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Canada, Israel and the “Rule of Law”

On the ropes for arresting Huawei executive Meng Wanzhau, as US-Canada extradition law required, now under fire, two of its own diplomats held by the vengeful Chinese, and a third Canadian facing execution on drug-smuggling charges, coveted trade relations in peril, Ottawa has been staking out high minded positions.

Few are higher minded — or richer — than that of Liberal MP John McKay, Chair of the Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security, speaking to CBC news about China and its Canadian captives: “It’s hard to make a trade deal with another country that doesn’t respect the rule of law,” McKay declared.

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Chrystia Freeland, has been trumpeting a similar line. The rule of law is not a “smorgasbord” to pick and choose from, Freeland said the other day, regarding the China imbroglio.

Really? Although Israel’s West Bank settlements are flagrantly illegal under the most canonical of twentieth century laws, the 4th Geneva Convention (Global Affairs Canada says so at its website) the Canadian government is pleased to do business with settlement businesses (i.e. invest) under the most favourable terms.

To be precise, Israel’s settlement enterprise violates Article 49(6) of the Convention. In Convention lingo, it constitutes a “grave breach.” Article 1 of the Convention obliges State Parties like Canada to hold miscreants accountable for grave breaches. The FGC has been incorporated into Canadian law, as the Geneva Convention Act. Under the Act, grave breaches are subject to prosecution and lengthy imprisonment in Canada. Of course, Canada cuts Israel lots of slack.

Then there’s Article 25 of the UN Charter, obliging member states to uphold and abide by Security Council Resolutions. Several dozen have declared settlements unlawful. UNSC 2334, passed unanimously in December 2016, called on State Parties to “differentiate” in their trade relations between Israel ‘proper’ and the settlements.

Canada does not. Not content simply to ignore calls from the supreme council it dearly wishes to join, the Trudeau government defends Israel’s right to label its settlement goods “Product of Israel” on Canadian store shelves (deep-sixing Canadian consumer protection laws), even though Canada’s formal position is that West Bank settlements are decidedly not part of Israel. In the Trudeau government’s view, Israel’s right to market unlawful, ‘Product of Israel’ settlement wines on Canadian store shelves trumps the right of Canadians to know, truthfully, where the food and drinks they consume come from – not to mention the right to live in a country that upholds international law.

(Full disclosure: I am Applicant in a law case on this issue before the Federal Court of Canada).

Israel appreciates Canada’s subtle endorsement of its de facto annexation strategy. But the annexation of territory acquired by force is strictly prohibited in modern public law. So is the economic exploitation that typically ensues. These prohibitions are “customary” in status. Everyone must abide by them. No exemptions. No excuses.

Tell this to Israel’s staunch friend Justin Trudeau. Quietly, without the fuss generated by Donald Trump’s flashy but symbolic Jerusalem decision, Canadian trade officials have been cleansing legal clauses from the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA). A minute provision stipulating that trade will be carried out “in accordance with applicable rules of international law” has been extirpated from the new, improved deal heading for Third Reading and certain passage in the next few weeks.

Invited to reconsider, late last November, Liberal members of the Standing Committee on International Trade refused. An amending line to the new CIFTA Act put forward by committee member Tracey Ramsey (NDP) — “relations between the Government of Canada and the State of Israel as well the implementation of the provisions of the agreement itself shall be based on respect for human rights and international law” — was declared “inadmissible” by the committee’s Chair. The amendment would “create new obligations on the Government of Canada,” the Chair ruled.

Two days later, Canadian authorities arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhau on a US warrant, throwing Ottawa on the ropes simply for doing what the law required. Stung by China’s revengeful response, Canadian leaders now appeal to the rule of law. Their righteous calls would carry more weight if Canada played by the rule book with its own best friends.

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David Kattenburg is a Winnipeg-based educator, journalist, activist and child of holocaust survivors. He has traveled to Israel and Palestine on a host of occasions, reporting for his Green Planet Monitor web magazine (www.greenplanetmonitor.net). Kattenburg is Applicant in a truthful wine labeling case to be heard by the Federal Court of Canada in late May 2019.

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