Over the weekend, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended an anti-racism rally in Ottawa and scored a photo-op as he took a knee alongside protesters, 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 peoples on Turtle Island, marginalized communities of colour in major cities, or the Palestinians struggling for dignity, the systemic discrimination that permeates official Canadian policy is all too real.
Recently, a strong movement has coalesced around opposing the Trudeau government’s attempt to gain a seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Although progressive groups and individuals have been laying the foundation for this issue since late last year, it has been thrust into the national spotlight over the last month with various petitions, statements and media coverage as part of the #NoUNSC4Canada campaign.
For Palestinian activists, this call to refuse the Trudeau government its much-coveted Security Council seat is a welcome development. Since 1947, Canada has played a negative role at the UN regarding the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. From Lester B. Pearson, dubbed the “Balfour of Canada”, and his role in preparing and passing the infamous Partition Plan, to the almost 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 finally being held accountable in the context of this important intergovernmental organization.
Of course, Canada’s complicity in systemic racism is not just limited to UN votes. The Liberal government’s refusal to accurately label products shipped from illegal Israeli settlements, along with its tendency to brand legitimate pro-Palestinian activism as “anti-Semitic”, and its habit of smearing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement while increasing the scope of the Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement, falls into a pattern of “ironclad” support for Israel (to quote Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland).
Just last year, Freeland reportedly said that Canada could be “an asset for Israel” on the UNSC. One can only speculate what that would entail, but it likely would not have anything to do with defending the basic human rights of the Palestinians or calling out and denouncing the Israeli government’s enabling of institutionalized racism and the excesses of its violent and illegal military occupation.
Palestinians know well the duplicity of Canadian officials. In November 2019, Trudeau showed his anti-Palestinian bias by rushing to 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. 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.
More recently, after taking weeks to express an opinion, Trudeau finally spoke out about Israel’s latest annexation plans for the West Bank. He even claimed to “deplore” them, but didn’t go beyond this rhetoric to entertain the possibility of sanctions against the Israeli government (Canada currently has in place sanctions against 19 countries, nine of which are in the Arab world).
As noted by Canada Palestine Association chairperson Hanna Kawas 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.
Palestinian activists are demanding concrete steps to curb blatant violations of international law by the Israeli government, not glossy photo-ops or hollow gestures and statements—particularly when those statements only seem to be made at the most opportunistic times and are clearly self-serving.
The Trudeau government’s fixation on gaining a UNSC seat, which seemed like a simply vanity project only 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 RCMP’s militarized incursion into sovereign Wet’suwet’en territory to clear the way for pipeline construction earlier this year. Then there was the Trudeau government’s vocal support for a “soft coup” in Venezuela, as well as its continuing support for the repressive regime in Haiti.
Canada also abstained from a critical resolution at the UNSC in 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 US foreign policy that opposed such a force. The resolution got eight votes, but it needed nine in order to be passed. Canada’s abstention helped to defeat the resolution, and accordingly made it complicit in the subsequent atrocities against the Palestinians that continue at the time of writing.
This is the record of successive Canadian governments, both at the UN and at home. This is a record of shame that should never be rewarded. And for all those who have suffered from this official betrayal, this record is personal.
Marion Kawas has written extensively on the Palestinian struggle, and is a regular contributor to Palestine Chronicle and other websites. She is also active in Palestine solidarity campaigns and is a member of Canada Palestine Association and BDS Vancouver-Coast Salish Territories.