By Karen Rodman
Canada recently voted at the United Nations (UN) in support of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.
This is the second successive year that Canada has supported this resolution.
This move has upset the pro-Israel lobby, while some people have seen this as a principled human rights stance.
Until 2019, Canada had voted in support of self-determination for the Palestinian people only in 2005.
However, going back to 1969, Canada was already voting against resolutions supporting the inalienable rights of Palestinians.
In 2019 this was understood by many as an orphan vote.
It was meant to serve as a fig leaf to entice UN member states to vote in favour of Canada’s bid for a seat on the Security Council (UNSC) in July 2020.
In the lead up to the UNSC vote, then foreign affairs minister Chrystia Freeland had said Canada would act as an“asset for Israel” if it secured a Security Council seat.
During the same period, Canada voted ‘no’ 166 times and abstained 49 times from UN resolutions regarding Palestine.
Over the last decade Canada did not vote “yes’ even once until the orphan 2019 vote.
The timing of the appointment by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of a Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism less than a week after the 2020 vote, might be a peace offering to the pro-Israel lobby.
Certainly, it would not have looked good for Canada’s UN Ambassador Bob Rae to vote against self-determination andexpose Canada’s ‘yes’ vote in 2019 as an opportunistic ploy to get support for its Security Council bid.
During the Jean Chrétien Liberal decade from 1993 to 2003, Canada voted ‘yes’ or abstained on UN votes regarding the question of Palestine.
Since elected in 2015, the Trudeau liberals have not deviated from the Harper Conservative approach of voting against most Palestine resolutions with an occasional abstention, except for the self-determination vote in 2019 and now in 2020.
The information from the United Nations database reveals that a pro-Israel vote by Canada is not new to the last decade.
Canada’s first ‘nay’ vote regarding Palestine was in 1949 on a resolution about Jerusalem being established as a corpus separatum under a special international regime administered by the UN.
The same year, Canada abstained on a resolution regarding the establishment of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees.
After June 1967, Canada began to vote more consistently against UN resolutions supporting the rights of the people of Palestine.
Over the next two decades Canada’s UN votes were not supportive of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people nor did they condemn the blatant violations of human rights and international law associated with the Israeli occupation.
This shift was seen by civil society in the early years after Israel’s 1967 occupation of more Palestinian lands.
For example, resolutions passed by the United Church of Canada at its 1972 general council were included incorrespondence addressed to Prime Minister P.E. Trudeausaying “We have been troubled too by some of the abstentions and negative votes of the Canadian delegation at the UN. Do such votes indicate a change in Canada’s official policy as expressed in June and July, 1967, resolutions regarding the refugees, the annexation of Jerusalem and the proposal for a settlement of November 22nd, 1967?”
A look at the total numbers of affirmative votes does not tell the whole picture.
Over the years these have included resolutions related to peacekeeping or other issues that served the occupier at least as much as the occupied.
Analysis of votes in the period after the 1993 Oslo agreement shows resolutions were framed based on the peace agreements, and within this framework, the international community voted more consistently in support of UN resolutions related to Palestine.
It was during this decade that Canada joined within the context of Oslo language, voting on motions related to condemning aspects of the occupation.
Prior to 1993 it had not done so.
A cursory look might lead us to say that there has been a huge shift in support, with about 55 percent of Canada’s votes in the twentieth century affirming support for the people of Palestine, and less than 30 percent supporting Palestine rights during the twenty-first century.
The 80 percent support by Canada of UN votes regarding Palestine in the decade post the 1993 Oslo Accords contrasts starkly with less than one percent affirmative votes in the last decade.
However, when one considers the context over the last 73 years, what is consistent is that Canada has offered at most very conditional support to the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.
Karen Rodman is director with Just Peace Advocates, and a retired senior manager with more than 30 years of experience with the Ontario Public Service. Just Peace Advocates has just completed what is believed to be the first review and analysis of Canada’s voting record since 1947