A tale of two Greens

Annamie Paul (Credit: Green Party of Canada)

Life moves so fast these days, it’s a wonder any of us can remember what happened 10 months ago, let alone 10 years ago or even more. Take the Green Party of Canada, for instance: for weeks now, Canadian media, The CJN included, have been focused on the bitter fight between the party’s leader, Annamie Paul, on the one side, and Green Party leadership on the other. Hardly a day goes by without new allegations and party leaks—all of it highlighting the “unprecedented” nature of the battle. 

Without a doubt, Annamie Paul, the first Black and Jewish leader of a Canadian federal party, is unprecedented. But what if I told you, her current struggle isn’t? What if there were a similar case in recent Canadian history against which we could compare Paul and the Greens’ struggle? 

Fortunately for us there is. You see, in September 2008, just before the start of the official federal election campaign in October of that year, the Green Party dismissed John Shavluk, its candidate in the B.C. riding of Newton-North Delta, over allegations he had made antisemitic remarks several years prior in a blog post. A Globe and Mail report from the time records his misdeed:

“During an exchange over the Internet with a policeman in Washington, D.C. on the many conspiracy theories floating around about the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Shavluk wrote: “hey i heard some guy in Australia knows someone who says he had something to do with your governments complicate attack on your shoddily built Jewish world bank headquarters. you know ‘the 2 towers’ (who has the ring I wonder) better invade there too eh, oh no oil?…”

Shavluk maintained his innocence, arguing he was merely repeating things conspiracy theorists say about 9/11, not endorsing them. “I am not antisemitic,” he said.  “I am pro-human rights.” But Elizabeth May, Green Party leader at the time, refused to sign his nomination papers. “We condemn antisemitism and our members work to encourage respectful dialogue, diversity, peace and co-operation,” she said. Shavluk took his case to the Greens’ appeal committee, which confirmed the decision to remove him.

After the election, he sued May and the Green Party for libel, arguing that they knew he was not antisemitic before the Green leader spoke publicly about his ouster and the party sent out a news release denouncing him. May testified, telling the court that she had postponed the release of the party news release while trying to get in touch with Shavluk.

In June 2010, Judge Carol Ross of the B.C. Supreme Court ruled that the comments were indeed defamatory, but that the Greens were protected under the then-new “responsible communication” defence, because the issue was a matter of “public interest” and the party tried to reach out to Shavluk before publishing. 

And that was the end of that chapter in Green Party history. 

The similarities between the Shavluk affair and the current Green crisis are striking. Both cases revolve around allegations of antisemitism; both revealed bitter infighting within the party; both involved apparent miscommunication between the office of the leader and a candidate, even attempts to solve the problem before it got out of hand. One resulted in the turfing of a Green candidate, the other with the defection to the Liberals of a Green MP, Jenica Atwin, (who subsequently “adjusted” her position after accusing Israel of apartheid, which is what started this whole issue in the first place). The former ended in court; it is not unreasonable that the latter may ultimately, too.

But what is even more striking than the similarities between the two cases are the differences. Unlike Paul, May had the full backing of the party throughout—indeed, all the way up to provincial supreme court. No one seemed to bat an eye when she publicly took on apparent antisemitism in her ranks. No one tried to cut her funding or force her to pay her own way in the libel suit. No Green Party sources went to the press anonymously with questions about her ability to lead the party going forward. No one tried to replace her, or complained that she really shouldn’t have won the leadership in the first place. No one accused Elizabeth May of having dual loyalties.

I’ll leave it up to you to try and figure out just why that is.

Yoni Goldstein is the CEO and Editor-in-Chief of The CJN.

READ MORE: Annamie Paul considered quitting ‘many times’ over ‘incredibly painful’ period