By Marion Kawas
Recently, a strong movement has coalesced opposing the Canadian government’s attempt to gain a seat on the UN Security Council (UNSC). Although progressive groups and individuals have been laying the foundation for this issue since late 2019, it has been thrust into the national spotlight in the last month with various petitions, statements and media coverage in the #NoUNSC4Canada campaign.
For Palestinian activists, this call to refuse to reward the Trudeau government is welcome. Since 1947, Canada has played a negative role at the U.N. regarding the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. From Lester B. Pearson, dubbed the “Balfour of Canada” for his part in preparing and passing the infamous Partition Plan, to the more recent 15 years of anti-Palestinian voting at the UN General Assembly, and all the “refugee resettlement” plans in between, it is fitting that the Canadian government is held accountable at this forum.
Canadian complicity is not just limited to UN votes. From refusing to label Israeli settlement products as such, to branding legitimate pro-Palestinian protest as “anti-Semitic” and smearing the BDS movement, to increasing the scope of the Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement – all of this falls into Canada’s “ironclad” support for Israel (to quote Deputy PM and former FM Chrystia Freeland).
The Chrystia Freeland that reportedly told an audience in Israel well over a year ago that Canada could be “an asset for Israel” on the UNSC. We can only speculate what that would entail, but we can state with certainty it won’t have anything to do with defending the basic human rights of the Palestinians or calling out and denouncing Israel’s institutionalized racism.
Last weekend, PM Justin Trudeau attended an anti-racism rally in Ottawa and scored a photo-op as he “took a knee”, supposedly to show his government’s seriousness in fighting racism and police brutality. However, for many communities, the gesture was worse than hypocritical, it was insulting. For all those who have been on the receiving end of the Canadian government’s racism, be it the Wet’suwet’en and other indigenous people in Turtle Island, be it the marginalized communities of colour in major cities, or the Palestinian people struggling for dignity, they are all well aware of the systemic racism that permeates official Canadian policy.
Palestinians know well the duplicity of Canadian officials. In November, 2019, Trudeau showed his anti-Palestinian racism by rushing to falsely slander student protestors at York as “anti-Semitic” when they challenged the presence of Israeli military reservists on campus. York student activist Moe Alqasem explained:
“We have consistently seen the hypocrisy of the Prime Minister (Justin Trudeau). Trudeau, like other politicians jumped to smear and condemn Palestinian students at York without knowing any of the facts. He has recently taken a knee in a protest that was supposed to be in solidarity with Black people. It’s a performative act, if Trudeau or his government truly cared about Black people then they would be taking measures to ensure their safety and well-being. If he truly cared about Human Rights, then we would have seen a different reaction from him towards the Palestinian students and human rights activists at York University.”
And most recently, after taking weeks to express an opinion, Trudeau finally spoke out about Israel’s new annexation plans. He even claimed to “deplore” them, but he didn’t deplore them enough to consider sanctions against the Israeli government. Even though Canada currently has sanctions against 19 countries (9 of them in the Arab region), so it is a tactic the government is familiar with.
As noted by the Canada Palestine Association chairperson in a statement following Trudeau’s comments:
“If the Canadian government is genuine in this belated expression of opposition to Israel’s illegal policies, then the absolute minimum expected is to impose sanctions on the Israeli government until it respects international law. Actions speak louder than words!”
And by actions, Palestinian activists are looking for concrete steps to curb Israeli war crimes, not glossy photo-ops or hollow gestures and statements. Especially when those statements only seem to be made at the most opportunistic times and are clearly self-serving.
The Canadian government is well aware that it is vulnerable regarding its position and voting record on Palestine at the UN. After all, it is one of the 6 “permanent members” of the Israel Fan Club that overwhelmingly votes, year after year, to disregard Palestinian rights (along with the U.S., Israel, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau). Following letters sent to UN ambassadors through the #NoUNSC4Canada campaign, the Canadian representative felt compelled to send his own letter on June 10th extolling all the things Canada has allegedly done to support Palestinians. As predicted when it happened last November, he bragged about Canada’s single “orphan vote” supporting the resolution on Palestinian self-determination at the UNGA, as proof that Canada can “adapt to changing dynamics” and defend the “two-state solution”. So, a solitary Yes vote in 8 years is supposed to be enough to compensate for the anti-Palestinian assault Canada has indulged in at the UN?
PM Trudeau’s obsession with gaining a UNSC seat, which seemed simple desperate vanity a year ago, has now become much more odious. The Canadian government shocked social and environmental groups by running roughshod over indigenous rights with the militarized Wet’suwet’en standoff for the sake of a pipeline. Then, this same government insisted on supporting Juan Guaido and the attempted “soft coup” in Venezuela. And in February of this year, they sent a letter to the ICC advising against proceeding with war crimes charges against Israel, because Canada “does not recognize a Palestinian state”.
So when arguing for a UNSC seat, Canada says that it has “long supported the creation of a Palestinian state”. But to the ICC, they bluntly say they don’t recognize a Palestinian state. Many people in Canada are fed up with such diplomatic hypocrisy.
And for those who want to wax poetic about the “good old days”, a reminder that one of the final acts Canada engaged in last time it was on the Security Council was to help scuttle an international force to protect Palestinians in the occupied territories.
Canada abstained on a critical resolution at the UN Security Council in December, 2000 that called for sending an international protection force to shield the Palestinian civilian population from Israeli war crimes. This Canadian position was in accordance with the dictates of the US-Israeli policy that opposed such a force. The resolution got eight votes, but it needed nine member states out of fifteen to vote for it in order to be passed. Canada’s abstention helped to defeat the resolution, and accordingly made Canada complicit in the subsequent atrocities against the Palestinians.
This is the record of successive Canadian governments, both at the United Nations and at home. This is a record of shame that should never be rewarded. And for all those who have suffered from this hypocrisy and betrayal, it is personal.
(A version of this article first appeared in the Canadian Dimension.)