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Liron Libman: Moral judgments on the war should focus on motives, not numbers

Commentary

As the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas persists, numerous media reports fixate on the grim “body count” of both sides.

At the moment, more than 1,300 Israelis have lost their lives, primarily civilians executed by Hamas’s death squads, and some 200 Israelis have been taken captive. According to the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas, 3,300 Palestinians have perished with roughly half of them being women and children.

The suffering of each innocent human being is a catastrophe and should not be weighed according to their nationality, ethnicity or religion. However, when assessing the complete situation, one cannot relieve oneself from taking a careful look at the direct cause of the death and suffering.

Both legal and moral assessments should focus less on numbers and more on the intentions and motives behind the violence.

It is important to begin by asking: What was the objective of Hamas’s orchestrated attack on Israel on October 7th?

When considering the broader context, it is clear that while military installations and observation cameras were targeted at the outset of the assault, these were merely means to achieve a more sinister end—gaining unrestricted access to undefended civilian towns and kibbutzim near the Gaza border.

Once this access was achieved, Hamas forces made no effort to locate and engage Israeli military forces positioned farther from the border. Instead, death squads infiltrated these communities, moving from house to house, to slaughter entire families. In many cases, this violence was accompanied by torture and rape, with children bound together and, horrifyingly, burned alive. Elderly individuals and children were kidnapped and taken to Gaza.

This was no covert operation. On the contrary, live videos were uploaded in real-time to social media, sometimes even on the victim’s own smartphone. Such horrifying scenes recurred in various kibbutzim that were raided. From an international law perspective, these attacks leave no room for doubt about intentions: the leaders of Hamas executed a widespread and systematic strategy that directly targeted the civilian population with the aim of terrorizing not only the victims but also their surviving family members, neighbours, and the Israeli population to discourage them from returning to their homes. In other words, this was an act of ethnic cleansing, genocide, and a crime against humanity. But don’t take my word for it: the evidence is available on your phone, TV and iPad.

Now let’s turn to what causes civilian casualties among Palestinians. The Israeli Air Force conducts airstrikes in Gaza with the goal of achieving military objectives and targeting the military infrastructure of Hamas, often situated within civilian neighborhoods. Attacking such targets is legally acceptable unless the expected loss to civilians is excessive in relation to the military advantage anticipated. The more vital the military necessity to neutralize the target, the narrower the scope for taking precautions to protect civilians in the vicinity. Assessing this balance is challenging from an external perspective since the military commander’s judgment relies on classified intelligence and real-time developments on the ground. The unfortunate harm to civilians, while regrettable, cannot, in and of itself, serve as an indicator of wrongdoing.

When we scrutinize intentions after this analysis, the contrast becomes stark: Hamas targeted military sites as a means to an end, namely, attacking the Israeli civilian population. Meanwhile, Palestinian civilians are unintentionally harmed as a consequence of efforts to neutralize Hamas’s military infrastructure.

Contrary to media coverage, war should not be viewed as a sporting event, and the relative “score” of civilian casualties should never be used as a moral yardstick. The media must also be cautious about being quick to lay blame. We have already seen a modern blood libel following the explosion at al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza that was the result of an errant rocket fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad and verified by U.S. intelligence.

In this challenging time for the Israeli people as our military seeks to restore our security and safety in a very dangerous region, we ask Canadians and citizens of all liberal democracies for their support and to focus on intentions. There are times when a clear and unequivocal legal and moral judgment is imperative. A quotation that has often been attributed to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (drawing from Dante) says it best: “the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” There comes a time when silence becomes betrayal.

Do not remain silent; stand with liberal democracies; support Israel.

Andrew Evans: Quick fixes won’t save Trudeau’s environmental impact law

Commentary

In a somewhat unexpected decision last week, the Supreme Court of Canada deemed that the federal impact assessment scheme under the Trudeau government’s Impact Assessment Act was largely unconstitutional.

It’s a major decision that could have far-reaching consequences for Canadian energy policy and federal-provincial relations more generally.

At question was whether the federal government had the ability to regulate projects carried out or financed by federal authorities on federal lands or outside Canada. The federal government argued that although the regulation of natural resource projects is generally a provincial responsibility, the emissions and environmental effects of such projects means that federal jurisdiction is impacted. The Supreme Court disagreed.

Perhaps one of the most noteworthy sections from the Supreme Court decision came from Chief Justice Wagner: “the defined term ‘effects within federal jurisdiction’ does not align with federal legislative jurisdiction…but rather, goes far beyond its limits.” This overreach from the federal government shows either a lack of awareness from the government lawyers who drafted the legislation, or a political willingness to supersede those limits.

The reaction from the Trudeau government has been telling. Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault has underplayed the decision, saying they will “work quickly to improve the legislation through Parliament.” The idea that the legislation is just in need of a quick fix shows how Ottawa views the problem, and almost guarantees further court challenges on whatever new scheme that it ultimately designs.

Fundamentally, the Supreme Court ruling was not calling for a simple quick fix: it was a wholesale rejection of the law based on the Court’s critique of the federal government’s wrong-headed understanding of its jurisdictional scope. To reject this critique embedded in the decision is to ignore the ruling of the Court.

If the federal government decides to simply ram another constitution-violating regulatory process through Parliament, it won’t merely be an affront to the Court’s decision. The result will be terrible for national unity and Canada overall. In light of the political infighting and regulatory uncertainty, companies will simply look elsewhere to do major investments.

Provinces will blame Ottawa for losing those investments because of a quixotic political crusade, and relations between the provinces and the federal government will continue to degrade. If a revived permitting regime is again taken to court, tensions will again be ratcheted up. This can only end poorly for all involved.

This does not mean that Ottawa needs to retreat on the question of environmental protection, something the Trudeau government’s voting coalition would likely not tolerate. The Court stated that “Parliament can enact impact assessment legislation to regulate (provincially regulated projects) from a federal perspective, so long as the regulation of federal aspects represents the dominant characteristic of the law.”

There will continue to be major projects that will have federal aspects, such as mines on federal lands, impacts on fisheries, and offshore mineral rights. The government can take heart that the regulations it imposes on those projects can be as environmentally stringent as desired, and be well within its sanctioned constitutional limits. There may even be an opportunity to use these narrow areas as an opportunity to model a permitting regime for provinces to emulate.

More generally, the federal government should instead use this opportunity productively to seize the moment and begin to mend its relationships with the provinces that have become so poisonous.

It’s important to note that it’s not just about Alberta. Nine provinces were intervenors in this case against the federal law. Politically, this can be a moment to restore a more productive cooperative federalism as outlined in the Constitution Act. Provinces of course recognize the need for environmental protection, but they also understand the distinct need to speed up permitting to attract investment and build new projects.

Without reform, we invite greater reliance on riskier supply chains in raw materials that we can otherwise provide ourselves, like lithium, cobalt, nickel, and uranium. With reform, by contrast, we can leverage the country’s rich natural resource advantages and turn them into renewed sources of economic activity and greater influence in the world.

The Supreme Court decision wrote that “shared responsibility is neither unusual nor unworkable in a federal state such as Canada.” Environmental issues are not the only ones that require cooperation between our levels of governments, and this decision is a great reminder for governments of the dangers of not working together.

Political differences can and must be worked through to make Canada function, and doing so makes us all stronger.