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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper stands alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo: Stephen Harper/cc/flickr)

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper stands "in lockstep" with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo: Stephen Harper/cc/flickr)

Harper Government Threatens BDS Supporters with Hate Crime Charges

Rights groups say newly revealed policy change is meant to "scare" critics of Palestinian oppression

Lauren McCauley

The Canadian government is threatening to charge those participating in boycotts of Israel with a hate crime, CBC revealed on Monday.

The information came following an attempt by the news agency to obtain clarification on statements made by federal ministers about a "zero tolerance" approach to supporters of the international Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement protesting Israeli apartheid and occupation of Palestinian land.

In response to the query, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney, who is in charge of federal law enforcement, sent reporters "a detailed list of Canada's updated hate laws, noting that Canada has one of the most comprehensive sets of such laws 'anywhere in the world.'"

"Such a move could target a range of civil society organizations, from the United Church of Canada and the Canadian Quakers to campus protest groups and labour unions," CBC reports. "If carried out, it would be a remarkably aggressive tactic, and another measure of the Conservative government's lockstep support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu."

The government under Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has pledged "steadfast" support for Israel and last year amended the Criminal Code definition for hate speech to include "national origin" as well as race and religion. This, according to Micheal Vonn, an attorney with the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, allows the government to use hate crime laws as "a tool to go after critics of Israel."

And Tyler Levitan, a spokesman for the group Independent Jewish Voices, which supports BDS in Canada, agreed, telling CBC that the hate speech policy change is an attempt by the Harper government to silence dissent: "This is about trying to scare people."

As journalist Glenn Greenwald noted in a blog post on Monday, the Canadian government's suppression of anti-Israeli sentiment directly contradicts Harper's alleged support for free speech following the January 2015 terrorist attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

"When the views being suppressed are ones amenable to those in power (e.g., cartoons mocking Islam), free speech is venerated," Greenwald writes. "But when ideas are advocated that upset those in power (e.g. speech by Muslims critical of western nations and their allies), the very same people acquiesce to, or expressly endorse, full-scale suppression."


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