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Freedom of expression and criticism of Israel

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The BC Civil Liberties Association is deeply concerned about the effects on freedom of expression of recent changes to hate speech laws and the 2015 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel regarding Public Diplomacy Cooperation.

Section 318 of the Criminal Code prohibits advocating or promoting “genocide.” Genocide is defined as intending to destroy, in whole or in part, any “identifiable group” by killing members of the group or deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction. The “identifiable groups” covered by this provision were expanded in 2014 in the misnamed “cyber-bullying bill.” Identifiable groups now include sections of the public not only distinguishable by ethnic origin, but also by national origin.

Whatever other subjects the government intended to capture by expanding the hate speech laws to include “national origin,” it surely had a view to Israel, given that shortly after the passing of the Bill, the government issued an MOU with Israel in which it claims “that the selective targeting of Israel reflects the new face of anti-Semitism.”

The BC Civil Liberties Association has had long-standing concerns about the use of hate speech laws, and in particular, about the ability of hate speech laws to chill legitimate political speech. Our association is unequivocal in denouncing anti-Semitism and other forms of racism. We believe that the goals of fighting racism and defending civil liberties can and must be advanced together and that censorship weakens Canadians’ freedom without reducing racism. We best defeat racism by actively promoting arguments in favour of racial amity, not by enlisting the state to silence people.

Charter - Every Canadian Needs a Copy by Marc Lostracci licensed under Creative CommonsAll decent people will agree on the noxiousness of anti-Semitism. But reasonable and decent people can and do differ about what the law should do to address racism. The BCCLA has long argued against “hate speech” laws, which do more damage to democratic debate than they do to protect those vulnerable to acts of bigots. The expansion of the hate speech laws and the language of the recent MOU clearly suggest that strong speech criticizing the state of Israel or its policies could be construed as illegal. Yet this is speech clearly protected by the Charter.

This situation constitutes a two-fold threat. The Charter rights of Canadians whose speech criticizes Israel are threatened. In addition, failing to meaningfully support Canadians’ right to political speech in this context, threatens the legitimacy of Canada’s work to combat anti-Semitism.

The BCCLA joins many organizations in calling on the Canadian government to ensure that citizens’ Charter rights are protected in the context of political speech and legitimate political actions, such as boycotts, with respect to criticism of the state of Israel.

6 thoughts on “Freedom of expression and criticism of Israel

  1. Well done!!

    For the Conservative government to use Canada’s hate speech laws to suppress entirely justified criticism of Israel is absurd and counter-productive in terms of human rights, especially those of the Palestinians.

  2. Thanks for taking on this issue. The same expansion of the definition of identifiable groups victimized by hate crimes was made in the French Code pénal in 2003, and has since been used in successful hate-crimes prosecutions of some 20 Palestine-solidarity activists. I’ve analyzed the issue in an essay, “Criminalizing Criticism of Israel: A Hate-Propaganda Trojan Horse in Bill C-13” (April 2014), available at Seriously Free Speech, http://www.seriouslyfreespeech.ca, and at the Centre for Research on Globalization, http://www.globalresearch.ca/criminalizing-criticism-of-israel-in-canada/5376306. (A version of this essay was sent to the parliamentary committee reviewing the bill as a joint submission from the Seriously Free Speech Committee and Independent Jewish Voices Canada.)

  3. Thank you BCCLA! Criticizing the Israeli government is not racism or anti-Semitism. Israel is over 20% non-Jewish and it states that it is a democratic state. If it is a Jewish ethnocracy or theocracy, then that would make it a racist state.

  4. thank you for your stance! It is much appreciated in a political climate that muzzles all criticism of anything to do with Israel.

  5. Tentatively this post is encouraging but the BCCLA must go beyond section 318 and address the more meaningful and dangerous aspects of section 319(2) of the Criminal Code which deal with so-called “Hate Propaganda”. It’s there that “Freedom of expression and criticism of Israel” is being challenged and it’s there that the BCCLA must take a stand in order to ensure that any Canadian who criticizes either the state of Israel or its political ideology Zionism, is fully protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    Currently this is NOT the case and it is exemplified by my own situation wherein the Jewish lobby organization B’nai Brith Canada has been harassing and legally attacking me and my website http://www.radicalpress.com since November of 2007. They began their assault on my Charter right to freedom of expression by first laying a sec. 13(1) “hate crime” complaint against myself and my website in November of 2007. That quasi-legal procedure lasted right up to the day when the specious section of the Canadian Human Rights Code was finally repealed in June of 2012.

    Knowing full well that sec. 13(1)’s shelf life was over and that they wouldn’t be able to use it any longer to try and censor my writings and publications B’nai Brith Canada then turned to sec. 319(2) of the Criminal Code and charged me with the very same “crime” of “promoting hatred toward Jews” (only this time they left out the words “and citizens of Israel” which were included in the original sec. 13(1) complaint).

    As a result I’m now facing a possible 2 year jail term for publishing material (not even written by myself and freely available on numerous other websites) critical of the state of Israel and its Zionist ideology. I was arrested in May of 2012 and all my computers and electronic files stolen by the BC Hate Crime Unit and my case is currently before the BC Supreme Court.

    Should the Crown win and a precedent set with regard to the issue of criticism of Israel then that precedent will undoubtedly be used against any other Canadian publisher, writer, blogger to stifle debate and shut down websites.

    I highly recommend that the BCCLA issues a public statement regarding the use of Section 319(2) of the Criminal Code to thwart freedom of expression and criticism of Israel and make it perfectly clear that Canada’s “Hate Propaganda” legislation is not acceptable in a free and democratic nation.

    For further information on Regina v. Radicalpress.com please see here: http://www.radicalpress.com/?page_id=2553

  6. I wanted to comment on the Canadian government use of Hate Crime Laws concerning anyone criticizing Israel.To begin with Stephen Harper is ignoring all the Hate Crime Laws when he said that Omar Khadr should not be released from prison.How hypocritical can anyone get.
    All people should have the right to criticize the Israeli apartheid government.Harper is going against his own rules on Hate Crimes.All people should fight against any law not allowing people to criticize Israel.Stephen Harper is islamophobic and racist and should be condemned.If anything happens to Omar Khadr the full blame for it should be on the Canadian government for promoting islamophobic attitudes in Canada.The Canadian government should be also condemned for supporting Israeli apartheid.