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May 11, 2015 1:05 pm

Canadian Government Slams ‘Bizarre’ Report on Use of Hate Crime Laws Against Pro-BDS Groups (UPDATE)

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Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Canadian government has rejected a report by local CBC News that the country is considering the use of hate crime laws against advocacy organizations that support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

“This story is inaccurate and ridiculous,” the federal public safety minister’s office said in a statement. “These laws have been on the books for many years and have not changed. We won’t dignify this bizarre conspiracy theory with further comment.”

CBC News reporter Neil Macdonald said that he sent an inquiry to the office of Canadian Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney about a speech the minister gave at the United Nations promising a “zero tolerance” approach to groups participating in BDS.

In response, a representative of the Public Safety Department extensively listed the country’s hate crime laws, but declined to address the issue of BDS directly, according to emails later released by CBC News

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“I can tell you that Canada has one of the most comprehensive sets of laws against hate crime anywhere in the world,” said Josee Sirois. “We will not allow hate crimes to undermine our way of life, which is based on diversity and inclusion.”

Macdonald claimed that Sirois’ response implied that the government could take action against pro-BDS religious organizations such as the United Church of Canada and the Canadian Quakers, as well as campus groups, civil society organizations, labor unions, and others.

However, while the Canadian government could enforce prosecution priorities to Canadian police, any resulting prosecution would need to get approval from a provincial attorney general. In addition, civil liberty groups said that such a move would be challenged under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian bill of rights.

The Canadian penal code prescribes a maximum two-year jail sentence to anybody “who incites hatred against any identifiable group,” which includes nationalities.

The only way out of being charged with committing a hate crime is to prove that your beliefs are religiously based or based on religious texts, or if the statements are proved to be true.

If statements supporting BDS are libelous and encourage a hatred of Israel based on such claims, then those making such claims could be charged with committing a hate crime, said attorney Gerald D. Chipeur, who has argued on hate crimes cases before.

In January, former Canadian foreign minister John Baird signed a “memorandum of understanding” with Israeli authorities committing to fight BDS, and described the movement as “the new face of anti-Semitism.”

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government are known to be strong friends of Israel.

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to include the Canadian government’s rejection of CBC News’ report claiming that Canada was weighing the use of hate laws against pro-BDS groups.

Eliezer Sherman contributed to this report.

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