'An act of erasure': LCBO called out for sticker covering the word 'Palestine' on wine bottle
Taybeh wine bottles produced prior to 2020 had sticker as 'interim solution,' Ontario liquor board says
Samer Abdelnour was visiting his family in Toronto when he decided to take out a bottle of wine he had ordered online and had delivered to them as a gift.
When he grabbed the bottle, he noticed a plain white sticker placed on top of the front label. Confused, he peeled it back to find the words "of Palestine" written underneath.
The 2019 bottle of red wine, ordered for home delivery via the website of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO), was produced by Taybeh Winery, which is located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank village of Taybeh, north of Jerusalem.
Abdelnour is a Palestinian Canadian, though he has lived in Europe for nearly 12 years. He works as an associate professor at the University of Edinburgh Business School. He also co-founded Al-Shabaka, a leading Palestinian think-tank.
Abdelnour had placed the online order on March 16, ahead of a planned visit to Canada in April.
When his family received the order, they unboxed the beer and wine and set them aside. This past Sunday, he said, they decided to take the wine out to have with dinner, when he spotted the label.
"That's when I thought, 'OK, what's this covering up?'" Abdelnour said. "I peeled it off and saw the 'of Palestine' underneath."
Abdelnour said seeing the word "Palestine" covered up on the bottle was "upsetting" and he took to Twitter to ask the LCBO why the sticker was placed there.
"As a Canadian, as a Palestinian, as a consumer, I mean, this is just — it's ridiculous, it's offensive and probably illegal," he said, noting it was the first time he had ordered Taybeh wine through the LCBO.
"It really reflects a deep settler-colonial insecurity when even mentioning Palestine is deemed a threat."
Dear <a href="https://twitter.com/LCBO?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@LCBO</a> — can you please explain this incredibly offensive sticker covering “of Palestine” on the bottle of <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Taybeh?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Taybeh</a> wine I ordered? <a href="https://t.co/a5eW1o4d5C">pic.twitter.com/a5eW1o4d5C</a>—@SamerAbdelnour
The LCBO said labelling on its products complies with the provincial and federal laws and guidelines outlined by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), which enforces food-labelling requirements in Canada.
According to the LCBO, Taybeh wines produced since 2020 and sold at LCBO are labelled as originating from the "West Bank." However, bottles produced prior to 2020 used a sticker as an "interim solution," the LCBO said.
"Suppliers are required to meet the labelling requirements for packaged food and beverage alcohol products sold in Canada as set out by the CFIA," an LCBO spokesperson said.
"In some cases, when labels do not meet regulatory requirements, suppliers are given the opportunity to modify labels to meet requirements."
In this particular case, the Crown corporation said, the labels were revised to comply with the CFIA requirements, but didn't say whether it was the LCBO, Taybeh or the supplier that placed the sticker.
According to Palestine Just Trade, the organization which serves as Taybeh's agent in Canada, the wine was first purchased by the LCBO in March 2019 and "Product of Palestine" labels were approved at that time. However, the LCBO put the release on hold and later asked that stickers saying "West Bank" be placed on the products.
"The LCBO has continued to require West Bank on the label. The LCBO asked with the most recent shipment that also a blank sticker be placed over the word Palestine in the product title, 'Taybeh of Palestine,'" it said in an email.
In a statement to CBC News, the CFIA said it is the responsibility of regulated parties to comply with Canada's food-labelling requirements.
When asked what it was about the label that didn't meet the requirements, the CFIA said that information provided on a label "must not be false or misleading."
While Canada had previously not recognized an independent Palestinian state, in recent years, the federal government has shifted policy in support of Palestinians' right to self-determination, including embracing a two-state solution as part of a "comprehensive peace settlement" in the Middle East.
"When assessing a product's compliance, CFIA reviews all information on food labels — including words, images, vignettes and logos — as they will contribute to the overall impression created by that product to determine whether the label is false or a consumer could be misled," the CFIA statement said.
The agency added that when a labelling violation is identified, the CFIA requests that the "necessary corrections" be made by the appropriate regulated party. The CFIA did not say what the violation was in this case.
The CFIA previously came under fire when it ruled that two wines made by Israeli settlement wineries located in the West Bank, Psagot Winery and Shiloh Winery, could be sold in Canada with the label "Product of Israel" under the terms of the Canadian-Israel Free Trade Agreement.
David Kattenburg, of Winnipeg, challenged the decision, claiming the federal food inspection agency did not follow Canadian and international law in making its decision. Two years later, a Federal Court judge found that labelling a wine from the West Bank as a "Product of Israel" is misleading and deceptive, putting the requirement on the CFIA to decide how the wines should be labelled.
Kattenburg told CBC News the government had appealed that ruling, and in May of 2021 the Federal Court of Appeal rejected the government's appeal, sending the labelling issue back to the CFIA for "redetermination."
"CFIA regulations require that wine labelling be 'regionally consistent.' If a Palestinian wine product produced in the West Bank needs to be labelled 'West Bank,' rather than 'Palestine,' then so does an Israeli settlement wine produced in the West Bank," Kattenburg said.
"Coming up with a truthful, accurate, non-misleading label isn't rocket science. We anticipate the CFIA will do so."
As for Abdelnour, he said he had yet to receive a response from the LCBO following his tweet. But he said incidents like this make it hard to talk about his family's homeland.
"You don't see that in other parts of the world. I've been living outside of Canada for a good part of a dozen years in Europe," he said. "And in some places, you just see a lot of aggression and hostility, but, you know, people talk about Palestine in a way that I think it's sometimes difficult to do in Toronto or in Canada."
Abdelnour said the incident isn't the first time he has experienced an "act of erasure" as a Palestinian.
"It's tiring. I feel like growing up in Toronto, the narrative has been so hostile against Palestinians," Abdelnour said. "It's just tiring to face this sort of constant aggressiveness and denial. It really is an act of erasure."
CBC News has also reached out to Taybeh Winery but did not receive a response in time for publication.