The public safety minister's office responded Monday to a CBC News story about what Canada's "zero tolerance" policy toward those who boycott Israel could entail by calling it "inaccurate and ridiculous."
The story, by CBC's Neil Macdonald, referred to a speech at the United Nations by Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney in which he said Canada would take a "zero tolerance" stance against groups that promote boycotts against Israel. In the speech, Blaney also conflated boycotts with anti-Semitic hate speech.
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Canada signed a memorandum of understanding with Israel earlier this year pledging to combat a movement known as Boycott, Divest and Sanction, or BDS, which began in 2006 at the request of Palestinian non-governmental organizations.
When Macdonald asked what "zero tolerance" meant, Josée Sirois, a spokeswoman with Public Safety Canada, cited Canada's hate propaganda laws under the Criminal Code. The story also said some groups supporting BDS have noted Canada's hate laws had been recently updated to include "national origin," along with race and religion, as criteria for what constitutes hate speech. An amendment to the Criminal Code that received royal assent in December 2014 expanded the definition of what constitutes an "identifiable group" to include national origin.
A spokesman for the public safety minister's office initially said in a statement to CBC News that "these laws have been on the books for many years and have not changed," but another spokesman later clarified that it was the "substance" of hate laws that had not changed in any relevant way.
Below is the full email exchange between Macdonald and Sirois that occurred between May 4 and May 7:
Email May 4 from Public Safety Canada media relations spokeswoman Josée Sirois to Neil Macdonald:
Good afternoon Mr. Macdonald,
We received your voicemail on our media relations line.
Glad to assist with your request. If you could please send us your question(s) and your deadline, we'll do our best to get back to you as soon as possible.
Public Safety Canada
Email May 4 from Macdonald to Sirois:
This is the link to the Blaney speech I was referring to.
To be clear, I am not asking you for a boilerplate statement on what the Canadian government thinks of BDS, or Israel, or antisemitism. I think I understand that pretty well.
My question is what does "zero tolerance" for BDS mean?
How does that translate into government action? And does the MOU signed between Canada and Israel in January, which also speaks about combating anti-semitism (and the MOU characterizes BDS as antisemitism) have any force in Canadian law? Are the authorities who work for Mr. Blaney actually doing anything about the BDS movement that Mr. Blaney professes zero tolerance for?
Email May 5 from Public Safety media relations to Macdonald:
Good morning Mr. Macdonald,
A short note to let you know that your request was passed along to our colleagues at Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada. They indicated they would follow-up with you directly.
If you need to reach out to them, please call (343) 203-XXXX.
Email May 5 from Macdonald to Sirois:
It is your minister I will be quoting, not the foreign affairs minister.
For the record, and I want to be quite clear, I am asking what the public safety minister, whose authority includes intelligence and law enforcement, meant when he said Canada is adopting "zero tolerance" toward BDS.
His comments have elicited concerns from various Canadian NGOs, and I will be exploring and recording those concerns, and I have a duty to offer minister Blaney's office the opportunity to comment.
Are you telling me you are declining comment on his behalf?
I'd appreciate a response. I understand you have no obligation to respond, but I am bound to ask, and to reflect any response or non-response in my story.
All the very best,
Reply May 7 from Sirois to Macdonald:
Good evening Neil,
As previously mentioned, DFATD will be addressing your questions regarding the work being done with Israel regarding BDS.
With regards to Canadian criminal law, I can tell you that Canada has one of the most comprehensive sets of laws against hate crime anywhere in the world. There are three existing hate propaganda provisions in the Criminal Code: advocating or promoting genocide against an identifiable group (subsection 318(1) of the Criminal Code); inciting hatred in a public place against an identifiable group that is likely to cause a breach of the peace (subsection 319(1) of the Criminal Code) and wilfully promoting hatred against an identifiable group (subsection 319(2) of the Criminal Code). "Identifiable group" includes any section of the public distinguished by, among other characteristics, religion or national or ethnic origin. Section 320 of the Criminal Code provides for the seizure and forfeiture of hate propaganda kept for sale or distribution in premises within the jurisdiction of the court. Section 320.1 authorizes a judge to order the deletion of hate propaganda stored on and made available to the public through a computer system within the jurisdiction of the court.
In addition, the Criminal Code of Canada has specific legislation to address crimes motivated by hate. Paragraph 718.2(a)(i) of the Criminal Code provides that evidence that an offence was motivated by hate, bias or prejudice, including that based on national or ethnic origin or religion, shall be considered by the judge when determining the sentence of an offender.
Section 430(4.1) of the Criminal Code also creates a specific crime of mischief in relation to a building that is primarily used for religious worship, including a church, mosque or synagogue or a cemetery, where the mischief is motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate based on religion, race, colour or national or ethnic origin.
In addition, the Communities at Risk: Security Infrastructure Program helps communities fight against hate-motivated crimes. It is an example of our Government's strong commitment to preventing crime and making our streets safe. This program invests in security infrastructure enhancements at not-for-profit community centres, educational institutions, and places of worship linked to a community with a history of being victimized by hate-motivated crime. This program helps to ensure community members can practice their faith, culture, and activities peacefully, without fear of harm. We will not allow hate crimes to undermine our way of life, which is based on diversity and inclusion.
Final email from Macdonald to Sirois May 7:
I appreciate the answer, Josee.
Didn't think I would hear from you again.
The column will reflect the reply.