Letter to Justin Trudeau: A Whole-of-Government Approach to Ending Canadian Involvement in Israeli Settlements

Montreal, May 16, 2024 - CJPME has sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging that Canada end its involvement in Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territory. 

Click here to download the full letter as a PDF, or click here for CJPME's position paper with recommendations.

Dear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,

I am writing in my capacity as Senior Director of Parliamentary Affairs for Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) on the matter of Canadian involvement in war crimes connected to Israeli colonies (i.e. settlements and outposts) in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 (hereafter “OPT”). CJPME’s goals are to ensure Canada’s foreign policy and domestic laws are applied consistent with international law. One of my core areas of engagement focuses on ensuring Canada is prosecuting individuals in Canada who have participated in war crimes in Palestine, and we have recently written to Justice Minister Arif Virani about the need to investigate Canadian nationals serving in the Israeli military.[i] We want to ensure an equal standard of accountability for both Palestinians and Israelis before Canadian and international law. To date, Canada has shown bias in its policing of Palestinians through anti-terror legislation while leaving backers of Israeli war crimes operating with impunity. This institutional bias must end.

Since 1967, Israel has established close to 300 settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, where over 700,000 Israeli settlers presently live.[ii] These settlements are sustained, in significant part, by international and Israeli corporations which are heavily invested in the thriving settlement economy. In addition, they rely on Jewish people from other countries buying properties in those settlements. Canadians have been involved in the settlement enterprise and the Federal government has turned a blind eye on these war crimes for too long.

Recently it has come to our attention that a real estate tour called the “Great Israeli Real Estate Event” was held in Montreal and Thornhill (Toronto), and that it included the sale of properties within settlements in the OPT, including the West Bank settlements of Neve Daniel, Ma'aleh Adumim and Efrat.[iii] This amounts to the illegal and open sale of properties in occupied territory, a war crime. Canada must act to clamp down on this illegal activity through a whole-of-government approach. This is not the first time that properties in illegal settlements have been available in Canada, and it will not be the last unless Canada acts. Canada should not be a safe haven for land theft. Given Canada’s ongoing colonial legacy, we have a responsibility to end complicity in colonialism abroad.

Meanwhile, Israel’s far-right government has been expanding and authorizing illegal settlements at a rate that exceeds all previous years,[iv] while moving to officially annex the occupied West Bank.[v] Earlier this year, senior Israeli government ministers attended a conference dedicated to establishing settlements in the Gaza Strip, while calling for the “voluntary migration” of the Palestinian population.[vi] Canada must urgently address Israel’s annexation policy in a coordinated manner across government departments.

The Illegality of the Israeli Settlements

The illegality of the Israeli settlements is one of the most firmly established issues in modern international law. Indeed, one of the major motivations for the development of the UN system was to stop annexation as state practice. The significance of the crime of settlements is reflective of this foundation. The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) reaffirmed in December 2016 that the settlements are a flagrant violation of international law (UNSC 2334).[vii] This position has been affirmed by the International Court of Justice,[viii] the United Nations General Assembly,[ix] the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,[x] the UN Human Rights Council,[xi] the European Union,[xii] Amnesty International,[xiii] the International Committee of the Red Cross,[xiv] the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention,[xv] the International Commission of Jurists,[xvi] Human Rights Watch,[xvii] Al-Haq[xviii] and B’Tselem.[xix] Canada cannot keep turning a blind eye to this legal reality.

Under the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the Israeli settlements are considered a presumptive war crime.[xx] The Rome Statute has been enacted in full into Canadian law through the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act (2000),[xxi] meaning that settlements have the same status as war crimes under domestic Federal law as in international law. Therefore, Canada needs to ensure prosecution and enforcement of individual criminal liability for war crimes using the same mechanisms as all other Canadian criminal law. Canada’s Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act lists population transfer (i.e. settlements) as one of the recognized war crimes in domestic law. In the case of Russia’s occupation and annexation of Crimea, Canada sanctions all trade and financial dealings with individuals and entities that support the occupation and transfer of civilian populations.[xxii] We are asking for the same approach in the case of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Canada must stop Israel’s settlement enterprise if it hopes to achieve a just political outcome as settlements are the most flagrant obstacles to long-term coexistence. Moreover, this is a test of Canada’s sincerity in its stated commitments to uphold international law. If the law does not apply equally to both to our friends and our foes, then it is simply a rhetorical cudgel for hypocritically beating our enemies.

