When planning the two-day ‘Antisemitism: Face It, Fight It’ conference in Ottawa, organizers with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs knew they wanted leaders of Canada’s federal political parties to speak.
After the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, those invitations became even more important.
The attack killed over 1,400 Israelis and injured thousands. Close to 200 people, including children and the elderly, are believed to have been kidnapped and taken to Gaza.
Delegates to the conference heard leaders of Canada’s political parties pledge to support Israel and condemn Hamas, as the conference wrapped up on Oct. 17.
First to speak was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who began his remarks by condemning the attack and calling for the immediate release of all the hostages.
“The hearts of all Canadians are broken,” he said, adding his government “deeply cares” for those who are missing and is in close touch with the hostages’ families.
The Canadian government is also working as quickly and safely as possible to evacuate Canadians in the region impacted by the fighting, he said, noting that 12 flights from Israel have taken out over 1,300 people.
“We will not stop being there for affected Canadians,” he stated.
Israel, he added, has a right to defend itself, and Canada “will always be a friend to Israel, defend its rights, including its right to exist.”
He decried the “unimaginable acts” of indiscriminate killing of Israelis by Hamas, adding that the terrorist organization “doesn’t represent Palestinians or their legitimate aspirations for a better future.” Hamas, he said, only stands for “more suffering for Israel and Palestinians.”
Noting he has heard stories of Canadian Jews who are worried about wearing yarmulkes or star of David necklaces, Trudeau said the RCMP is working to keep the Jewish community safe.
“You are not alone,” he said. “The work of fighting hate is the work of all of us, all Canadians, especially non-Jewish Canadians . . . We all need to stand up and step up.”
He concluded his remarks by saying “this too shall pass… we will get through this together, my friends.”
Trudeau was followed by Pierre Poilievre, leader of the Conservative Party, who said Jews in Canada “have friends who are with you through thick and thin and onward to triumph.”
He went on to condemn Hamas, who he said had the goal of maximizing the “bloodshed of Israelis, Palestinians and Muslims as well.”
Iran, he said, was behind the attack because it wanted to disrupt negotiations between Israel and Arab countries in the region. “They were worried the talks could lead to peace and stability in the Middle East,” he stated.
That, he said, would be “Iran’s worst nightmare” since it would end the “unending supply of suffering and resentment” that fuels conflict in the region.
While saying he grieved equally for innocent Israeli and Palestinians killed and wounded by the fighting, Poilievre said there is “no equivalence between terrorists that seek to maximize the deaths of innocent civilians and the state of Israel that seeks to protect them.”
Canada must ensure there is the minimum loss of life and suffering of the Palestinian people, and that safe zones should be created in Gaza along with a humanitarian corridor for food, medicine and water.
Poilievre called for a comprehensive review of Canadian aid to Palestinians to “make sure it reaches people in need, not terrorists.”
In his remarks, Jagmeet Singh, leader of New Democratic Party, also condemned the attacks, adding he has heard the pain of Jewish Canadians who “are deeply afraid… I want to acknowledge that.”
He also grieved for Palestinians killed and injured by the fighting, he said, and called for the upholding of international law to protect civilians in Gaza.
Celebrations of the attack in Canada are “never justified,” Singh stated, adding “we must all do what we can to tackle the rise in hate.” This includes, he said, doing more to secure places of worship and tackling online hate.
“In these dark times, we must treat each other well,” he said.
Singh called for an immediate ceasefire—acknowledging that “not everyone will agree with me.”
The evening ended with an expression of gratitude for Irwin Cotler, the outgoing Special Envoy for Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism.
A crowd of pro-Palestine protesters was outside the convention centre’s main exit at the end of the evening, requiring conference participants to leave by another door.