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Two-faced baloney: Israel-Palestine and the rule of law in Ottawa

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Image: David Kattenburg

Hypocrisy served up thick: Recent comments by Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne, bemoaning the state of the international "rules-based order" and vowing to set things right were thick enough to cut with a knife.

"Canada's interests, values and principles are at the heart of everything we do on the international stage," Champagne told a gathering of the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations (MCFR), late last month.

Worryingly, Champagne revealed to his audience, the world "is going through a period of deep transformations and uncertainties."

Most troubling for the honourable minister: the "flouting of international law," "an upsurge in the selective application of international law," the "questioning of multilateral institutions and of the rule-based international order" and "impunity for those who abuse their power."

The very "framework of institutions and standards commonly known as the rules-based international order" is "under threat," Champagne warned council members -- among them, righteous "emeritus governor members" and "premier partners" like SNC-Lavalin, Rio Tinto, Bombardier, Huawei and the aptly named Power Corporation.

Quoting 19th-century French cleric and political activist Henri Lacordaire, Canada's foreign minister offered an uplifting sliver of hope: "Between the weak and the strong, it is the law that liberates."

Then, a huge rhetorical question: "Will we continue to emphasize the importance of global rules, principles and protections endorsed by the global community, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the Vienna Convention? Always" (emphasis added).

Had I managed to score a seat for Champagne's talk -- elbow to elbow with some of Canada's most powerful corporate executives and foreign policy influencers -- this is the point at which I would have choked.

I'm the Kattenburg in Kattenburg v. the Attorney General of Canada, a landmark case involving the labeling of wine products produced in Jewish settlements in the Israeli-colonized West Bank. Late last July, Federal Court Judge Anne Mactavish ruled that "product of Israel" labels on settlement wines are "false, misleading and deceptive," and inhibit the ability of consumers to exercise their charter right to free speech through conscientious purchasing decisions. Independent Jewish Voices Canada intervened in the case.

The Trudeau government is appealing Mactavish's ruling. Not a surprising move. Whatever it may say about its commitment to the "rules-based international order," Champagne's government steadfastly defends Israel's settlement enterprise -- all the while acknowledging publicly that settlements violate international law and thwart the two-state solution it insists is key to peace and justice in the Middle East.

Most recently, Champagne called upon the International Criminal Court to suspend its investigation of Palestine's complaint against Israel. It clearly believes Israel has the right to do as it pleases with impunity.

Here in Canada, the Trudeau government defends Israel's right to traffic its settlement products on store shelves, tariff-free and beneath "product of Israel" labels, effectively endorsing their de facto annexation and concealing their criminal origin from law-abiding Canadian consumers. Even though its official position is that settlements impede the creation of a truly sovereign Palestinian state -- an outcome it claims to support.

So, what are the "global rules, principles and protections" Champagne's government is willing to violate in exchange for cozy relations with Israel? They are the most foundational norms of modern international humanitarian and human rights law -- some of them incorporated into Canadian domestic legislation.

Article 49(6) of the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention (FGC) prohibits an occupying power from transferring its citizens into occupied territory. Doing so constitutes a "grave breach" under Article 85(4)(a) of the FGC's 1977 Protocol Additional, and a presumptive war crime under Article 8(2)(b)(viii) of the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The FGC and Rome Statute have both been incorporated into Canadian domestic law, as the 1985 Geneva Convention Act and 2002 Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act, respectively. Article I of the FGC obliges all High Contracting Parties (e.g. Canada) to "respect and ensure respect for the Convention in all circumstances." According to the 2016 authoritative commentary on the FGC by the International Committee of the Red Cross, Canada's obligation to uphold the Convention is not a "loose pledge but a commitment vested with legal force."

Moreover, the Articles on State Responsibility for Internationally Wrongful Acts, passed by the UN General Assembly in 2001, oblige state parties (e.g. Canada) to cooperate in ending grave breaches, and prohibit them from rendering aid or assistance to said crimes. Canada clearly does the latter in respect to Israel's settlements.

Since Israel's 1967 conquest of the Palestinian West Bank, over a dozen UN Security Council resolutions have declared Jewish settlements illegal. Most recently, in December 2016, UNSC 2334 stated that settlements are a "flagrant violation of international law" and a "major obstacle" to achieving justice and peace in the Middle East, and called on UN member states to "distinguish in their relevant dealings" between Israel "proper" and the occupied Palestinian territories. Under Article 25 of the UN Charter, member states like Canada "agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council."

There's more. In its 2004 decision on Israel's separation barrier, built largely on Palestinian land, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) -- the world's highest judicial body -- ruled that Israel's wall and the settlements it gerrymanders infringe on the Palestinian right to self-determination -- a right enshrined in the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The ICJ also ruled that Israel's wall and settlements breach the prohibition against the acquisition of territory by force.

These rights and prohibitions are deemed "customary" and erga omnes (owed toward all). Some are peremptory in status -- no exceptions, no excuses, no derogation.

François-Philippe Champagne is a lawyer. He knows what Canada's legal obligations are. So did his predecessor, Chrystia Freeland, now deputy prime minister. Fully aware of the gravity of Israel's alleged crimes, at a November 2018 gathering of the Israeli Council on Foreign Relations, Freeland vowed that Canada would serve as an "asset for Israel" at the UN Security Council if it wins a seat. One month later, responding to fallout from Canada's arrest of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou on a U.S. warrant, with breathtaking hypocrisy, Freeland stated: "I believe very strongly that it is absolutely essential for Canada to remain a rule-of-law country ... " The rule of law "is not like a smorgasbord" to pick and choose from.

You bet it is! In defense of their bid for a seat on the UN Security Council, Freeland and her successor, Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne, are more than pleased to proclaim Canada's commitment to the international "rules-based order," all the while shielding special friends and dishing out two-faced baloney best attacked with a fork and sharp knife.

David Kattenburg is a Winnipeg-based science instructor, journalist and activist. Attorney General of Canada v. Kattenburg (in appeal) will come before the Federal Court of Appeal later this year.

Image: David Kattenburg

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