Israeli Settlements, Businesses, and Human Rights

Recent reports by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have concluded that the Israeli settlements are a significant source of human rights violations against the protected Palestinian population in the OPT. These violations include land theft, settler violence, discriminatory planning laws, stealing of natural resources, home demolitions, forcible population transfer, labour exploitation, forced evictions and displacement, discriminatory law enforcement and the imposition of a two-tiered system of unequal political, social and economic rights based on ethnicity (what most human rights groups name as "apartheid”). Above all, the settlements are an integral part of the Israeli policy to deny the right to self-determination to the Palestinians under occupation.[xxiii] They are a key mechanism in how Israel annexes land and replaces Palestinians with Jewish settlers. Settlements are a feature not a bug of Israel’s plan to take over Palestinians’ homelands.

Over the past five years, leading human rights organizations and UN bodies have conducted comprehensive reviews of the Israeli settlement economy and the role that corporations and businesses, including real estate businesses, play in the deteriorating human rights situation.[xxiv] They conclude that it is impossible to engage with the Israeli settlement economy, either directly or indirectly (i.e. through investments with corporations that are engaged in the settlement economy or buying residential or commercial property), without violating well-recognized international human rights standards and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. This includes the purchase of property, or investments, within existing Israeli settlements or future settlements in the OPT. Canada needs to align its policy with this reality by ending the permissive domestic environment for complicity in settlements. 

Sanctions on Settlers

We are aware that Canada is dragging its heels on rolling out sanctions on some extremist Israeli settlers who are responsible for settler violence against Palestinians and their communities. While the promise of sanctions is a seemingly positive step forward, we have written to Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly urging her to expand this sanctions program so that it includes measures to hold Israeli officials accountable for state-sponsored settler violence and the settlement enterprise more generally.[xxv] The far-right members of Netanyahu’s coalition have been distributing arms to extremist settlers.[xxvi] If Canadian law recognizes settlements as war crimes, then sanctioning a handful of extremist individuals completely misses the point and lets the Israeli state evade accountability for its annexation policies.  Canadians are left asking why is it wrong to steal land through violence, but if you dress up in a suit and do it at a trade show in a synagogue it's permissible and defended by Canadian riot police and court injunctions? Currently, it appears that Canada’s answer is that as long as you steal land in the right way, it is acceptable. The only conclusion one can draw from this is we really have not learned from our process of truth and reconciliation. We still refuse to grapple with land theft as the foundation of settler colonialism.


In summary, the sale of Israeli settlement properties in the OPT is a clear violation of international law, the Canadian criminal code, and UN human rights standards. Settlements are war crimes in Canadian Law. Therefore, Canadians buying properties in settlements is participation in an active war crime. Accordingly, Canada must immediately adopt a whole-of-government approach to ending Canadian involvement in Israel’s colonial war crimes through the appended series of coordinated measures, which falls under the jurisdiction of various ministerial portfolios.

The recommendations in the appended position paper are founded on our belief that this file, due to its cross-cutting nature and the political complexity involved, requires the direct leadership of the Prime Minister to address it effectively. It cannot be left to a single Minister to correct what amounts to a whole-of-government failure to urgently address Canadian involvement in war crimes. This issue requires a coordinated approach across portfolios, and it is exactly the type of file a Prime Minister should lead on. We believe that, with commitment from the Prime Minister, Canada can show its unwavering support for international law in all cases, including Israeli violations


Alex Paterson

Senior Director of Parliamentary Affairs

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East

[i] CJPME, “Letter to Minister Virani: Investigate Canadians in IDF,” January 18, 2024, https://www.cjpme.org/letter_2024_01_18_virani_idf

[ii] United Nations, “Human Rights Council Hears that 700,000 Israeli Settlers are Living Illegally in the Occupied West Bank – Meeting Summary (Excerpts),” March 28, 2023, https://www.un.org/unispal/document/human-rights-council-hears-that-700000-israeli-settlers-are-living-illegally-in-the-occupied-west-bank-meeting-summary-excerpts/

[iii] Vanessa Balintec, “Pro-Palestinian supporters decry real estate events at synagogues over allegations occupied land being sold,” CBC News, March 4, 2024, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/real-estate-thornhill-event-1.7133251; Par Oona Barrett, “Infiltration dans une foire immobilière qui vend des terres palestiniennes à Montréal,” Pivot, March 8, 2024, https://pivot.quebec/2024/03/08/infiltration-dans-une-foire-immobiliere-qui-vend-des-terres-palestiniennes-a-montreal/

