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McMaster Student Union rejects suggestion BDS campaign is hate crime against Israel

Student groups that support the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that aims to put economic and political pressure on Israel could face new pressures from an extremely powerful source: the Harper government.

Canadian government says it has 'zero tolerance' approach to BDS movement

Could the boycott movement against Israel be a target of hate crime laws? Ottawa says no 3:06

Student groups that support the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which aims to put economic and political pressure on Israel, could face new pressures from an extremely powerful source: the Harper government.

The CBC's Neil Macdonald reported Monday morning that the federal government is signalling its intention to use hate crime laws against Canadian groups that encourage boycotts of Israel. 

One of those groups is McMaster University's student union. In March, students in a general assembly voted in support of the global BDS movement over issues related to the occupied territories and Palestinian people.

Canadian Public Security Minister Steven Blaney has said the government is taking a "zero tolerance" approach to BDS.

In response to specific questions about what "zero tolerance" of BDS means, and how it will be enforced, Blaney aide Josee Sirois said, "I can tell you that Canada has one of the most comprehensive sets of laws against hate crime anywhere in the world."

She highlighted what she termed "hate propaganda" provisions in the Criminal Code criminalizing the promotion of hatred against an identifiable group, and further noted that "identifiable group" now includes any section of the public distinguished by "among other characteristics, religion or national or ethnic origin."

She also referred to Criminal Code provisions requiring that a judge consider hate, bias or prejudice when sentencing an offender.

"We will not allow hate crimes to undermine our way of life, which is based on diversity and inclusion," she said.

The public safety minister's office responded Monday to the CBC News story about what Canada's "zero tolerance" toward Israel boycotters could entail by calling it "inaccurate and ridiculous."

You can read the email exchange between Neil Macdonald and the Public Safety Ministry here.

Suggestion of hate speech is 'egregious,' McMaster student president says

Ehima Osazuwa, McMaster Student Union President, rejected the suggestion that the boycott should be considered a hate crime. He said "to suggest that McMaster students participated in some form of hate speech, by exercising their right to peacefully congregate and utilize the democratic mechanisms of their student government, to declare an opinion on an international event is simply egregious."

Osazuwa added that the boycott has been "a divisive topic for students at McMaster" and made clear, in a press release that the student union does not endorse "a boycott of the state of Israel." The press release stated the motion "compels MSU to: Commit to identifying and divesting from companies that support or profit from Israeli war crimes, occupation and oppression of Palestinians."

Students at the McMaster Student Union's annual general assembly voted to endorse the BDS campaign in March where 622 people voted for the resolution and 28 voted against.

BDS campaign members celebrated the vote, saying it will work to make BDS a "way of life" at McMaster. "[We're] using this non-violent tactic to help end the Occupation and bring about positive changes for the Palestinian people," a press release read just after the vote.

But not everyone saw it in a positive light. In an opinion piece in McMaster's student newspaper The Silhouette, Sean Haber of McMaster Israel on Campus denounced the BDS movement.

"By rejecting BDS, we can move forward with integrity as a community and make McMaster a model for civil discourse; a campus where all students – regardless of their political belief and national origin – are free to learn, debate, discuss and grow," Haber wrote.

"Unfortunately, at McMaster and elsewhere, it has become incredibly clear that BDS not only silences opposition, but also shuts down the debate."

York University students voted in favour of BDS in 2013. University of Windsor students also voted for it in a referendum last year. The movement is also supported by the United Church of Canada and the Canadian Quakers as well as labour unions.

Civil liberties groups say any prosecution of these groups would almost certainly be challenged under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

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