Like The Hub?
Join our community.
Join

Hub contributors react: How should Canada respond to the Israel-Hamas war?

Commentary

On October 7th, Hamas’s coordinated attacks caught Israel unprepared and set off a chain of events that led to a ground invasion of Gaza by the Israel Defense Force last week. As a country with many affected diaspora communities, and as a global partner seeking a stable and lasting resolution to the war, Canada is not untouched by this conflict. So how should we respond? How should our politicians communicate about the events unfolding in the Middle East and on our own streets? How should the news media report on these issues? And how should Canadians with sympathies for those caught up in the violence best channel their efforts? We’ve gathered a group of The Hub’s regulator contributors to bring their perspectives to bear on how our country should approach this war.

Protests are allowed—but they must be lawful

By Ian Brodie, University of Calgary political science professor and former chief of staff to Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper

The Hamas attack of October 7 and Israel’s response have provoked statements and demonstrations in many Canadian cities. Canadians have long enjoyed the constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression (at least since the Alberta Press Case of 1938). In 1982, the Charter of Rights also recognized the right to assemble peacefully. However, as the lawyers remind us, none of these rights is unlimited. Some of the protests we have seen might cross the line into criminal conduct. Provincial governments have options for responding to such protests.

First, protests outside of Jewish community centres are a particular concern. This is particularly so when a community centre houses a school or a daycare. In some provinces, abortion clinics are protected against protests and even public prayers that could be seen or heard by anyone entering or leaving the clinics under provincial law. The Morgentaler Clinic in Toronto is protected by a private injunction. These “bubble zones” are well-accepted by the province’s courts and prosecutors and carefully enforced. To protect children and others, provincial attorneys-general should apply for and enforce similar injunctions to establish bubble zones around Jewish community centres. In this way, protests could still be held but not in places where children and others might be alarmed.

Harsher criminal measures are also available for more damaging behaviour. The Criminal Code outlaws willfully promoting hatred against an identifiable group. Protesters who chant “Kill the Jews” or “Death to the Jews” might be violating that law. In Canada, it is also a crime to advocate genocide. Chanting or displaying placards advocating that Palestine be free “from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea” is, arguably, advocating genocide against the Israelis. Any of these actions might also constitute willfully promoting antisemitism by condoning, denying, or downplaying the Holocaust. That crime was added to the Criminal Code only a year ago in government legislation that responded to a bill drafted by Conservative MP Kevin Waugh.

Such prosecutions require the personal approval of a provincial attorney general. Would a provincial attorney general refuse to prosecute if police hate crimes investigators recommend it?

Measured, accurate reporting is more important than ever

By Amal Attar-Guzman, The Hub’s content editor

With the Israeli-Hamas conflict set to intensify, we have seen various perspectives on the war across Canada similarly heating up. Excluding radical, fringe sentiments on both sides, there have been people greatly concerned about Israel’s ability for self-defence, the ongoing hostage crisis, and Hamas’ possible retaliation. Others have been greatly concerned about the ongoing Israeli airstrikes against Gaza and the grave, humanitarian conditions that Palestinians have been under as a consequence.

One thing is certain. Canadians from the Israeli and Palestinian diasporas are mourning for all those who have been killed and are worried and scared about further escalating violence. Religious–Jewish, Muslim and Christian–communities in general and Middle Eastern ones in particular are concerned about how this conflict may incite religious, ethnic, and racial hatred and its potential to greatly expand and worsen not only in the Middle East but even here at home.

Keeping all of this in mind, the one thing that Canadian politicians, and even those of us in the media, need to do when talking about this conflict and developing or supporting future policy decisions is to keep in mind the impacted communities from this conflict, especially its children.

Israeli-Canadian and Palestinian-Canadian children have been living an absolute nightmare. At home, they are listening to the worries and fears of their parents and relatives who are currently in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. These children have likely personally mourned family and friends who have been killed in the last few weeks.

And when they want to escape into the online world, they can’t. On social media, not only are they seeing ongoing coverage of the conflict, but they’re seeing heightened anti-Israeli and anti-Palestinian rhetoric on top of antisemitic, Islamophobic, and even anti-Arab sentiments. I know this for a fact because I have come across such content as I’ve sought to stay on the conflict’s latest developments. And God knows what they have been hearing at school.

They’re scared and feel a heavy weight on their shoulders every day as this conflict rages on. As such, Canadian news media and politicians need to make sure that our messaging and coverage of the conflict is clear and as accurate as possible, without inciting ignorant, divisive, and even dangerous rhetoric. Now, I know this is a tall order since war reporting and information constantly change as new developments arise. We also all have our biases. But we all can take the extra step in asking critical questions to ensure that information has been properly verified and biases have been mitigated. Being in a position of power and influence is a great privilege and with it comes great responsibility that we are accountable for.

