Government convenes national summit on antisemitism, but opposition leaders say they weren't initially invited

The federal government is set to hold a national summit on antisemitism today — but political tensions swirled on the eve of the event as opposition leaders said they weren't initially invited.

Another summit on Islamophobia being held Thursday

The National Holocaust Monument seen near the Parliament buildings. The federal government is holding a national summit on antisemitism. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The federal government held a national summit on antisemitism Wednesday— but political tensions swirled on the eve of the event as opposition leaders said they weren't initially invited.

In a media statement earlier this month, Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger said she invited various cabinet ministers and members of Parliament to join the discussion.

But opposition leaders were saying as late as Tuesday that they had yet to receive any invitation.

Green Party leader Annamie Paul was the first to raise the issue on Twitter, saying Tuesday she had not received an invitation despite being the only federal leader who is Jewish.

"I am the only Jewish Leader of a federal party and a constant target of antisemitism. The government knows I should be there," Paul said in her tweet.

Paul tweeted Wednesday afternoon that she had received an invitation to observe the summit but would have liked to speak as a member of the Jewish community.

Conservative leader Erin O'Toole's office said he wasn't initially invited to today's summit, or to the one being held Thursday on Islamophobia, despite asking the government for an opportunity to speak.

They said a late invite came Tuesday night.

"Mr. O'Toole received an invitation at 7:15 pm last evening to watch the summit but despite repeated requests from stakeholders and our office, we are not part of the event," said spokesperson Josie Sabatino.

A member of O'Toole's office told CBC on background that the party's critic for diversity and inclusion would be attending the entire summit.

The NDP also sent its critic, Lindsay Mathyssen. Leader Jagmeet Singh said he was looking forward to getting feedback from Mathyssen.

"We know hate is very much like a fire ... it's not isolated, it will spread, it will consume everyone. So we've all got a collective responsibility to listen to people impacted," Singh told a press conference on Wednesday.

WATCH | NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says his critic was invited to the antisemitism summit

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says his critic was invited to the antisemitism summit.

2 years ago
Duration 0:50
Featured VideoSingh says the invitation to the national antisemitism summit launched by the federal government was extended to his party's critic.

A spokesperson for Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said they were not invited but would be following along remotely.

When asked by CBC News why opposition leaders hadn't been invited, Chagger's office sent a statement Tuesday evening saying that all opposition leaders would be able to participate.

"At this time, all four leaders of the opposition have been invited to participate as observers to ensure the summit remains a space where community members can express their opinions and ideas," Chagger's press secretary Aidan Strickland said in an email.

WATCH | Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: "No Canadian should ever fear to practice their religion." 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: "No Canadian should ever fear to practise their religion."

2 years ago
Duration 1:51
Featured VideoTrudeau participated in a national summit on antisemitism along with community leaders and cabinet ministers.

The summit was held virtually and was mostly closed to the public — a measure to ensure the safety of those participating, the government said. Opening remarks were open to media and the public.

Summit needs to be followed by action, Cotler says

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau kicked off the event, saying the summit would "move the dial on combating antisemitism."

"We're here to continue to fight and reject antisemitism in all of its forms. The rise in hate-motivated crimes against the Jewish community in the past few months is not only alarming, it's completely unacceptable.' he said.

Former federal justice minister Irwin Cotler, now Canada's special envoy for preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating antisemitism, participated in the summit.

Cotler said the summit is "timely" and "necessary" but he wants to see it followed up with action.

"It can't just be a one-time discussion. It will have to be an action plan that is developed and implemented as a result of the discussion," he said.

Former Liberal MP and justice minister Irwin Cotler says the antisemitism summit must be followed up by concrete action. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Chagger's statement announcing the summit said the event will help inform the government's anti-racism strategy.

"We must actively listen to the voices of communities directly affected by racism," Chagger said in the statement.

A new report suggests online activity by right-wing extremists in Canada spiked last year during the pandemic, despite efforts by governments and social media companies to curb extremism and hate speech.

Cotler said a rise in antisemitism online is particularly troubling because it targets and attracts a younger demographic. He said that online hate speech can inspire offline hate crimes.

"This is a very dangerous mix that we're seeing," he said.

Wednesday's summit coincided with Public Safety Minister Bill Blair announcing the government will spend more than $6 million on 150 projects to support communities at risk of hate-motivated crime.

The security infrastructure program allows community centres, educational institutions and places of worship to apply for funding to cover doors, windows, cameras, alarm systems, fencing, lighting, minor renovations to enhance security, and basic training for staff to respond to hate-motivated crime.

The next call for applications will be launched on July 28.

Islamophobia summit set for tomorrow

The antisemitism summit will be followed by a summit on Islamophobia on Thursday.

MPs voted unanimously in favour of a motion calling for a national summit on Islamophobia in June, following the attack in London, Ont., that killed four members of a Muslim family as they were out for an evening walk.

During a press conference on Tuesday, Trudeau was asked about recent eruptions of Islamophobia in Canada.

Trudeau pointed to the upcoming summit as an effort to tackle Islamophobia but said it's up to all Canadians to fight intolerance.

"It's not only up to Muslim Canadians to fight Islamophobia, but it's up to all of us to fight Islamophobia, hatred, intolerance in all its forms," he said.

WATCH | Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says combating Islamophobia is the responsibility of every Canadian:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says combating Islamophobia is the responsibility of every Canadian

2 years ago
Duration 3:03
Featured VideoTrudeau says that the government will do what it can to fight Islamophobia, but Canadians also have a duty to call it out when they see it.