OTTAWA — The federal public safety minister’s office flatly denied a report that it has intentions to apply hate crime laws against Canadian groups encouraging Israeli boycotts.
“This story is inaccurate and ridiculous. These laws have been on the books for many years and have not changed,” said the spokesman for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney. “We won’t dignify this bizarre conspiracy theory with further comment.”
That said, the minister’s office refused to say unequivocally the government would never apply Canada’s hate laws to people who encourage, plan or take part in boycotts.
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The minister’s office said the notion that there are any changes regarding hate crimes as they pertain to boycotts is completely false.
There were, however, recent changes to the Criminal Code. In December, Bill C-13 aka Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, expanded the law against hate speech to include attacks against a person’s national origin, adding that to the list that already included ethnic origin, sexual orientation, colour, race and religion.
While that bill was making its way through Parliament, Palestinian rights advocates said that addition was a direct means to silence critics of Israel.
The Conservative government has never been shy of promoting its pro-Israel stance, consistently standing up for Israelis and their actions.
That streak held strong as federal ministers spoke strongly against the pro-Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) groups movement.
In January, Blaney told the UN General Assembly Canada remains steadfast in its commitment to fight anti-Semitism, saying he and the government take a “zero-tolerance” approach to any attempts to delegitimize Israel —including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
A CBC report published Monday morning said that the government was planning to employ federal hate crime laws to groups boycotting Israel. The reporter cited emails between him and a civil servant at Public Safety Canada as evidence.
The left-leaning Israeli daily Ha’aretz picked up the story, calling Canada “the most enthusiastically pro-Israel government in the world.”
The Canadian Centre for Israel and Jewish affairs, a Jewish advocacy group that has fought BDS efforts in Canada, characterized the article as “scaremongering,” adding that attacks against a person’s origin has long been a consideration in the Criminal Code.
That said, promoting hatred based on national origin would have to be “clear-cut” for a legal case against a BDS activist to have any legs, said CIJA’s chief executive Shimon Koffler Fogel.
“We trust the relevant legal authorities to make an appropriate determination on a case-by case basis,” he wrote in a statement. “It is immoral and disgraceful to discriminate against others based on national origin. Canadians understand this and it is a core reason that BDS has been such a colossal failure in this country.”