[iv] Tani Goldstein, “2023 sets record for settlement construction and outpost legalization – watchdog,” Times of Israel, August 8, 2023, https://www.timesofisrael.com/2023-sets-record-for-settlement-construction-and-outpost-legalization-watchdog/

[v] Michael Sfard, “Israel is Officially Annexing the West Bank,” Foreign Policy, June 8, 2023, https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/06/08/israel-palestine-west-bank-annexation-netanyahu-smotrich-far-right/

[vi] Nir Hasson, “'The People of Israel Will Settle Gaza': Netanyahu's Ministers at Far-right Conference Endorse Expulsion of Palestinians,” Haaretz, January 29, 2024, https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2024-01-29/ty-article-magazine/.premium/the-people-of-israel-will-settle-gaza-netanyahu-ministers-urge-palestinians-expulsion/0000018d-5495-d1b6-aded-5fdd570c0000

[vii] UNSC Resolution 2334 (23 December 2016).

[viii] Wall Advisory Opinion, (2004), 43 ILM 1009, at para. 120.  

[ix] A/Res/71/97 (23 December 2016).

[x] A/HRC/40/42 (30 January 2019).

[xi] A/HRC/43.L37 (22 June 2020).

[xii] Council of the European Union, “Council conclusions on the Middle East Peace Process, January 28, 2016, https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2016/01/18/fac-conclusions-mepp/ 

[xiii] Amnesty International, “Israeli Settlements and International Law,” January 30, 2019, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2019/01/chapter-3-israeli-settlements-and-international-law/.

[xiv] Peter Maurer, “Challenges to International Humanitarian Law: Israel’s Occupation Policy,” (2012), 888 International Review of the Red Cross 94, 1507.  

[xv] Declaration of Conference of High Contracting Parties to Fourth Geneva

[xvi] International Commission of Jurists, “The Road to Annexation: Israel’s Maneuvers to Change the Status of the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” 2019, https://www.icj.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Israel-Road-to-Annexion-Advocacy-Analysis-brief-2019-ENG.pdf.

[xvii] Human Rights Watch, “Israel and Palestine,” 2019 Country Report, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/israel/Palestine.

[xviii] Al Haq, “An Obstacle to Peace: 41 Years of Israel’s Illegal Settlement Policy and the Violation of the Palestinian Right to Self-Determination,” October 12, 2010, https://www.alhaq.org/advocacy/7266.html.

[xix] B’Tselem, “Settlements,” https://www.btselem.org/topic/settlements.

[xx] Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (last amended 2010), 17 July 1998, Article 8(2)(b)(viii).

[xxi] Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act (last amended 2019), 29 June 2000, Article 8, (2)(b) (viii)

[xxii] Government of Canada, “Sanctions Related to Ukraine,” last modified September 6, 2023, https://www.international.gc.ca/world-monde/international_relations-relations_internationales/sanctions/ukraine.aspx?lang=eng

[xxiii] Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan”, A/HRC/43/67 (30 January 2020); A/HRC/46/65 (15 February 2021).

[xxiv] United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Statement on the implications of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights in the context of Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” June 6, 2014; United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution A/HRC/52/L.42, “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan,” March 27, 2023; Human Rights Watch, “Occupation INC.: How Settlement Businesses Contribute to Israel’s Violations of Palestinian Rights,” January 19, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/01/21/occupation-inc; Amnesty International, “Think Twice: Can companies do business with Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories while respecting human rights?”, March 13, 2019, https://www.amnesty.org.uk/resources/thinktwice.

[xxv] CJPME, “Letter to Minister Joly: Canada must act against state-sponsored settler violence,” December 15, 2023, https://www.cjpme.org/letter_2023_12_15_joly_settler_violence ; B’Tselem, (Nov 2021), State Business: Israel’s misappropriation of land in the West Bank through settler violence, https://www.btselem.org/publications/202111_state_business

[xxvi] Jeremy Sharon, (Oct 10, 2023), Ben Gvir says 10,000 assault rifles purchased for civilian security teams, Times of Israel, https://www.timesofisrael.com/ben-gvir-says-10000-assault-rifles-purchased-for-civilian-security-teams/ ; Middle East Monitor, (Oct 24, 2023),  Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir arms Israeli settlers in occupied West Bank, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20231024-security-minister-itamar-ben-gvir-arms-israeli-settlers-in-occupied-west-bank/ ; Jacob Magid, (Nov 21, 2023), US said to delay shipment of weapons for security squads due to Ben Gvir’s conduct, Times of Israel, https://www.timesofisrael.com/us-said-to-delay-shipment-of-weapons-for-security-squads-due-to-ben-gvirs-conduct/