February 22, 2016: Parliament votes to condemn Canadians who boycott Israel
“We join our voices together to express our deep concern about the Opposition motion that condemns the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. We are strongly committed to democratic rights and freedoms for all Canadians […] Any attempt to criminalize, condemn, intimidate or silence peaceful and nonviolent actions of individuals and groups that support or sympathize with the BDS movement, should be rejected.” – Joint statement from Canadian civil society groups
On this day in 2016, Canada’s parliament unfairly targeted Canadians who stand up for Palestinian rights by voting (229-51) to condemn the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and its supporters. BDS is a non-violent movement launched by Palestinian civil society organizations in 2005 to put pressure on the Israeli government to end its human rights violations. Canadian civil society organizations including the United Church of Canada, the Canadian Union for Public Employees (CUPE) and the Canadian Labour Congress strongly criticized the motion, saying that “any attempt to criminalize, condemn, intimidate or silence peaceful and nonviolent actions of individuals and groups that support or sympathize with the BDS movement, should be rejected.”
The heavy-handed motion was introduced by the Opposition Conservative Party and called for the House of Commons to reject the BDS movement for allegedly promoting the “demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel.” The motion also called for the Canadian government to “condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad.” The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) warned that the government’s “vague” condemnation “chills public discussion both of the BDS movement and the Israeli State more broadly.”
In total, 229 Members of Parliament voted in favour of condemning the BDS movement while only 51 opposed it. While the Conservatives and most Liberals voted for the motion, MPs from the New Democrats (NDP) and Bloc Quebecois (BQ) voted against it. While few MPs defended BDS in itself, many cited the importance of free expression and the right to boycott. NDP MP Charlie Angus argued that whether MPs agree with BDS or not, “it is the role of parliamentarians to stand up for individual rights,” adding that he is “shocked” that members would vote to “condemn individuals for their right to dissent.”
Many observers noted that even though the motion did not outlaw or criminalize the BDS movement, it had the potential to create a “chilling effect” for Canadian groups seeking to speak out against the violations of Palestinian human rights under Israeli oppression, constituting an infringement of their freedom of speech. Yet, on the very same day of the vote, McGill University’s Student Society voted to adopt BDS, demonstrating that support for the BDS movement continues to grow in Canada and beyond. Over the years, organizations representing millions of Canadians have endorsed the BDS movement, including CUPE-Ontario, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Canadian Federation of Students, Mennonite Church Canada, Black Lives Matter, Idle No More, and dozens of labour and student unions.