In doing our work, we need to be conscious of the fact that if Israeli and Palestinian diaspora communities are listening to what we’re saying, their children are most definitely listening.

Guilt by association will get us nowhere

By Sean Speer, The Hub’s editor at large

One of the major imperatives for Canadian politicians is the need to (1) condemn Hamas’s terrorist attacks and those in Canada and elsewhere that support them and (2) signal to Arab and Muslim Canadians that they aren’t covered by such condemnation merely due to their ethnicity or religion. There are nearly 2 million Muslims in Canada. There’s no reason to believe that most or all of them support the October 7 attacks against Israel.

For politicians seeking to strike this balance, it may seem a bit counterintuitive but Pierre Poilievre’s message during last year’s Freedom Convoy is instructive. Readers may recall that during the protests he was frequently asked to condemn the protestors in overall terms due to various perceived transgressions, including racism, Nazism, and so on. His answer: he supported peace and law-abiding protestors while condemning any individuals who “broke laws or behaved badly.”

Poilievre’s basic point was that we must be prepared to distinguish between individuals and groups. Individuals think and act. Groups do not.

The same insight applies to the reaction to Hamas’s attacks. Rallies in support of them in Canadian cities are painful to Jewish Canadians and an affront to Canadian values. To the extent that individuals involved have broken laws, they should be prosecuted. Full stop.

There’s also plenty of scope to disagree with individuals whose ideas and words may be wrong but aren’t illegal. Pluralism doesn’t mean that just because we accept differences in our society, we’re precluded from contesting them. One of the takeaways for me from recent weeks is that we need to restore a sense of principled pluralism, by which I mean while we must maintain room for individuals to have different lifestyles and viewpoints, we should also be prepared to say that certain ones are better than others. Pluralism in other words isn’t a synonym for a collective nihilism.

But it’s also important that political leaders signal to Muslim Canadians that they aren’t being subjected to guilt by association or persecution for minority views. As Canadian citizens, they’re guaranteed the same rights and freedoms as other members of our society—including ultimately the right to be judged according to their own character or merit rather than immutable characteristics such as where they’re from, what their skin colour is, or what God they worship, or the transgressions of people who live, look or worship like them.

That was the right message during the Freedom Convoy. And it’s the right message today.

Canada needs its own national values

By Andrew Evans, Master’s student at Columbia University and former adviser to the Ford government

Since he became prime minister and proclaimed Canada a “post-national state” in a 2015 interview, Justin Trudeau’s vision of a post-national Canada has found expression. We have seen in recent weeks the implications thereof. Whether the extraordinary reaction in the streets—including what amount to pro-Hamas rallies—doom the idea of a post-national state is unclear. What is clear though is that Canada needs to redefine a set of national values beyond the malleable notions of “empathy, compassion and harmony”, in the recent words of Olivia Chow. Something beyond this is required.

The answer lies in a more assertive yet benign Canadian set of values to help us not only understand ourselves and each other but our place in the world as well. Without this, Canadian culture and priorities will drift listlessly on the winds of each fresh political upheaval, with nothing to anchor us in place. In a world rapidly becoming more fractured, this cannot be our future if we are to remain united, strong, and free.

Every level of government, and every political party, has benefited from effectively ceding this ground to the altar of multiculturalism, allowing them to sidestep uncomfortable political conversations. We no longer have this luxury. Although many would prefer to avoid it, a new national conversation about what constitutes a unifying set of Canadian values is the necessary first step to bringing a greater sense of shared citizenship and purpose. Canada need not define a rigid set of values that brook no interference, but rather that the values that define Canadian society should enable greater collective self-confidence.

With good fortune and the lens of hindsight, this may all turn out to be a transitory political moment in which the elusive Canadian self-image searches for a new set of priorities and values in place of the past shibboleths.

We can’t let the logic of war weaken our moral resolve

By Sam Routley, PhD student in political science at the University of Western

The tragic reality of war is that its greatest costs are always paid by those who deserve it the least. And war, as perhaps best shown by Picasso’s “Guernica,” always generates its own warped and surrealistic logic: people cease to be people, despite the fact that this is supposedly who we fight for.

A large part of what makes Hamas’s attack on Israel so horrifying is its selfishness. Hamas has not only slaughtered Israelis, but it has also drawn their fellow Palestinians and Muslims, long weary of conflict, into more violence. This, it seems, is what they have wanted. By provoking an Israel prepared to defend itself, they are prepared to engage in a quasi-fascistic celebration of power and brute force. Children, whether beheaded or buried in rubble, serve as the foundation of their purified Middle East.

But what is also short-sighted is the fact that many Muslims in Canada, who have no sympathy for Hamas’s attacks, now find themselves at the centre of heightened social tensions; while appalled at the attack on Israel, they are also wary of the adverse impacts that sustained conflict can have those whose homes are in the Gaza strip.

