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Daily News Analysis

Ontario government railroaded controversial IHRA definition behind closed doors, bypassing public input

Crescent International

By Karen Rodman

The October 26 implementation by the Ontario government of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance(IHRA) definition through an Order-in-Council has raised serious questions.

To implement such a controversial definition that impinges on people’s fundamental rights through an order-in-council was definitely a very unusual move.

IHRA essentially criminalizes criticism of Israeli policies especially relating to the oppression of Palestinians.

The author of the definition, Kenneth Stern, had warned against weaponizing antisemitism by writing it into law.

Several days earlier (October 22), the Justice Policy Standing Committee of the Ontario Legislature met to consider committee process with respect to Bill-168 (that incorporates the IHRA definition).

It was referred to the committee pursuant to the order of the assembly on February 27, 2020.

The transcripts from the October 22 Justice Policy meeting and the subsequent meeting on October 27 are still not posted on the Committee webpage, despite being ready soon after the meeting.

The transcripts point to efforts by Conservative members to have the meetings “in camera.” Why so much secrecy about an issue of great public importance?

Perhaps this is why they have not made it to the government webpage.

The October 22 meeting began with a motion from Conservative member and co-sponsor of Bill-168, Will Bouma that the committee enter closed session for the purposes of organizing committee business.

New Democratic Party (NDP) member Gurratan Singh questioned this move.

“This is a matter that a lot of people are interested in, and I think the public would like to see this discourse publicly. There are not any privacy issues here or any commercial interest here, so I think it’s best that this conversation is one that is in open session,” Mr. Singh said.

Bouma persisted this it is routine for such organizational meeting to be closed but NDP Monique Taylor rebutted by pointing out “Historically, meetings pertaining to organization have not been done in closed committee.”

The motion for a closed in camera meeting was defeated 4 to 3.

Another delaying tactic was deployed.

Conservative members indicated their MPP colleague Effie Triantafilopoulos had not been able to get onto the “zoom call” (the pandemic has forced most meetings to be conducted via zoom).

The clerk confirmed there had been NO technical issues, nor had the MPP made contact to say she was having problems.

In the end it seemed Ms. Triantahilopoulos had misplaced her password for phoning in.

Perhaps a kindergarten class could be asked to help MPPs run government processes using Zoom!

After several attempts to null and void the in-camera motion and add a new motion that was in substance the same, chair Roman Baber upheld the original decision.

The meeting moved to business with MPP Bouma moving that public hearings on Bill-168 be held on October 28 and 30.

The date for the committee to meet for clause-by-clause consideration of Bill-168 was also established: “Tuesday, November 3, 2020, from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. until 11:59 p.m.”

Several NDP members asked for more time since they had received thousands of emails from the public.

NDP’s Singh said “It’s important that we prepare for a situation in which there’s a lot of interest and people should have their time to be able… to give their input.”

NDP member Monique Taylor also confirmed her office had received over 3,000 emails from each side of this Bill.

MPP Collard said “I didn’t realize the extent of the interest that might be brought on this bill, but I have to admit that my phone has been ringing off the hook since this morning, since, I guess, people have heard that the committee is reviewing this bill.”

There was a clear sense that MPPs had not seen anything quite like this in regard to interest in a private member Bill.

Adjustments were made to Bouma’s original motion to provide more time to the sponsors of the Bill and the opposition, but not add more hearing times.

Despite attempts to get amendments to increase hearing times, this did not happen, with the motion passing 6 to 4.

MPP Taylor said that “I just think it’s disappointing that the government has strangled the committee process and has stopped the people of Ontario who had interest in this bill, because it is very heartfelt for many individuals in our province, and I think it’s unfortunate that the government doesn’t see fit to allow anybody who wants to speak to this bill to come forward before us.”

With public hearing dates set (October 28 and 30), NDP MPPs immediately began writing to people who had shown interest in speaking regarding IHRA on how they could register to make presentation.

Despite a clear majority in the provincial assembly, the Doug Ford Conservative government decided to bypassed the hearing process and passed Bill 168 through an Order-in-Council 1450/2020.

It was clear that the government was terrified of public reaction to this extremely controversial bill. So much for democracy and people’s rights!

On October 27, the Justice Policy Standing Committee met again.

NDP Singh spoke again pointing out that “this is an issue that’s incredibly important—there’s a lot of interest and people want to hear about it across the board, across our province; we’ve had thousands of emails, a large number of people wanting to delegate—it’s important that this conversation stay public. In addition, if we are hearing that this private member’s bill has already passed, if this is what’s being heard right now, it’s totally flying in the face of democracy and this committee and the democratic institutions and the fact that we should have open committees that people can depute and speak to. That even bolsters the position that we should have this conversation for the public to hear in the open. It should be a discussion that should not be in camera; it should be the opposite. It should be something that people can hear and listen to because we should be held accountable and the public deserves an update.”

NDP MPP Monique Taylor also pressed for the public’s right to hear what is taking place in regard to a bill that has been railroaded through an order-in-council.

The motion was defeated and the meeting went in camera, leaving the public unaware of what was discussed.

Did they discuss details of the Order-in-Council? Was there discussion on what would happen with Bill-168?

Coming out of the meeting, it was clear the hearings scheduled for the next day, October 28 and Friday, October 30 were cancelled.

For over two weeks multiple calls to the Ontario Public Service have been ignored.

Ontarians have not been able to get answers regarding the analysis and process associated with such an atypical use of an Order-in-Council made by Royal Prerogative that is not even tied to legislation.

Currently multiple access to information requests have been put in to several key ministries to determine what the process and analysis was in regard to the implementation of the Order-in-Council.

To date, over 400 letters have been written to all Ontario NDP caucus and executive members asking for a clear denouncement of the IHRA, the revocation of Order in Council 1450/2020, and the withdrawal of Bill-168.

To date no response has been received from the Ontario NDP.

The party said in a statement on October 28, they “voted for the bill on second reading while explicitly and specifically saying it was doing so in order to ensure Ontarians would be welcomed into committee hearings, and amendments could be proposed.”

While support for democratic procedure is laudable, to vote in favour of a Bill that silences people is problematic.

Ontarians can send their own letter to the Ontario NDP at https://actionnetwork.org/letters/write-letter-to-the-ontario-ndp-regarding-ihra and ask to denounce the IHRA, call for the revocation of Order-in-Council 1450/2020 and the withdrawal of Bill 168.

As reported earlier by Crescent International, over 30 civil organizations have signed a statement condemning the IHRA outlining concerns related to it standing as a legal standard.

Just Peace Advocates (JPA), a Canadian human rights organization indicated “We question if the Order-in-Council 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.”

It is important that the Order-in-Council be revoked and Bill-168 be withdrawn.

Karen Rodman is director with Just Peace Advocates, and a retired senior manager with 30+ years with the Ontario Public Service.

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