Human rights organizations recommend changes to Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy

Montreal, May 6, 2024 — Canadian human rights organizations today issued recommendations for Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy to ensure that the federal government is effectively addressing both anti-Palestinian racism and antisemitism. Canadian Heritage’s updated Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy is expected to be published this spring. Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), the Arab Canadian Lawyers Association (ACLA), the Canadian Muslim Public Affairs Council (CMPAC), and Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV) are calling for these materials to include anti-Palestinian racism, which has drastically intensified in the last few months.

In addition to the Federal government’s refusal to address anti-Palestinian racism, the organizations are particularly concerned about the upcoming publication of an ‘International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) handbook, via the office of the Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism, which is expected to be released by Canadian Heritage and Global Affairs Canada in the coming months. The handbook is meant to guide institutions in how to interpret and apply the internationally controversial IHRA working definition of antisemitism, which conflates criticism of Israeli policy and actions with antisemitism. The organizations call for meaningful consultation with Palestinian-Canadian and human rights organizations over the IHRA handbook so that it is not used to silence and smear Palestinians and other critics of Israel’s human rights abuses. Canada must protect the rights of Palestinians and their allies to criticize Israeli policies of systemic racism.

“Incidents of anti-Palestinian racism have intensified over the last several months. This racism not only deeply harms Palestinians and other Arabs, but also impacts members of other racialized communities. It is essential that the updated Canada Anti-Racism Strategy fully recognizes anti-Palestinian racism–anything less signals to Canadians that anti-Palestinian racism is acceptable and will be tolerated,” said Dania Majid, President of the ACLA. “As our anti-Palestinian racism report outlined, Canada must not enable an exception to the right of free expression for those advocating for Palestinian human rights.”

“The IHRA definition has been the source of immense global controversy on account of its widespread weaponization against Palestinians and their supporters in the service of Israel,” said Corey Balsam, National Coordinator of IJV. “Publishing an IHRA handbook risks making matters worse and fanning the flames of anti-Palestinian racism in Canada. What’s more, an IHRA handbook risks putting Canadian Jews at further risk by conflating criticism of Israeli policies and actions with antisemitism, and therefore the Jewish people as a whole. It’s time Canada addressed antisemitism, anti-Palestinian racism, and other forms of racism together using approaches that steer clear of such glaring pitfalls.”

“Canada’s anti-racism strategy must not silence Palestinians or human rights defenders by uncritically citing definitions like IHRA, which conflate criticism of Israeli policy and actions with antisemitism,” said Yaser Haddara Spokesperson for CMPAC, “Palestinians and their Muslim allies must be able to criticize the colonial occupation of Palestine and apartheid policies of the Israeli state without interference from Canadian public safety organizations wielding the IHRA definition as a cudgel to suppress our Charter protected rights and freedoms.”

“If Canada truly wants to be anti-racist, it must eliminate anti-Palestinian racism. This requires acknowledging how the promotion of Zionist narratives in Canada and Israel often serves to uphold racial oppression against Palestinians both here at home and in occupied Palestine,” said Alex Paterson, Senior Director, of Parliamentary Affairs for CJPME, “Anti-Palestinian racism is a crucial tool of Canadian foreign policy and its support for US empire – it justifies the continuing trade of arms between Canada and Israel as they commit a plausible genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. It has served to justify Canadian support for the occupation of Palestine for over 76 years and domestic repression of opposition to these violations of international law.”

Some of the policy recommendations put forward by the organizations call on Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy and associated handbooks to:

  • recognize settler-colonialism as a central feature and foundation of racism within Canada and within Israel;
  • recognize anti-Palestinian racism in the updated Canadian Anti-Racism Strategy, and in other government anti-racism initiatives;
  • recognize the intersections and structural imbalance between efforts to combat anti-Palestinian racism and antisemitism;
  • recognize shortcomings of hate crime data and avoid privileging certain forms of racism over others;
  • and officially recognize the Nakba and Canada’s role in the ethnic cleansing of Mandatory Palestine.

About CJPME – Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) is a non-profit and secular organization bringing together people of all backgrounds who labour to see justice and peace take root again in the Middle East. Its mission is to empower decision-makers to view all sides with fairness and to promote the equitable and sustainable development of the region.

For more information, please contact:

Michael Bueckert, VP CJPME: 613-315-7947 or [email protected]

Willa Holt, IJV Communications Coordinator: (514) 418-8546 or [email protected]

Arab Canadian Lawyers Association: [email protected]

Canadian Muslims Public Affairs Council: (289) 815-5407 or [email protected] 

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