Kenney to speak at anti-Durban conference

Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney will join Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel and other high-profile speakers at the United Nations in September to speak against a UN anti-racism conference that has been accused of being a forum to criticize Israel.

Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney will join Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel and other high-profile speakers at the United Nations in September to speak against a UN anti-racism conference that has been accused of being a forum to criticize Israel.

The meeting of prominent speakers, that also includes former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, former New York City mayor Ed Koch and actor Jon Voight, is being dubbed a "counter" conference to the anti-racism conference, also known as Durban III.

Minister of Immigration Jason Kenney announced in November that Canada was boycotting Durban III. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

"As Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said, when Israel, the only country in the world whose very existence is under attack, is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, we are morally obligated to take a stand," Candice Malcolm, a spokesperson for Kenney, told CBC News via email. 

"We believe the UN’s Durban III conference is merely a platform to single out and demonize Israel. This was the case with the first and second Durban conferences where anti-Semitic literature was distributed and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered a hateful speech towards Israel."

The day-long counter-conference will take place in New York at the UN on Sept. 22,  the same time the UN General Assembly will hold Durban III.

Kenney announced last year that Canada would boycott the Durban III conference, saying it would be a "hatefest" and a "charade." He added that the process "commemorates an agenda that actually promotes racism rather than combats it."

Durban III is scheduled to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the UN anti-racism meeting in 2001 in Durban, South Africa.

That first conference sparked controversy, with critics accusing it of becoming a forum for  anti-Israel views and for coming up with a draft document that singled out Israel for racism. Canada was the first country to walk out of the conference.

It was also the first country to announce it would no participate in Durban II, held in 2009 in Geneva, which also faced similar controversy, highlighted by Ahmadinejad's speech.

"Counter" Durban conference organizer Anne Bayefsky, a senior fellow of the Hudson Institute and director of the Touro College Institute on Human Rights and the Holocaust, said the purpose of her conference is to bring moral leaders from around the world to voice their outrage that the Durban platform has been reignited by the United Nations.

"[And] that they object to the very idea that somehow it is appropriate to go forward in the fight against racism and equality while demonizing the Jewish state. Durban is forever tarnished by anti-Semitism and to legitimize it, is to legitimize anti-Semitism," she told CBC News.

Bayefsky said the fact that the commemoration of Durban III takes place around the same time as the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks is an insult to New Yorkers, Americans and all victims of 9/11.

Bayefsky, a Canadian, said Canada has played an "extraordinary leadership role" in combating racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism on the world stage to date.

"Kenney himself has issued a clarion call, as well as the prime minister, about the dangers of the inversion of the anti-racism movement as we see it at the United Nations," she said.


Mark Gollom

Senior Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.