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Bill C-85 and its implications On Palestine


On Tuesday September 22nd at the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey told the United Nations General Assembly "Israel, which was almost non-existent in 1947, has continued until this day to seize Palestinian land with the aim of eliminating the state and the Deal of the Century will support those territorial ambitions."

Erdogan held up four maps to illustrate his point, with the Palestinians in green and Israel in white, to demonstrate Israel’s changing border from 1947 to today.

Erdogan asked, “Where are the borders of the State of Israel? Is it the 1947 borders, the 1967 borders or is there another border that we need to know of?”

The question Canadians need to ask is the position of Canada with regards to West Bank and Palestine in light of the current Liberal government decision asking the Federal Court of Appeal to quash an order that said wines from the West Bank couldn't carry a "Product of Israel" label.

Pro-Israel groups have applauded the move taken by the liberal Government. The issue is now nearly three years old and yet to be decided whether bottles from the Psagot Winery and Shiloh Winery in the West Bank can be characterized as coming from Israel and not West Bank.

B'nai Brith Canada has called the Government decision to appeal "the only reasonable option available" to the government in this case.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said the agency's decision to accept the "Product of Israel" label was reasonable because the wines came from areas considered Israeli territory under the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement.

"This has been the official policy of the Canadian government for decades," said Dimitri Lascaris. He added that the Liberal government's decision to appeal "makes a mockery of its claim to be committed to a 'rules-based international order.'"

Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (Bill C-85)

On Monday, May 27, 2019 Governor General signified assent to Bill C-85.  Honourable Jim Carr, Minister of International Trade Diversification welcomed royal assent of Bill C-85 and said, “The modernized Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement represents another milestone in the great friendship between our two countries and promises even deeper relations in the years to come. Our new agreement improves access to the Israeli market for Canadian companies, creating the right conditions for small and medium-sized businesses to compete and succeed, and to create jobs for the middle class here in Canada.”

The bill passed without taking concerns raised by the opposition parties.  Bloc MP for Joliette (Québec) Gabriel Ste-Marie at a second reading had said, “I want to point out an anomaly in the agreement as drafted that must be corrected. Although we are supposed to be debating a free trade agreement between Canada and Israel, that is not what the text states. In fact, this seems to be an agreement with Israel and the occupied territories. By ratifying the agreement as written, Canada would be in some way recognizing that the occupied territories actually belong to Israel. Such a position is in contravention to Canada's foreign policy, international law and the will of the UN Security Council.”

NDP MP for Essex (Ontario) Tracey Ramsey who also spoke on the second reading also cautioned the Liberal Government that, “they could have negotiated much stronger language, as was done in the European Union-Israel trade agreement, which states:

Relations between the Parties, as well as all the provisions of the Agreement itself, shall be based on respect for human rights and democratic principles, which guides their internal and international policy and constitutes an essential element of this Agreement.

I have to ask why the government did not bother to include a similar general line, at the very least, on human rights provisions in this agreement.”

She continued further saying, “As I said, New Democrats have worked for decades for a peaceful resolution in Israel and Palestine and we will continue to fight for fairness and justice for all, including within this agreement.”

NDP MP for Windsor—Tecumseh (Ontario) Cheryl Hardcastle also spoke on the bill with her concerns.

She said, “I am quite proud of the amendments we proposed at committee for this bill. We brought forward amendments on human rights, gender rights, indigenous rights and labour rights—reasonable and achievable amendments, as proven by the advances made by the European Union in the update of its free trade agreement with Israel—to ensure that relations between Canada and Israel are based on respect for human rights and international law.

As our party's critic for international human rights, I am gravely concerned about the impact these trade agreements have on human rights in the nations involved. Economic objectives, unfortunately, conflict with human rights obligations in many scenarios.”

As for this Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement, I am deeply concerned about the lack of human rights protections in the bill and the lack of recognition of the rights of Palestinians living in their sovereign territories occupied by Israel.

Canadians expect their government to sign trade deals that respect human rights, international law and our foreign affairs policies. This legislation does not conform to these expectations. Without these protections, the Canadian government is not respecting Canada's commitment to a peaceful and just settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The European Union at least pushed for and received a human rights clause in its free trade agreement with Israel. Notably, since 2015, the EU, a member of the World Trade Organization, has required that products from the occupied territories be labelled as such. While the Israel government has opposed these measures, it has not challenged them at the World Trade Organization.

This trade agreement appears to fail to distinguish between the State of Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

Neither Canada nor the United Nations recognizes these settlements as part of Israel. These settlements are illegal. They clearly violate the fourth Geneva convention, which prohibits the settlement of territories acquired by war and the movement of indigenous people in those territories, among other things.

I am gravely concerned that this agreement fails our international commitment. It fails its own international commitment to be a respected covenant of trade with another sovereign power. It puts us afoul of international law. Products made in the occupied territories in Palestine must be labelled as such. To fail to do so amounts to a countenance of illegal annexation of territory.”

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) also called the Canadian Government to amend the bill.

“It is imperative that the Canadian government have an equal expectation of all states,” asserted Thomas Woodley, President of CJPME. “If Russia’s occupation of Crimea is worthy of economic sanctions, why isn’t Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian territories met with similar sanctions?”

In an open letter addressed to the Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, and the Minister of International Trade and Diversification, the Honourable James Gordon Carr, Amnesty International had raised the absence of distinction between products made on illegal Israeli settlements and other Israeli products.

Amnesty stated, “The Canadian government’s adoption of Bill C-85 implies that Canada is not only accepting the illegal construction of settlement homes and infrastructure on Palestinian land, but is actively contributing to Israeli and international businesses in settlements which have established a thriving economy to sustain their presence and expansion. This “settlement enterprise”, which relies on unlawfully appropriated Palestinian resources, including land, water and minerals, to produce goods that are exported and sold for private profit, is inherently illegal and causes tremendous harm to Palestinians in the OPT.”

NDP issued a statement on August 2nd,stating, “This week, the Federal Court ordered the removal of “product of Israel” labels from wines made in the West Bank, in the occupied Palestinian territories. Such labels, the Court ruled, are “false, misleading and deceptive,” and therefore violate Canada’s consumer protection and food and drugs laws. New Democrats welcome this decision, which we view as a step forward for justice in Israel and Palestine.

During the debate on Bill C-85, the bill that amends the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement’s implementation law, Trudeau’s Liberals chose to ignore what New Democrats clearly pointed out: the agreement covered products made in Israeli settlements and occupied territories. Liberals deliberately overlooked the fact that neither Canada nor the United Nations recognize these settlements as part of Israel. These settlements are illegal and clearly violate the fourth Geneva Convention.

In light of the Federal Court’s decision, we call on Trudeau’s Liberals to amend its laws, policies and practices to ensure full compliance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 (2016), which calls on all States to “distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.”

Products made in illegal settlements that are imported into Canada with “Product of Israel” labels fly in the face of the Government of Canada’s policy on the status of Palestinian territory as well as international law. In fact, the European Union introduced guidelines in 2015 for the labelling of products originating from territories occupied by Israel since June 1967. It’s time for Canada to respect human rights and international law.

New Democrats believe that Canada must always have a strong and principled foreign policy, including when it comes to international trade agreements, that is based on human rights and international law. The NDP will always stand up for what is right, even when others don’t have the courage to do it.”