Systemic Anti-Palestinian Racism

Factsheet Series No. 245, created: June 2024, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East

CJPME Factsheet 245, published June 2024: This factsheet explores various facets of anti-Palestinian racism (APR), detailing how it manifests at institutional, structural, and systemic levels within Canadian society. It underscores the absence of formal definitions of APR in federal policy, highlighting instances where Canadian institutions perpetuate discriminatory practices against Palestinians, impacting their rights, immigration policies, and public perception.

What are institutional, structural, & systemic anti-Palestinian racism?

There is no formalized definition of institutional anti-Palestinian racism (APR), structural APR, or systemic APR. However, there is an existing definition of APR in general, that was developed by the Arab Canadian Lawyers Association (ACLA) in their report Anti-Palestinian racism: Naming, Framing and Manifestations (2022).  The ACLA report proposes the following “description” of APR:

Anti-Palestinian racism is a form of anti-Arab racism that silences, excludes, erases, stereotypes, defames or dehumanizes Palestinians or their narratives. Anti-Palestinian racism takes various forms including:

  • Denying the Nakba and justifying violence against Palestinians;
  • Failing to acknowledge Palestinians as an Indigenous people with a collective identity, belonging and rights in relation to occupied and historic Palestine;
  • Erasing the human rights and equal dignity and worth of Palestinians;
  • Excluding or pressuring others to exclude Palestinian perspectives, Palestinians and their allies;
  • Defaming Palestinians and their allies with slander such as being inherently antisemitic, a terrorist threat/sympathizer or opposed to democratic values.[1]

Anti-Palestinian racism can manifest itself in three forms: individual, institutional, and structural. Together, these three levels compose systemic APR. Institutional APR pertains to the policies, practices, and procedures of a single institution which negatively affect, to a larger extent the access and quality of goods, services, and opportunities of Palestinians and their allies.[2] In institutions, APR can be overt (explicit) and covert (implicit). It is overt when institutions are intentionally and deliberately trying to foment APR. When an institution realizes how its policies, practices, and procedures can cause APR, but fails to reform them, this form of APR can be considered overt. It is covert when institutions adopt policies that lead to APR although they were not consciously intended to have negative impacts on Palestinians.[3] It can be because of

other external policies, practices, and procedures or, in other words, because of the structure or system in which the institution is rooted in.[4]  Examples of institutions are: schools, police departments, courts, prisons, hospitals, community and social service providers, government departments.[5]

Structural APR can describe the “macro-relationship between institutions.”[6] It is also sometimes used as a synonym for systemic APR or to refer to APR in society as a whole.[7] According to the Canadian Race Relations Foundation (CRRF), systemic racism is: “an interlocking and reciprocal relationship between the individual, institutional, and structural levels, which function as a system of racism. These various levels of racism operate together in a lockstep model and function together as a whole system.”[8]  

Can we use these types of APR as synonyms?

No. While it is common to read institutional, structural, and systemic APR being used as synonyms, they are meant to be precise words to describe racism at specific levels of society. “Individual racism” is racism performed by a single individual, such as a racist police officer doing a card check; “institutional racism” is racism within a single organization such as the Toronto Police department having a policy to conduct card checks; “structural racism” is racism at the level of the criminal-justice system that disproportionately penalizes BIPOC; and lastly, “systemic racism” is at the level of Canadian society overall where we see a society set up to maintain white supremacy and imperialism as a system.

Does Canada have a definition of APR, and why?

The Canadian Federal government does not have an official definition of anti-Palestinian Racism or anti-Arab racism. Unlike other forms of racism that are officially recognized in Federal policy, APR is not defined, and therefore is often disregarded, or unacknowledged by most Canadian institutions. This amounts to the structural erasure of the Palestinian experience in the Canadian Federal government. According to an analysis by ACLA, institutions are either still not acknowledging APR, treating it under the rubric of Islamophobia, or mischaracterizing it as a political issue.[9] It’s a problematic pattern that must be addressed.

Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy 2019-2022 (CARS), Canada does not provide a definition of APR, nor of anti-Arab racism more broadly. It only defines antisemitism and Islamophobia. On one hand, the definition of antisemitism in CARS lexicon is the one from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). This is a highly politicized definition as it intentionally conflates criticism of the State of Israel with antisemitism. This definition has been used by pro-Israel groups to prevent Palestinians and their allies from speaking against the negative impacts of the Zionist movement on Palestinians and thus, restraining Palestinian political and civil rights.[10] While Islamophobia and APR intersect, they are distinct forms of oppression. The experience of systemic racism of Palestinians cannot solely be addressed under the framework of Islamophobia because not all Palestinians are Muslims. Muslims, and other Arabs, can also discriminate against Palestinians. Anti-Palestinian racism is a specific systemic oppression tied to the settler-colonial context of Israel’s ongoing colonization of Palestine and the experience of historical injustices endured by Palestinians that construct them as distinct from other Arabs and Muslims. Other Muslim countries are located differently historically and geopolitically. This political context has led Canada to adopt a national security posture that specifically targets Palestinian resistance through the lens of combatting antisemitism and terrorism. Thus, defining anti-Palestinian racism and adding it to Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy is all the more necessary within the current political climate and redress the structural racism within the Canadian government.[11] 

