The BCCLA is concerned about an international campaign that is urging governments to use the definition of “antisemitism” adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (“IHRA”). The campaign is targeting all levels of government in Canada, as well as universities, police, and other authorities.
We strongly oppose this proposal because of its threat to freedom of expression.
Antisemitism is a serious problem. Our association is unequivocally opposed to antisemitism and other forms of racism. We believe, however, that fighting racism and defending civil liberties are complementary objectives; that the best way to defeat racism is to promote arguments against it rather than to have the government silence people.
We have long had concerns about the use of hate speech laws, especially with respect to their capacity to chill legitimate political speech. We believe that the legal adoption of the IHRA definition in Canada is inconsistent with the values underlying the Charter of Rights and Freedom and would greatly narrow the scope of political expression in Canada.
The IHRA definition of antisemitism is extremely vague, open to misinterpretation, and the document states that it is “non-legally binding.” Not only is the text unsuitable for any legal or administrative purpose in Canada, but the accompanying “illustrations” suggest that the definition conflates critiques of the state of Israel with antisemitism. We were concerned about this blurring of the line between denunciation of actions by the Israeli state and hatred for Jewish people when the House of Commons voted to formally condemn the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign in 2016. We fear that if adopted, the IHRA definition will serve to severely chill political expressions of criticism of Israel as well as support for Palestinian rights.
The BCCLA strongly believes that a broad range of perspectives must be welcome in our public sphere. We support the rights of people in Canada to celebrate or condemn the actions of foreign or domestic governments, without being vulnerable to state action. We continue to hold that the best remedy for bad speech is not censorship, but better speech and more compelling arguments.
The BCCLA joins others in Canada and abroad in calling on all levels of government to continue to combat antisemitism and other forms of racism while ensuring that our Charter rights are protected in the context of political speech and legitimate political actions.