Mississauga-based Palestine House has had government funding for its newcomer settlement and language instruction services cancelled because of what Ottawa calls the cultural centre’s “pattern of support for extremism.”
Palestine House officials say Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s recent decision to pull the plug on funding — money that’s been coming annually for the past 18 years or so — is part of a campaign by the Conservative government to target organizations that support the human rights of Palestinians.
The educational and cultural centre, located on Erindale Station Rd., received about $950,000 in funding last year. The absence of that money means it will no longer be able to provide settlement services and language programs to newcomers, officials say, adding about 20 people – instructors, settlement and childcare workers, and administrative staff – will lose their jobs as well.
Palestine House officials say they received a letter in late January from Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney indicating the funding agreement wouldn’t be renewed.
Kenney spokesperson Kasra Nejatian told The News today via e-mail that the minister has expressed concern that Palestine House has aligned itself with extremist causes.
Nejatian pointed to several events as cause for concern, most recently a gathering hosted by Palestine House that, according to the minister, celebrated the release of hundreds of terrorists. Additionally, a 2008 event at the cultural centre honouring Dr. George Habash, founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), caught the government’s attention. The PFLP is the second-largest of the groups forming the Palestine Liberation Organization and, in the 1960s and ’70s, was responsible for numerous armed attacks and aircraft hijackings.
“We repeatedly raised, with Palestine House, our concerns about this pattern of support for extremism,” said Nejatian. “But, unfortunately, the organization has continued to promote extreme positions that undermine, rather than advance, social cohesion. We can no longer justify subsidizing such an organization with tax dollars, particularly to provide integration services for newcomers to Canada.”
Palestine House spokesperson Samir Jabbour said, “It was made clear in correspondence to Minister Kenney that Palestine House categorically denounces all forms of terrorism or extremism. Our positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are in line with universal values of human rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In fact, they are very close to the positions of the government as stated on its website.”
Jabbour said Palestine House will continue to operate, despite the lack of funding.
“Despite the damage done to newcomer Canadians by this misguided decision, we are unwavering in our position in support of the Palestinian people and their human rights,” he said. “Mr. Kenney and his decision will never silence us or stop us from serving our community.”