Come Hell or High Water, Justin Trudeau’s Government Backs Israel

By Yves Engler, Jacobin, Dec. 1, 2023

In mid-November, the International Centre of Justice for Palestine formally notified Canada’s top politicians, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, National Revenue Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, and Justice Minister Arif Virani of its intention to pursue prosecution for alleged complicity in Israel’s war crimes in Gaza. The warning suggests potential liability and the prospect of facing charges before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for aiding and abetting Israeli war crimes.

Over the past seven weeks, as it has conducted its brutal war, Israel has cut off water, food, fuel, and electricity to Gaza and has claimed it is fighting “human animals.” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant declared a commitment to “eliminate everything” in the coastal strip of 2.2 million. Tens of thousands of houses, hospitals, Mosques, schools, and other buildings have been destroyed. The human toll is staggering, with over thirty thousand Palestinians injured and fourteen thousand killed, including six thousand children. As highlighted in the notice to Canadian ministers, a director at the United Nations, Craig Mokhiber, has called Israeli policy a “text-book case of genocide.”

Ottawa has played a role in facilitating Israel’s effort to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from a small part of what’s left of their historic homeland. During a visit, Foreign Minister Joly offered Canada’s approval for Israel’s ruthless siege and violence. Israel’s foreign minister, Eli Cohen, boasted about the meeting a week into its onslaught, stating, “We continue to mobilize the world for the fight against Hamas! I met today with Canada’s foreign minister Mélanie Joly, who also came to support Israel.”

Rhetorically, Trudeau has repeatedly supported Israel’s “right to defend itself.” At the same time, Canadian officials have largely refused to condemn Israel’s war crimes and have opposed calls for a cease-fire. The tenor of the moment was perfectly encapsulated in the recent ordeal of Canadian legislator Sarah Jama, who faced censure and dismissal from her ostensibly center-left New Democratic Party (NDP) for publicly advocating a cease-fire.

Canada-Israel Military Cooperation

At the end of October, Canada abstained from a United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for the “protection of civilians and upholding legal and humanitarian obligations,” despite support from 120 countries. In a more tangible show of support, following Hamas’s October 7 attack, the Canadian Air Force transported thirty Israeli reservists back into the country. Military aircraft were employed in the opposite direction, evacuating Canadians from Tel Aviv to Athens.

In addition to facilitating the return of Israeli reservists, Canadian special forces have been dispatched to Israel, officially for embassy security and evacuation assistance. While this may be the primary objective, there’s potential for these forces to take a more direct role in Gaza. At a minimum, the deployment reflects Canada-Israel military cooperation.

The Canadian military maintains significant ties with its Israeli counterparts through Five Eyes and NATO. Bilaterally, both nations maintain military attachés, with top officials engaging in regular visits. The Israeli Air Force trains in Canada, and Canadian troops training Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank have coordinated with their Israeli counterparts for fifteen years. Despite lacking a shared border, Canada and Israel have a “border management and security” agreement.

The Canada-Israel Industrial Research and Development Foundation has pumped tens of millions of dollars into collaborative research projects between the military companies of the two countries. In recent years, Canada has exported a little more than $20 million worth of arms to Israel annually (Canadian weapons makers sell many millions of dollars more in components to US firms that arm Israel). Despite this, Canada is a signatory to the UN Arms Trade Treaty, aimed at restricting the flow of weapons into conflict zones and preventing their use by human rights violators.

IDF Supports

According to the notice of intention to prosecute, the Trudeau government has failed to fulfill its obligations under the Arms Trade Treaty and Canada’s Export and Import Permits Act, despite repeated calls by the opposition NDP to end arms sales to Israel. The intention to prosecute also cites the government’s failure to stop illegal recruitment for the IDF or Canadian charities from unlawfully assisting Israel’s military.

Recruitment efforts by private organizations and Israeli officials have been ongoing in Canada. In response to these activities, a campaign was launched three years ago, urging the federal government to press charges under the Foreign Enlistment Act against those involved in “recruiting” or “inducing” Canadians to assist the Israeli military.

