The proposed legislation, Bill 168, introduced by conservative MPPs Robin Martin (Eglinton—Lawrence) and Will Bouma (Brantford—Brand) with the misleading title “Combating Anti-Semitism Act,” is an assault on the freedom of speech of Ontarians that must be defeated. Many concerns have been raised regarding Israel’s human rights record of offences against the Palestinian people, and it is important that these legitimate criticisms not be silenced.
We, CUPE Ontario and the union’s International Solidarity Committee, call on all Members of the Provincial Parliament in Ontario to vote against Bill 168.
Contrary to what the title of Bill 168 suggests (i.e. that there are no current measures in place to combat anti-Semitism in Ontario), legislation protecting against anti-Semitism already exists: the Ontario Human Rights Code enshrines the right of all persons to be free from religious and racial discrimination and prohibits actions that discriminate against them on these grounds.
The truth is that the legislation is meant to censor Palestinians and people of conscience by falsely equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. In particular, it is targeting the peaceful Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which has successfully drawn attention to Israel’s human-rights abuses and its illegal occupation of Palestinian territory. If passed, Bill 168 would adopt the flawed and widely rejected International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism, along with 11 illustrative examples drafted by the same organization. Of those, 7 have to do with criticism of Israel. But no state is above reproach, including Israel.
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees our fundamental freedoms, including freedom of conscience, thought, belief, opinion, expression and association. The labour movement has always struggled and fought for these hard-earned freedoms, and now is no exception. Bill 168 would strip these freedoms by bullying Ontarians into silence on the actions of Israel, so we must reject it.
Our struggles for justice and against oppression in Canada and around the world are also indivisibly tied to the struggles of Palestinians. In 2014, workers from all over the province recognized this and voted to give CUPE Ontario a BDS mandate. Today, as Israel continues to illegally annex Palestinian territory in direct contravention of international law, we remain steadfast in our solidarity with the Palestinian people. An injury to one is an injury to all.