SFSC Article: Bill C51 – Zero Tolerance for Criticism of Israel

fearMany Canadians are aware of the Harper government’s big fear agenda in this federal election. Bill C-51’s threats to the fundamental rights and liberties of Canadian citizens have been highlighted by judges, present and former MPs, lawyers, academics, unions, environmental groups, First Nations, civil libertarians, business leaders, and mainstream media.

Less well-known, but equally frightening, are the Conservative’s actions to be “Israel’s best friend” no matter what it does. That includes suppressing Canadians who criticize Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine and those who support non-violent efforts – such as boycotts – to end the occupation.

As soon as elected, the Harper government began radically transforming Canada’s foreign policy to establish a reign of uncritical support for every action of the Israeli government, including Israel’s massacres in Gaza in 2008, 2012, and 2014. Like US Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, PM Harper courts the Christian evangelical vote and acts as a fervent supporter of Israel. Marci McDonald, author of The Armageddon Factor about the rise of the Christian right in Canada, called them “theo-cons.”

In the last year, the Harper government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Canada and Israel that highlighted mutual concerns about “efforts to single out the State of Israel for criticism,” particularly supporters of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. The MOU called BDS the “new face of antisemitism.”

Shortly after signing the MOU, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney announced in a CBC interview a “zero-tolerance” of criticism of Israel, saying the new hate laws could be applied to BDS advocates. That meant the Canadian government was identifying as enemies such boycott backers as the United Church of Canada, Canadian Quakers, labour and student groups.

In the face of considerable controversy over this threat to free speech, the government later backtracked, but these statements provide revealing insight into the Conservative government policies and values.
As Amnesty International points out, opposing criticism of Israel, opposing boycotts, and in particular denying people the right to question Israel’s existence or right of self-defence, raises real concerns about freedom of expression.

Well-known political columnist and activist Murray Dobbin wrote “the truly disturbing irony in this outrageous declaration is that the more extreme the Israeli government becomes, the more illegal settlements it builds, the more explicit its open contempt for world opinion, and the more outrageous Netanyahu’s statements, the stronger is the support from the Harper government.”

Over their years in power, the Conservatives withdrew federal funding for Kairos, a Christian foreign aid group, for criticizing Israel. The reason was confirmed by then immigration minister Jason Kenney. The Tories funded tax audits of charities that failed to toe the pro-Israel party line and falsely accused Israel’s critics of antisemitism.

Before signing the Memorandum of Understanding with Israel and passing Bill C-51, the Conservatives – mostly with the support of other federal parties – had already established an agenda of total support for Israel and complete disregard for the rights of Palestinians.

  • In 2010, the Harper government backed the Canadian Parliamentary Committee to Combat Anti-semitism (CPCCA), composed of Zionist parliamentarians, which attempted to criminalize criticism of Israel as anti-semitic “hate speech”; this drew national protest and flopped.
  • In 2012, the CPCCA, funded by Ottawa, held an international conference of Zionist parliamentarians and used a discredited European definition to define “the new anti-semitism” as criticism of Israel.
  • The February 2015 unanimous Parliamentary vote condemning anti-semitism included an endorsement of the “Ottawa protocol on Combating Antisemitism”, which holds that strong criticism of Israel is a “new form of antisemitism”.
  • Hidden in Bill C-13, the Protecting Canada from Online Crime Act, a number of revisions unrelated to online pornography, including a change in Sec. 318 (4) under Hate Propaganda to include national origin as an identifiable group. This makes it possible to label criticism of Israel as hate speech.
  • It’s time to reject Harper, repeal Bill C-51, and repudiate Canada’s zealous embrace of Zionism. This country needs foreign policies that promote universal principals of equity, fairness, justice and respect – not short-term partisan advantage.

Vote Oct. 19th to repeal Bill C-51.

For details on when and where to vote, and how to register goto: http://www.elections.ca

After the election, it is important that we continue organizing to have Bill C-51 repealed, and if it is not, then to participate in court challenges and civil disobedience campaigns asserting our right to organize and protest until the bill is withdrawn. Part of this campaign must be assuring the right to criticize Israel and advocate for BDS.
Key dangers in Bill C-51:
• Allows unprecedented sharing of personal information among government agencies, including health info, passport, personal taxes;
• Allows CSIS to conduct “dirty tricks;”
• Outlaws speech that could criminalize ordinary political debates;
• Prohibits “advocacy of terrorism” without defining what that means. You could break the law “by speaking, writing, recording, gesturing or other visible representation, knowingly advocate or promote the commission of terrorism offenses in general,” irrespective of your intent;
• Censors online posts;
• Makes an offence any activity that “undermines the security of Canada,” broadly stated to include interfering with critical infrastructure or the economic stability of Canada, such as protesting oil sands or pipelines;
• Restricts travel without explanation;
• Allows seizure of possessions (computers, phones, etc.) and confiscation of anything considered “terrorist propaganda.”

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