The government immediately sought to downplay the issue after receiving a formal complaint and an open letter signed by Noam Chomsky, Roger Waters, filmmaker Ken Loach, author Yann Martel, and others. When asked about the matter by a Le Devoir reporter, then justice minister David Lametti simply deferred, stating, “It’s up to the police to investigate.” According to Lametti, politician’s hands are tied — only cops can do anything about violations of Canada’s Foreign Enlistment Act, which specifies that, “any person who, within Canada, recruits or otherwise induces any person or body of persons to enlist or to accept any commission or engagement in the armed forces of any foreign state or other armed forces operating in that state is guilty of an offence.”

The Trudeau government hasn’t simply downplayed illegal IDF recruitment. They’ve boosted it. In January 2020, the Canadian embassy in Tel Aviv hosted a pizza party to celebrate the seventy-eight Canadians fighting in the Israeli military.

The government has also shown indifference to other illegal forms of support for the Israeli military. Many of the more than two hundred Canadian-based Israel-focused registered charities assist the Israeli military in contravention of Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) rules, which state that “increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of Canada’s armed forces is charitable, but supporting the armed forces of another country is not.” The HESEG Foundation, Canadian Zionist Cultural Association (CZCA), and many other registered charities assist the IDF. But the CRA has been slow to enforce its rules on Israel-focused charities.

Israel’s Staunch Defender

The Trudeau government’s indifference to Canadian law has enabled Israeli impunity and the same goes for Ottawa’s own indifference to international law. In 2020, Ottawa urged the ICC to halt its investigation into Israeli war crimes, asserting that it didn’t recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction over Palestine. The letter suggested that Canada might withdraw its funding if the ICC pursued an investigation of Israeli offenses.

Similarly, three months ago, Ottawa sought to block a World Court opinion on Palestine, submitting a statement opposing an International Court of Justice advisory opinion prompted by a UN General Assembly resolution titled “Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.”

To shield Israel from criticism, the Trudeau government established a special envoy to combat antisemitism and formally adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. This definition is crafted to marginalize those who critique Palestinian dispossession. Additionally, the Trudeau government sued to block accurate labeling of wines from illegal settlements. Meanwhile, it expanded the Canada-Israel free trade agreement, providing duty-free status to products produced in illegal West Bank settlements.

Since taking office in 2015 the Trudeau government has consistently voted against nearly a hundred UN resolutions that, in many cases, enjoy widespread global support in upholding Palestinian rights. They’ve also repeatedly provided justifications for Israeli violence against Palestinians, while largely overlooking its brutal blockade of Gaza, the demolition of Palestinian homes in the West Bank, and growing Israeli supremacy inside its 1948 borders.

Activists hand-delivered the notice to prosecute to the ministers’ offices in Toronto, Ottawa, Sherbrooke, and Montreal. Following this, the lawyers leading the initiative held a press conference to explain the legal process behind the notice’s intention to seek prosecution. While some Canadian media outlets reported on it, it garnered wider coverage in international pro-Palestinian outlets.

The notice of intention to seek prosecution concludes:

In order to reduce the risk of further complicity, the Government of Canada must immediately take the following diplomatic and economic measures:

  1. Call for a ceasefire to prevent further loss of life in Gaza;
  2. Call for secure provision of meaningful humanitarian aid to Gaza;
  3. Issue a public statement condemning Israel’s breaches of international law;
  4. Insist that Israel fully comply with international law;
  5. Cancel all Canadian permits for arms exports to Israel;
  6. Prosecute those recruiting Canadian volunteers for Israel’s armed forces; and
  7. Prevent Canadian charities from using donations to benefit Israel’s armed forces.

The least Canadians should be able to expect of their government, especially in light of Trudeau’s lofty rhetoric, is adherence to international law.


Posted Dec. 26, 2023