Monday, June 01, 2015

Speaking Out Against Bill C-51

May 30 was the Third National Day of Action Against Bill C-51. Since it looks like the bill is going to pass the Senate, the emphasis of the protest was to encourage people to vote the Conservatives (who introduced the bill) out in the upcoming federal election. I spoke at the rally on behalf of Independent Jewish Voices.

My name is Paula Kirman. Take a good look at me: I am a peace activist whose activities trying to advocate for a better world make me potentially a criminal guilty of hate crimes. You see, I am the Alberta representative on the steering committee of Independent Jewish Voices of Canada. We are a grassroots group of Jewish Canadians who believe in working towards a just resolution to the conflict in Israel/Palestine. We are, of course, in favour of legitimate criticism of the government of Israel's actions. Because of this, our spokesperson has said that he believes that he and other members of our organization are under surveillance. But that is not enough for the Harper government.

According to a May 11 CBC News report, the Harper government is planning to use hate crime laws against Canadians who advocate boycotts of Israel in support of the rights of Palestinians. In 2014, hate speech laws were amended by the government to add the category of "national origin" to those protected under the legislation. This was widely seen as laying the groundwork to criminalize criticism of Israel.

The government's need to make such an amendment to advance its efforts to criminalize support for Palestinian rights indicates that it could find no legal basis upon which to accuse Canadians of racial or religious hatred, already protected in hate-speech laws.

In January of this year, Canada's then-foreign affairs minister, John Baird, signed a "memorandum of understanding" with Israeli authorities in Jerusalem, pledging to combat BDS (Boycotts, Divestments, Sanctions), referring to it as a form of “new” anti-Semitism. Even more recently, Conservative Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has called for "zero tolerance" of criticism of Israel and that Canadian hate laws could be applied to those campaigning for BDS.

We find this ludicrous as BDS is a legitimate, peaceful, and non-violent way to express protest towards the government of Israel. It requires not doing something, not being complicit, and encouraging others to not do something: to not purchase goods from Israel, particularly those produced on disputed or occupied land. This is not much different than when I was in high school and there were boycotts against South Africa, which was still under apartheid. Even Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu has described Israel as an “apartheid state” and has said, “We learned in South Africa that the only way to end apartheid peacefully was to force the powerful to the table through economic pressure.”

IJV supports BDS in cooperation with the United Church's Unsettling Goods campaign, which also supports BDS. How many of you are members of the United Church of Canada? Now you are potentially criminals also, for the same reason.

IJV, in a press release, has asked that the government explain what “zero tolerance” for criticism of Israel actually means. Thus far, we have not gotten a clear response, nor has any other individual or group who have asked a similar question.

Bill C-51 would take the criminalization of dissent even further. Bill C-51 is an assault on our right to freedom of speech, thought, and conscience. Its definition of advocacy or promotion of “terrorism offences in general” is basically whatever Harper wants it to be. It has no defences for legitimate expression of political or religious thought.

It is designed to silence us, to instill fear about speaking out, to be afraid of indefinite detention and arrest without warrant. It creates a police state in Canada where CSIS can be “legally” authorized to conduct black ops and dirty tricks, including entrapment. It invades our privacy and allows CSIS and the RCMP to “share” information - as they did with Maher Arar.

The aim is to silence dissenting voices. I used to consider myself lucky to live in a country like Canada where we could be free to criticize the government without repercussions. Those days are sadly ending. Bill C-51 flies in the face of Canadian values of freedom and diverse opinions. The Conservatives are anti-Canadian – not protesters.

Why are Israel's critics being slammed? I believe this is a political move by Harper in anticipation of an election to try to court the evangelical Christian and right-wing Jewish vote. What can we do? There is an election coming. I've never been one to tell people how to vote, but we need to vote the Conservatives out. The Liberals, who supported Bill C-51, are no better. Vote for a party that will repeal Bill C-51 and, while perhaps not agree with everything each and every one of us may espouse, would at least protect our freedom of speech and expression. Once human rights are taken away, they are difficult to get back.

So, once again, take a good look at me – one of the faces of Harper's enemies - and hear me when I say that we are heading down a slippery slope and we have the power to change things. We did it in Alberta and we can do it federally. We have to.

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