Finally, as a settler-colonial state founded on land theft to benefit white populations, it is unsurprising that Canada does not have a definition of systemic APR. This erasure allows Federal institutions to uphold the systems of power that maintain white supremacy through narratives of Judaeo-Christian dominance and Western geopolitical power.[12] Since settler-colonialism is the foundation of Canadian society, systemic APR and the upholding of white supremacy self-perpetuate “even without the awareness or intention of every person within those systems.”[13] Thus, the dispossession and genocide of Indigenous people, discriminatory immigration policies, and the limitation of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights that afflict Palestinians and their allies become easily justifiable within narratives that uphold white dominance in Canada and structure our international relations tied to US empire.[14]   

Why is it important for the Federal government to recognize and combat systemic APR?

It is important for the Federal government to recognize and combat systemic anti-Palestinian racism because of the negative impacts it can have on the Palestinian community. Structural violence and oppression are a key determinant of health for racialized communities in Canada leading to health inequities and intergenerational trauma.[15] Moreover, Palestinians are guaranteed protection of their human rights through domestic legislation and international legal instruments. Canada has moral and legal obligations to ensure justice for Palestinians in Canada and abroad. Canada is, after all, a signatory to the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination. According to this Convention, Canada must be “resolved to adopt all necessary measures for speedily eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms and manifestations and to prevent and combat racist doctrines and practices in order to promote understanding between races.”[16] Article 2 of this convention, in particular, states that all the States who have signed this convention should “condemn racial discrimination and undertake to pursue by all appropriate means and without delay a policy of eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms and promoting understanding among all races.”[17] It further adds that to accomplish this, each State Party, their public authorities, and institutions are committed to not doing anything that can discriminate against persons, groups of persons, or institutions. Each State Party must put in place measures to examine and change or end their policies that cause or enable racial discrimination. [18] By not recognizing and combatting anti-Palestinian racism, the Canadian Federal government violates its international obligations.

What are some key examples of systemic APR within the Federal Government?

There are a lot of examples of systemic APR within the Federal government.  One important example of systemic APR in domestic policy is the policing of the pro-Palestinian protests. Since October 7, 2023, demonstrations in solidarity with Palestine have been taking place. However, pro-Palestine protesters have been subjected to unjustified and abusive crackdowns, that often reveal a racist double standard. Wesam Cooley was arrested after a rally outside Calgary City Hall on Sunday, November 5, 2023, for chanting: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” He was accused of antisemitism and charged with “causing disturbance” and “hate motivation,” which are rarely laid, and while Calgary police assured him, he would not get arrested.[19] Even if his charges have since been withdrawn, the fact that he was arrested in the first place indicates a double standard. On one hand, the call for the liberation of Palestine (the end of the illegal occupation and apartheid system) by Palestinians and their supporters is seen as antisemitic despite being inline with international law. On the other hand, when Israeli officials make similar metaphors in their statements, they are not denounced, even though they use it as an expression of Jewish supremacy and as justification for annexation through settlement. For example, Netanyahu’s Likud Party’s 1977 Platform formalized: “Between the Sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli Sovereignty.”[20] It is a racist double standard that Canada condemns the calls to liberate Palestine as genocidal at the same time as it arms Israelis committing war crimes to bring the idea of a “Greater Land of Israel” into being through settlement and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.[21]

Another example of systemic APR is Canada’s immigration policy, where Palestinians have not been met with the same consideration when compared to Ukrainians. Of the seven million Palestinians living in diaspora across the globe, approximately 50,000 live in Canada.[22] Nearly 50% of all the Palestinians worldwide actually live outside historic Palestine.[23] As of October 7, 2023, there have been six wars in Gaza, with the latest being ruled as a plausible genocide by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Yet, despite this reality, Canada never adopted a robust immigration framework to welcome Palestinians. On the other hand, when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Trudeau did not even wait a month to announce a variety of programs to help Ukrainians and their families: extended temporary status in Canada and the right to work, study, and stay in Canada for as long as it is not safe for them to return to Ukraine. In addition, no cap was put in place on the number of Ukrainian refugees Canada will be willing to host. As a result, 1,189,320 Ukrainians applied for the visa, while 936,293 got approved, and 210,178 made it to Canada without needing to prove that they had family in Canada.[24]

While Trudeau needed no external pressure to decide to put in place these measures for Ukrainians, two months in (December 2023), there were calls by the Gaza Family Reunification Project, the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, the Canadian Council for Refugees, and more than 550 Palestinian-Canadian families asking Trudeau to do the same from Palestinians from Gaza. On December 21, 2023, after deciding to listen to the urgent calls from Palestinian-Canadians and advocates, Immigration Minister Marc Miller announced special immigration measures for Palestinians from Gaza. Contrary to Ukrainians, only Palestinians from Gaza with family members in Canada can apply while needing to provide detailed information: social media accounts, all previous phone numbers and email addresses, and passports, details about any scar or injury for which they have sought medical attention, and all the details about their work experience (dates, reasons for an end to employment, disciplinary issues, and contacts) since they are 16 years old. They would only get three-year temporary visas. On top of it, a week later, Miller announced that Canada had limited the special immigration measures for Palestinians from Gaza to 1,000 applications.[25] While 936,293 Ukrainians got their visa approved, as of April 29, only 179 Palestinians from Gaza got a visa, and none have made it to Canada.[26] Canada’s special immigration measures for Palestinians from Gaza are a clear manifestation of APR, considering the fact that Miller stated in a January 11, 2024, interview with CBC Ottawa Morning: "We have extreme security concerns" while repeatedly mentioning the words "terrorism" and "security" throughout this interview.[27]

