Scores of legal and civil society organizations in Ontario have expressed dismay at the manner in which the Ford government rammed IHRA definition into law.
The October 27 ‘Order in Council’ 1450/2020 was rushed through without public input or discussion.
IHRA stands for International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance that was adopted at the Plenary session in Budapest in May 2016.
Presented as a private member’s bill in the Ontario Legislative Assembly, IHRA had gone through two readings and was before the Justice Policy Standing Committee for review.
At this stage, input from the public was sought. The deadline for written submission was October 30 but while 100 individuals had requested to make presentations, they were cut short by the Order in Council issued by Ford on October 26.
Some 3,000 Ontarians had sent a petition to every member of provincial assembly and more than 100 individuals and organizations wanted to appear before the Committee
Instead of giving the people of Ontario the opportunity to express their views, the Ford government subverted the democratic process by imposed IHRA through an Order in Council.
Why was the government in such a hurry to push through IHRA into law without even going through the legislative process?
After all, the Ford Conservatives have a clear majority in the assembly.
The government was terrified that organizations and individuals that wanted to make presentations before the Justice Policy Committee would expose the dangers of enacting IHRA definition into law.
What has further irked legal and civil society organizations is the fact that IHRA definition conflates legitimate criticism of Israel with antisemitism.
No country, no leader and no organization anywhere in the world is exempt from criticism.
So, what is so special about Israel that it must be shielded from legitimate criticism?
Under the just-adopted definition in Ontario, a person who says Israel is brutalizing Palestinian children or Israeli settlers are stealing the Palestinians’ lands could be charged with indulging in anti-Semitism.
Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), an organization comprising fair-minded people of the Jewish faith have criticized the Ford government’s adoption of IHRA.
Corey Balsam, IJV’s national coordinator, in a statement on October 27 said, “This is a travesty of democracy and must be denounced in no uncertain terms.”
He further stated: “Clearly, the Ontario government was afraid of what would come out at public hearings about the IHRA definition and its real intention, which is to shield Israel from criticism.”
IHRA’s definition has faced opposition from more than 450 Canadian academics who fear its ramifications on academic freedom.
The author of the definition itself, Kenneth Stern, has warned against weaponizing antisemitism by writing the definition into law.
Testifying before US Congress, Stern had warned against adopting it into law.
He pointed out that it was drafted to serve as a “working definition” and to use as a research tool to track anti-Semitism in Europe.
It was never intended to stifle legitimate criticism of Israel.
Pro-Israeli groups have run away with this definition ramming it into law in Ontario by using false narratives in an attempt to shield Israel from well-deserved criticism of its atrocious conduct.
Further, it is used to muzzle Palestinian human rights organizations and their supporters from speaking out against Israel.
To date, there have been at least 3 dozen cases around the world where the IHRA definition has been used to silence any support for Palestinians.
More than 30 organizations in Ontario representing hundreds of thousands of people have vowed to challenge it on legal grounds.
While these organizations admit that anti-Semitism is real and must be confronted at every level, there are also other forms of racism that must be challenged and fought.
They also emphasize that it is inappropriate to fight anti-Semitism by creating hatred against others, especially the Palestinians.
Just Peace Advocates (JPA), a Canadian human rights organization, speaking on behalf of 30 legal and human rights organizations issued the following statement:
“We question if this actually would stand the test as a law, and if in fact the government used this approach as they understood the risks of implementing a technically unsound legislation.”
JPA pointed to two difficulties with adopting the IHRA definition into law under Bill 168.
“First, it is technically unsound as a piece of legislation. It purports to create a legal definition of antisemitism, but the definition it adopts was explicitly not intended to serve as a legal definition. Rather, it was purposely drafted to be broad and open-ended, which makes it ideal for its original purpose but woefully inadequate as a formal legal standard. Second, and more importantly, its vagueness leaves it susceptible to being abused and manipulated by opponents of free expression.”
It went on: “Bill 168 adopts ‘the working definition of antisemitism and the list of illustrative examples of it adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance [IHRA]’.”
IJV’s Balsam stated: “This anti-democratic order is fitting for the IHRA definition, which poses such a grave threat to democratic principles of free expression and the right to protest.”
He went on: “One thing is for certain that we will not be deterred from our efforts to denounce the state of Israel for its systemic racism against the Palestinians. If that means we will be engaging in civil disobedience, then so be it.”
The Ford government may have got itself into a legal limbo by adopting IHRA’s definition into law.
Legal and political challenges are bound to follow.