‘Apology not accepted’: Behind Jewish groups’ furor over Canada’s new human rights commissioner

Birju Dattani
Birju Dattani, the incoming chief commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, was head of Yukon's provincial human rights body until 2023. (Photo courtesy Yukon Human Rights Commission YouTube)

Birju Dattani is a Canadian human rights lawyer who worked in the Yukon and his home province of Alberta before being catapulted into the highest-profile human rights job in the country a few weeks ago. In mid-June, Canada’s justice minster announced Dattani’s appointment for a five-year term as chief commissioner at the federal human rights watchdog. But the ink was hardly dry on the Order-in-Council before disturbing allegations began surfacing about some anti-Israel social media posts and lectures he made a decade ago while a university student in England. Jewish groups and other researchers discovered he’d shared a panel with a virulent Islamic terrorist, protested outside the Israeli embassy and once shared an article that compared Israelis to Nazis.

Now the federal justice minister, Arif Virani, has launched an investigation—although he isn’t rescinding the job offer, despite calls to do so from CIJA, B’nai Brith, Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal and the federal Conservatives. Dattani denies he is antisemitic, saying he didn’t do the things he is accused of, has apologized if the revelations caused harm to the Jewish community, and is confident he will be vindicated.

But as we’ll hear on today’s episode of The CJN Daily, at least one prominent Jewish outfit has a hard message for Dattani: “Apology not accepted.” Shimon Koffler Fogel, the CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, joins from Ottawa to explain his position.

What we talked about:

  • Hear Michael Geist discuss his concerns about the new Online Harms law and the changes to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the powers it will give to the CHRC, on The CJN Daily.
  • Read Birju Dattani’s official statement on his LinkedIn page distancing himself from the allegations, denying them, and expressing confidence he will be vindicated.
  • Learn more about the changes to the Canadian Human Rights Act as part of Bill C-63, introduced in the spring of 2024, in The CJN.
  • Read the order in council appointing Birju Dattani to the new position, on the Government of Canada’s website.

Credits:

The CJN Daily is written and hosted by Ellin Bessner (@ebessner on Twitter). Zachary Kauffman is the producer. Michael Fraiman is the executive producer. Our theme music is by Dov Beck-Levine.  We’re a member of The CJN Podcast Network. To subscribe to this podcast, please watch this video. Donate to The CJN and receive a charitable tax receipt by clicking here. Hear why The CJN is important to me.