Combatting discrimination in all its forms

The National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa is to be unveiled next autumn.
The National Holocaust Monument in Ottawa is to be unveiled next autumn.

As Parliament returns this week, our community should be encouraged by the constructive relationships we have with the major federal political parties. The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ (CIJA) non-partisan approach is appreciated by the Liberals, the Conservatives, and the NDP.

As the vice chair of CIJA’s national board, co-chair of CIJA GTA, past chair of the Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee (CJPAC), and someone who has been active in politics for years, I have a unique view on how our non-partisan approach to advocacy enables us to advance the public policy interests of the organized Jewish community.

Cross-party relationships, nurtured over decades, have helped CIJA achieve important outcomes. For example, in the last Parliament, CIJA and our partners built unanimous, all-party support to change Canadian foreign policy to reflect the experience of Jewish refugees from the Middle East and North Africa. Canada is the first country outside of Israel to acknowledge, through a formal decision of cabinet, the plight of the nearly one million Jews who were forced to flee their homes after the creation of the Jewish state.

For years, our community was troubled that Canada was the only G7 nation without a memorial to the victims of the Shoah in its capital. Next autumn, after years of effort, that will change when the National Holocaust Monument is unveiled in Ottawa. CIJA is honoured to have continued the work of the Canada Israel Committee and Canadian Jewish Congress, and partnered with government and community members across Canada to create a striking memorial to the victims of this most egregious incarnation of anti-Semitism.

We combat discrimination in all its forms. As a member of the Canadian Coalition for Genetic Fairness, CIJA is advocating for the prohibition of genetic discrimination. This is particularly relevant for Jewish women because the BRCA genetic markers that indicate an elevated risk for breast and ovarian cancers are disproportionately prevalent among Ashkenazim, making genetic testing a very important diagnostic tool for our community. The Liberals, Conservatives and NDP all affirmed their commitment to banning genetic discrimination during an election debate hosted by CIJA and UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. We will continue working with all parties to see this campaign pledge become enshrined in law. We will also work with all parties at the provincial level to ensure that Canadians are protected from genetic discrimination in jurisdictions across the country.

Because these issues span the federal-provincial divide, so, too, do our relationships. In Ontario, specifically, we were pleased when Premier Kathleen Wynne announced her upcoming mission to Israel at CIJA’s 2015 Words and Deeds dinner, building on her government’s pledge to establish a trade office in Israel. This commitment to promote bilateral ties is particularly important as the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement takes hold in Europe.

Regarding BDS, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly spoken out on the issue in support of Israel’s fundamental rights. When the prime minister reached out to CIJA leadership immediately following the election, he reiterated that his government would maintain Canadian support for Israel. We applauded the government last week when our diplomats walked the talk at the United Nations. The federal government is working closely with our community and has kept its pledge, maintaining Canada’s principled opposition to the annual barrage of resolutions at the UN General Assembly that single out Israel for one-sided condemnation, one of only eight countries out of 193 to do so.

There is, perhaps, no better example than Bill C-51 of how our relationships are allowing us to participate in consequential policy debates. Because the Jewish community is an at-risk group, CIJA is active in the discussion around the contentious anti-terrorism bill that became law during the last Parliament. Like the Liberals, we supported the bill with caveats. As a result of our just, thoughtful, non-partisan position, our intervention was welcomed by all three parties.

Our views were reflected in the Liberal party’s orientation toward the bill and our House of Commons testimony was quoted, alongside the testimony of other experts testifying on the bill, in a government release. Even the NDP, which voted against the legislation, offered praise, most notably for our proposal that the chair of the security intelligence review committee be designated an officer of Parliament.

When Trudeau phoned CIJA leadership, C-51 was an important part of the discussion. The prime minister affirmed his close, longstanding relationship with CIJA and the organized Jewish community. He indicated that he wanted our meaningful and mutually beneficial relationship to continue, on C-51 and the wide array of issues on our community’s public policy agenda.

From working with UJA Federation of Greater Toronto to reduce the cost of Jewish education, to community security, to combating discrimination, and to the myriad other issues on our list of priorities, CIJA is deeply committed to improving the quality of Jewish life across Canada. Our work is possible because of relationships. As we welcome the new Parliament, we invite you to start a relationship with us, learn about our work, take our community survey, or just tell us how you feel. Together we can make a difference. 

Joel Reitman is the vice-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and co-chair of CIJA GTA. For more information, click here.