B’nai Brith conducted a cross-country checkup where Canadian politicians promised to do more to fight antisemitism

Participants in B'nai Brith's Zoom call on antisemitism, Nov.7, 2022.

The justice ministers of the two Prairie provinces that this fall adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism say the next step is implementation of its objectives in a practical way.

Tyler Shandro of Alberta, whose United Conservative Party government endorsed the definition in September, told a virtual B’nai Brith Canada meeting that he has since written to every mayor and reeve in the province urging them to do likewise.

“The fight against Jewish-targeted hate crimes and hate speech on social media is becoming more and more urgent,” Shandro said. “Antisemitism is a form of hate; the oldest in the world, the canary in the coal mine, the most toxic in our society.”

He emphasized that former premier Jason Kenney, who resigned in May, “laid the groundwork” for the IHRA adoption and regards it as part of his legacy as premier.

Shandro’s Manitoba counterpart, Kelvin Goertzen, whose Progressive Conservative (PC) government adopted the definition on Oct. 27, said politicians in that province are committed to working across party lines to combat antisemitism.

“We have a responsibility as leaders to be unequivocal in the denunciation of these (antisemitic) acts and comments,” he said.

The Criminal Code and human rights provisions are “obviously not enough,” said Goertzen who wants the justice system to take the IHRA definition into consideration.

Manitoba opposition leader, Liberal Dougald Lamont, said the social media giants should be legally liable for what they disseminate, similar to television and radio networks.

New Brunswick’s PC government also formally adopted the definition in October, 2022.  Although the legislature unanimously passed a motion in March 2021 endorsing it, B’nai Brith pressed for something ‘’more far-reaching” that applied to the whole of government, which Premier Blaine Higgs has now done by declaration.

Former education minister Dominic Cardy, who brought forward the motion in 2021, stressed his personal commitment to countering antisemitism “as a Christian and a Zionist,” even though he is no longer in the caucus.

Cardy sits as an independent after resigning from his party last month.

He proposed forming a non-partisan association of Canadian politicians at all levels interested in promoting the IHRA’s aims, an idea applauded by Marvin Rotrand, national director of B’nai Brith’s League for Human Rights, who chaired the meeting.

From British Columbia, opposition Liberal MLA Michael Lee said his party will press premier-designate David Eby of the New Democrats to follow up on the personal support outgoing Premier John Horgan has expressed for the definition.

The 90-minute Zoom call, billed as a check-in on how antisemitism is being combated across the country, was attended by 130, mostly elected, federal, provincial and municipal officials from across the country.

B’nai Brith is now pressing all jurisdictions to move beyond endorsement to implementation, even though the definition, formulated through broad-based international consensus in 2016, is not legally binding.

Critics say the definition could be used to discredit and silence opponents of Israel or Zionism.

B’nai Brith does not count the Quebec government’s endorsement in June 2021 as adoption.

At that time, the governing Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) made a declaration against antisemitism in the National Assembly that alluded to the IHRA definition, when it failed to get unanimity to table a motion due to Québec Solidaire withholding its consent.

B’nai Brith wants the CAQ, re-elected last month, to adopt the definition through an order-in-council, as other provinces have, which would commit to its implementation through the whole of government.

Benoit Charette, then minister responsible for the fight against racism, “indicated the government would adopt the IHRA definition but the minister’s statement was never followed up on despite repeated outreach from B’nai Brith,” Rotrand said on June 9, 2021.

Charette wrote to B’nai Brith last February to explain why no order-in-council had been adopted, stating, “To adopt a decree, we would need to be able to link it to a framework law (for example, on the fight against racism), which to my surprise does not exist. We are examining what form a bill could be developed to constitute such a framework law.”

B’nai Brith disagrees with that interpretation. In any case, it maintains Premier François Legault could table a government motion for which unanimous consent is not required.

 Elisabeth Prass, the new Liberal MNA for D’Arcy McGee and official anti-racism critic, said she will press the government to adopt the definition more formally.

No one from CAQ took part in the call. 

Mount Royal Liberal MP Anthony Housefather agreed with B’nai Brith that it is “not enough for any government to symbolically adopt (the definition). We need to apply it to all government departments and train (civil servants) in what it means.” 

Canada’s special envoy on antisemitism Irwin Cotler urged the definition to be “mainstreamed across civil society.”