s full of sweeping measures and power in the hands of government.

      • oldgeezer on April 23, 2015, 12:19 pm


        I agree but I think the supreme will draw a line based on the times it has in the past. Perhaps I’m merely being hopeful.

        At they very least I would hope the court would require the gov to invoke the notwithstanding clause which it might be reluctant to do as that would be a loud and clear signal of it’s intent to the voting public.

      • Walid on April 23, 2015, 1:31 pm

        I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Israel could have had a hand at drafting this law, same with the American one.

  4. a blah chick on April 22, 2015, 4:09 pm

    By the by anyone know what’s happening with the anti-BDS bill in Congress?

  5. Donna on April 22, 2015, 4:21 pm

    I wish the author, Sid Shniad, would have listed or at least provided a link to these 81 organizations that appose Harper’s outrageous assaults on our freedom of expression. I would be very interested in knowing who they are & perhaps joining some of them myself, as I’m sure many others would do the same.

  6. Atlantaiconoclast on April 22, 2015, 6:13 pm

    I always thought that Canadians were wiser. What happened to them?

    • Walid on April 23, 2015, 12:28 am

      Super paranoid southern neighbours after 9/11 and a religious Prime Minister close to Israel and the US that’s driving the bus but the passengers haven’t really changed.

  7. shniad on April 22, 2015, 10:28 pm

    Donna, click on the highlighted word “statement” in the story. It will take you to the original version on the IJV website, which includes the names of the 81 organizations.

    • Donna on April 23, 2015, 11:54 am

      Shniad, thank you… I appreciate your time to help answer my question :)

  8. DoubleStandard on April 23, 2015, 3:38 am

    So it’s not freedom to criticize Israel that’s at stake. The government is responding to a discriminatory campaign that it opposes called BDS. It’s so transparently ridiculous how all of you paint yourselves as innocent critics of Israel when you are in fact calling for its dissolution through various forms of boycott.

    I briefly scanned the list of signatories to the self-hating Jews’ letter. The vast majority of them were nonsense organizations with few members and no political power.

    • Boo on April 23, 2015, 12:25 pm

      We aren’t calling for Israel’s “dissolution”, but rather for its adherence to norms of international law. Rogue states do tend to have short half-lives, but that’s intrinsic to their rogue nature. When an idol has a head of iron, torso of bronze and feet of clay, it topples due to its own inherent weakness; external pushing and pulling are superfluous, its fall is inevitable.

    • eljay on April 23, 2015, 12:59 pm

      DoubleStandard: … It’s so transparently ridiculous how all of you paint yourselves as innocent critics of Israel when you are in fact calling for its dissolution through various forms of boycott. … ||

      If “dissolution” is good enough for Iran – a nuclear-unequipped country operating within its borders – it’s good enough for an oppressive, colonialist, expansionist, supremacist, belligerent and nuclear-equipped Israel that has been committing (war) crimes outside of its (Partition) borders for almost 70 years and with impunity.

    • amigo on April 23, 2015, 2:19 pm

      “I briefly scanned the list of signatories to the self-hating Jews’ letter. The vast majority of them were nonsense organizations with few members and no political power.” ds

      Seems they have the power to prompt you to comment.Ignorance is bliss they say.Stay tuned DS.From little self hating acorns do great oak trees grow.Especially with Israel providing the fertilizer they will grow and spread and flourish.

      Mind the shade under that tree DS Quixote.

    • AaronAarons on April 23, 2015, 2:51 pm

      We have as much right to call for the dissolution of the Jewish State in the Levant (JSIL) as we had to call for the dissolution of the White State in Southern Africa a generation ago.

      • steven l on April 23, 2015, 6:37 pm

        Ignorance is bliss, uneducated bias is simply stupidity at its best.

      • eljay on April 24, 2015, 8:02 am

        || steven l: Ignorance is bliss, uneducated bias is simply stupidity at its best. ||

        And Zio-supremacism is injustice and immorality with a fresh coat of lipstick.

    • Mooser on April 24, 2015, 1:58 pm

      “I briefly scanned the list of signatories to the self-hating Jews’ letter.”

      Oh look! Aren’t we lucky! Still another expert on “self-hating Jews”.

  9. eusebio on April 23, 2015, 9:20 am

    I am in favor of a state of Israel and the Palestine and assume responsability for global security and peace and progress of human rights

    • RoHa on April 23, 2015, 7:04 pm

      So, if it all goes wrong, we can blame you?

      That’s a load off my mind,

  10. Memphis on April 23, 2015, 10:39 pm

    Both parties liberal and cons have historically been strong supporters of Israel and that doesn’t appear to be change with Trudeau as leader. He recently sent out a tweet condemning Israel Apartheid Week at McGill.

    Trudeau tweeted: The BDS movement, like Israeli Apartheid Week, has no place on Canadian campuses. As a @McGillU alum, I’m disappointed. #EnoughIsEnough

    And thomas Mulcair is no better. Canadians For Justice and Peace in the Middle East always gives it’s followers a run down on each candidates position and Canada is left without a leader who doesn’t favour Israel, sadly.

    • Walid on April 24, 2015, 12:35 pm

      Trudeau is kissing up to the wrong people and they’ll still prefer Harper over him. He sure isn’t like his father.

      • Walid on April 25, 2015, 11:35 am

        “Trudeau tweeted: The BDS movement, like Israeli Apartheid Week, has no place on Canadian campuses. -”

        In this weekend’s poll, Trudeau is dropping like a stone even in his home province of Quebec and among Francophones. Mulcair of the NDP is ahead of him there.

  11. lonely rico on April 27, 2015, 11:45 am

    During the rape of Gaza last summer, Harper, Mulcair, and Trudeau parroted the zionist mantra that Israel had the ‘right to self-defense’.
    Consider carefully –


    Only one Canadian MP (Green Party Leader) Elizabeth May had the moral integrity to call for the “immediate cessation of hostilities”.

    She stated –

    “Israeli retaliation and the invasion of Gaza violates international law and humanitarian norms. The death and destruction in a place that was already experiencing a humanitarian crisis is simply unjustifiable … It is simply not credible to take the stance of all three other leaders … that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s siege of Gaza is legal and meets humanitarian standards. It does not. The death toll among Gaza’s civilians provokes the conscience of the world.”

    Her clear call for an end to that hideous criminality puts the leaders of the three main political parties in Canada to shame.

    • Walid on April 27, 2015, 1:18 pm

      Same as with Gaza, the air, sea and land blockade while the country gets bombed by its neighbour and civilians are getting killed is now happening in Yemen and nobody is giving a damn. Just like Gaza.

      Trudeau is a false alarm and shame is not in the vocabulary of seasoned politicians.

  12. TRG-42 on April 29, 2015, 4:18 am

    Canada drifting to become a fascist society under Harper. I would not have expected this to happen.

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