As many of The Hub’s contributors have powerfully argued, there is no moral equivalency between Israel and Hamas, and to insist otherwise evades what really matters here. We should also avoid evaluating the ongoing situation exclusively through our narrow political predispositions or policy goals; what is really at stake are regular people—people who simply want security and safety.

The goal of political leaders, instead, ought to be the careful and further isolation of Hamas as a uniquely malignant force, inconsistent with any idea of a “Free Palestine”. But this, I think, is not a matter of mere rhetorical strategy (as important as it will be). It also calls for a greater realization and application of the national values we claim to have—why we know Hamas to be evil.

Canada has always enjoyed the benefits of liberal pluralism, namely its tolerance, stability, and peace. But, at the same time, it’s an example of its ongoing impasse: deference, atomization, and an incapacity to articulate a sense of the common good. But the world is getting darker, and we need to know where to search for the light.

Michael Van Pelt: Canada’s top public servant led a life well-lived: Remembering Ian Shugart

Commentary

HAMILTON, ON – The fact that few knew that Ian Shugart was a regular gospel preacher in many Ottawa churches leads to a fitting way to describe the man. Ian rose to be the head of Canada’s public service, some 300-thousand people strong. He was a quick mind with steady judgement and an observer of character.  He was cautious, wise, and thorough—a model public servant. Mostly though, and especially as he travelled the vocational path to the highest position in the civil service as clerk of the Privy Council, he was a pastor. By that, I mean he always looked for the person behind the professional. In the most straightforward way, he got to the heart of things. He had an eye for things that matter to the heart without losing sight of the job at hand. 

I met Ian in 2011 as part of the Advisory Council for Social Innovation. He sat two chairs away from me. He seemed quite at ease to be invisible until he spoke. When I listened to him speak my internal voice exclaimed, “I know that language.” I know the careful wording about human dignity, I know the language of respect, and I know the language of history and wisdom. Simply, I knew right then he was a man of faith. I left the meeting, quickly jumped on to Google, and to my great surprise the first entry on Ian Shugart was a faith-filled speech he presented at the very think tank I worked for, Cardus. 

Not long after that meeting, I was waiting in a government boardroom as part of the long cadre of people deputy ministers meet in a day. Ian walked into the boardroom and said “You know I am a founder of your organization.” With discernable disbelief in my eyes, I listened as he shared that he was part of the early group of Parliament Hill staffers that founded the Centre for Cultural Renewal (which is now a part of Cardus.) 

Since that day we have met many times for more than a decade. Our deal was this. First, let’s not do day-to-day politics, but let’s talk about ideas that matter—and we did that. The second was: don’t ask me to share what you know I can’t—and I didn’t. Only one time did I catch a glimpse behind the scenes. It was a very public scandal that clearly landed on his plate to fix. I was teasing him about his easy life and his eyes went wide and frustration lines reshaped his face, for maybe a second. He never wavered from his commitment to respecting confidentiality.

In the last few years as clerk and then as a senator, Ian paid special attention to the emerging leaders in the Cardus community. As he weakened, his words had a growing intimacy and urgency to them. He spoke less of strategy and more of character and faithfulness. I watched these future leaders—young men and women—allow the voice of Ian Shugart to burn into their hearts and set their trajectory of public service. 

I know from Ian’s own words and worldview that he was deeply concerned about the cultural and spiritual direction of the country he served. Despite his deep concern, he stubbornly remained a public servant in its purest form. Ian would often remind me, “Michael, worry more about the cultural and spiritual state of yourself, your neighbour, and your community. Politicians will follow the culture and the public servant must serve the government. And that is as it ought to be!” Many times I imagined what power a deputy minister could exert by bending an issue in my direction. But here, Ian Shugart was in the tradition of Saint Thomas More, known as the virtuous statesman who never used the means of power to advance a matter of personal interest.

I miss Ian Shugart. Just as the prime minister gave him space to truly voice the wisdom of a Godly and wise man, cancer was breaking his earthly form. I had dared to imagine tackling legislative files with mutual mission. 

When I think about Ian, I can’t help but think of another ancient public servant from the Christian and Jewish Scriptures: the prophet Daniel. Daniel, who spent time in the lions’ den, served in the courts of Babylon all while staying true to his own faith. I know my long-time friend and Cardus co-founder Ray Pennings often saw parallels between the prophet Daniel and Ian. And Ian himself deeply studied the model of Daniel as a faithful leader and public servant. It’s a model worth following and one I hope others take to heart.

Ian faced the brokenness of the world, including cancer, while holding to a hopeful future. I have no doubt that the words he hears today are, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come and share your Master’s happiness.”