There’s even more of a double standard when it comes to Canada’s different response and approach to getting Palestinian Canadians out of Gaza and Israeli Canadians out of Israel. Not only did Global Affairs Canada put in place a “contingency plan,” but it also deployed Canadian Armed Forces personnel from Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) in Israel to evacuate Israeli Canadians. Weeks after Oct. 7, military planes had already evacuated close to 1,600 people from Israel.[28] As a result, as of mid-November, it is reported that Toronto’s Jewish immigrant aid agency, JIAS, was in communication with more than 800 Israeli newcomers.[29]

While Palestinians are not getting temporary resident visas because Canada views them as a security threat, their political organizations and parties are also as seen as threats. Muslim and Arab political organizations, especially Palestinian ones, dominate Canada’s Terrorist List. There are 77 registered entities as of May 7, 2024. 20 registered entities are not Muslim or Arab affiliated, with only one registered entity being Jewish: Kahane Chai (Kach). Out of the 57 (74% of total entities) Arab or Muslim registered entities, nine (11% of total entities) are Palestinian organizations while Palestinians only represent 0.17% and Muslims 23.5% of the Global population. These numbers show a clear overrepresentation of Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian political movements. Even Palestinian political parties not named on the terror list, such as Fatah – the leading group in the Palestinian Authority, have their members banned from migration to Canada.[30] These systemic biases determine who Canadian authorities deem as admissible to the Canadian state.


[1] Arab-Canadian Lawyers Association, “Anti-Palestinian Racism: Naming, Framing and Manifestations,” April 2022, p. 14

[2] “What is Institutional/Systemic racism,” Varnellia Randall, Accessed on Thursday, April 11, 2024,

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Discussion paper on systemic racism,” Canadian Human Rights Commission, Accessed on Thursday, April 11, 2024,

[6] “The lens of systemic oppression,” The National Equity Project, Accessed Friday, April 12, 2024,

[7] “Discussion paper on systemic racism,” Canadian Human Rights Commission, Accessed on Thursday, April 11, 2024,

[8] “Glossary of Terms,” Canadian Race Relations Foundations, Accessed on Tuesday, May 7, 2024,

[9] Arab-Canadian Lawyers Association, “Anti-Palestinian Racism: Naming, Framing and Manifestations,” April 2022, p.9

[10] Ibid., p.15

[11]  “Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism,” Anti-Palestinian Racism 101, Accessed Friday, April 12, 2024,

[12] MJC Warren, “Why ‘Judeo-Christian values’ are a dog-whistle myth peddled by the far right,” The Conversation, Nov 7, 2017, ; Anya Topolski, “The dangerous discourse of the “Judaeo-Christian’ myth: masking the race-religion constellation in Europe,” Patterns of Prejudice, Vol 54 (1-2), April 29, 2020,

[13]“Discussion paper on systemic racism,” Canadian Human Rights Commission, Accessed on Thursday, April 11, 2024,

[14] Ibid.

[15] Elizabeth McGibbon, Oppression: A Social Determinant of Health, 2nd edition, Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing, 2021.

[16] “International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.” United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR). 21 December 1965.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] “Calgary protester accused of hate-motivated disturbance says charge 'never should have been laid,'” CBC News, Accessed on Friday, April 19, 2024,

[20] “It’s Time to Confront Israel’s Version of “From the River to the Sea,”'” The Nation, Accessed on Monday, May 27, 2024,

[21] Ibid.

[22] “Census Profile, 2021 Census of Population Profile Table,” Statistics Canada, Accessed on Thursday, June 06, 2014,

[23] The Palestine Chronicle, “Palestinian Population Census Published: These are the numbers,” July 10, 2023,

[24] “Gaza and Canada’s refugee double standard” Canadian Dimension, Accessed on Friday, May, 24, 2024,

[25] Ibid.

[26] “Medical worker fleeing Gaza asked by Canada if he treated Hamas fighters,” CBC News, Accessed on Friday, May, 24, 2024,

[27] “Gaza and Canada’s refugee double standard” Canadian Dimension, Accessed on Friday, May, 24, 2024,

[28] “Canadian special forces members on the ground in Israel, DND confirms,” CBC News, Accessed on Wednesday, June 05, 2024,

[29] “After Oct. 7, some Israeli families are considering if they can return home – or if they’d rather remain in Canada,” The Canadian Jewish News, Accessed on Wednesday, June 05, 2024,

[30] Saleh v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2010 FC 303 (CanLII),