Special envoy on antisemitism will be permanent role, Trudeau says

The job of Canada's special envoy on preserving Holocaust remembrance and fighting antisemitism is now a permanent role, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.

PM pledges to combat hate at forum on Holocaust remembrance and combating antisemitism

The government appointed former Liberal MP and Justice Minister Irwin Cotler as the special envoy for Holocaust remembrance and combatting antisemitism last year, and announced today that the role would become permanent and receive funding. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The job of Canada's special envoy on preserving Holocaust remembrance and fighting antisemitism is now a permanent role, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday.

Trudeau made the remarks at an international forum on Holocaust remembrance and antisemitism in Malmo, Sweden.

In November 2020, the government appointed to the role Irwin Cotler, an international human rights lawyer and former minister of justice. Now, Trudeau said, Cotler's office will be supported by dedicated resources.

"This is in line with Canada's commitment to promote and defend pluralism, inclusion and human rights," Trudeau said.

"Education and awareness will always be key to combating Holocaust distortion, antisemitism and all other forms of racism."

It's the special envoy's job to "work with the minister of foreign affairs, the minister of diversity and inclusion and youth and other implicated ministers to inform Government of Canada policy and programming," says the federal government.

Trudeau also highlighted actions taken by his government on Holocaust remembrance and fighting antisemitism, including convening a national summit on antisemitism in Canada and adopting the working definition of antisemitism developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

"Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities," the definition reads.

Trudeau spoke about fighting hate online — an effort Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, cited as a priority for the European Union.

Calling antisemitism a "canary in the coal mine of evil," Trudeau said his government will work on a national plan to combat hate.

"Antisemitism isn't a problem for the Jewish community to solve alone. It's everyone's challenge to take on, especially governments," he said.

"And that's why we'll develop and implement a national action plan on combating hate, working in concert with Jewish communities and our special envoy."

Jewish advocacy groups applaud announcement

Canadian Jewish advocacy groups welcomed the move to make the position permanent, something they've called on the government to do before now.

Michael Mostyn, CEO of B'nai Brith Canada, called Trudeau's speech and presence at the summit "important." He said the organization has tracked a rise in antisemitic hate over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We're glad that Canada is showing a commitment going forward to combat this scourge," he said.

He applauded the move to make the special envoy position permanent and provide the office with a budget and staff.

"One person can only do so much, and this was an unfunded position," Mostyn said. "Professor Cotler needs a staff to get the job done to combat antisemitism in a systemic way."

B'nai Brith Canada Chief Executive Officer Michael Mostyn welcomed the government's commitment to fight antisemitism and hate, and applauded the government's decision to make the special envoy on Holocaust remembrance and combatting antisemitism permanent. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

He called on the government to take legislative action against social media companies that allow hate on their platforms, and to ensure that purveyors of hate face consequences.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) also voiced its support for making the position permanent.

"Today represents a milestone for the Jewish community and Jewish federations across Canada who have been advocating for making the role of special envoy permanent, with dedicated resources," said Shimon Koffler Fogel, CIJA president and CEO, in a news release.

 "We are pleased to see that the government has heeded our advice, and we thank them for being our allies in the fight against the scourge of antisemitism and for their continuous and unambiguous support for the IHRA definition of antisemitism, an important tool to combat Jew-hatred."

The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC) called the creation of a permanent special envoy position "critical."

"As we see the increased resurgence and mainstreaming of antisemitism in Canada and around the world, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's participation in this meaningful international forum to combat antisemitism and promote Holocaust awareness is very important and sends a strong message that the country stands united with its Jewish community and is serious about taking action," said Michael Levitt, president and CEO of FSWC.

"Canada's pledges to support special envoy Irwin Cotler and further promote the IHRA definition of antisemitism are particularly critical and impactful in the fight against virulent Jew-hate."

A number of Muslim advocacy groups in Canada, including the National Council of Canadian Muslims, have called on the government to create a similar permanent government position to combat Islamophobia.

The government has not yet responded to CBC's inquiries about whether the government is working to create that office.

With files from Raffy Boudjikanian.