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Trudeau’s Long Winter

As if Canadian winters and chilly spring weren’t enough, this year has been a season of scandal for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Charges of interference in the criminal prosecution of a powerful corporation have been piling up like transport trucks on an icy thruway, potentially trashing Trudeau’s fortunes in next October’s federal elections.

Justin Trudeau’s winter of discontent began, last February 7, on the front page of Canada’s Globe and Mail. He and his closest advisors had reportedly been pestering then-Justice Minister/Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould (aka ‘JWR’) to strike a “deferred prosecution agreement” with Quebec-based engineering giant SNC Lavalin, over bribes allegedly paid to Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi prior to his murder at the hands of NATO/Canada-backed rebels.

Political interference charges were all the more damaging in the wake of the arrest of Chinese telecom CEO Weng Wanzhou, just two months earlier, in a Vancouver airport lounge, on a US extradition warrant. Canada is a “Rule of Law Country,” Ottawa insisted at the time, and had no choice. China didn’t buy the argument, and has been retaliating ever since, arresting a pair of Canadians for spying, threatening to execute another, and banning the import of Canadian canola, a ten-billion-dollar business for prairie farmers.

Of course, Justin Trudeau steadfastly denies meddling in the SNC-Lavalin prosecution, but the scandal drags on, scattering political wreckage in its wake: cabinet demotions; the resignation of intimate advisors; conflicting testimony by key informants before a packed Commons justice committee; a secretly recorded phone exchange, broadcast over public airwaves, sparking cries of foul and praise in equal measure, triggering JWR’s ouster from caucus, along with a female colleague. Now, Trudeau threatening libel charges against opposition leader Andrew Scheer.

Amidst the ceaseless mayhem, Jody Wilson-Raybould’s banishment may have an upside: As an independent in Commons, now she can speak out about a completely different, arguably more troubling example of Trudeau government disregard for the rule of law – on behalf of a foreign power aiming to break Canadian laws and regulations, and to recruit Ottawa’s aid in trashing international conventions Canada is obliged to uphold.

No one knows the details of this politico-legal scandal better than Jody Wilson-Raybould. As Attorney General of Canada, she was the government’s Respondent in a case filed by myself, challenging the sale of West Bank settlement wines falsely labeled “Product of Israel.”

I recall the anger that led to my court case, back in early 2017, discovering that a pair of supposedly “Israeli” wines on sale at outlets of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) had actually been produced in a pair of unlawful West Bank settlements.

What chutzpah, I thought! Claiming sovereignty over its outrageously illegal settlement-colonies on my own country’s store shelves! Knowing that Israel has effectively annexed its settlements – in breach of international laws my country is bound to uphold (as it does in Russia’s case, vis-à-vis Crimea). Realizing at the end of the day that international law matters less to my country’s government than warm relations with a tiny apartheid state, and the campaign cash and votes that follow.

It took the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) six months to investigate my wine labelling complaint. Having examined the issue from every conceivable angle (as I would later learn), in early July 2017, the CFIA informed the LCBO that, under Canada’s Food and Drugs Act and Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act, ‘Product of Israel’ labels on wine products produced from grapes grown in the Israeli-occupied West Bank are false and misleading, and so alternative labeling would be required.

Curiously, the CFIA never informed me that they’d validated my complaint. I found out, instead, from a post at the Facebook site of Israel’s self-described “staunch defender,” B’Nai Brith Canada. “B’Nai Brith has received a lot of information on this matter from multiple sources and officials during the past 24 hours,” the post declared. “We can say now that we are expecting this disturbing decision to be corrected in short order.”

Sure enough, the next day, in a terse, online mea culpa – just 24 hours after ruling that ‘Product of Israel’ wine labels breached Canadian law and CFIA regulations – the CFIA announced “regrets” for failing to “fully consider” the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA), Article 1.4.1(b) of which indicated that “Product of Israel” labeling was A-OK. Swelled with pride, B’Nai Brith swiftly commended the Canadian government for “pressuring” the CFIA to reverse itself.

With the pro bono assistance of Montreal-based activist-attorney Dimitri Lascaris, I filed an appeal. The CFIA’s Complaints and Appeals Office (CAO) responded in September 2017, upholding the CFIA’s reversal decision, thus triggering my application for judicial review to the Federal Court of Canada. Affidavits and factums ensued, from both myself and the government (represented by Jody Wilson-Raybould). This coming May 21 and 22, in Toronto, a Federal Court of Canada judge will hear arguments and ask questions.

Justice must prevail. Documents released to me as Applicant in our motion to the Federal Court, and in response to an older Access to Information Act request to Global Affairs Canada, paint a startling picture of government interference in the administration of Canadian consumer protection law. No fewer than 240 staff members from the CFIA, GAC and Privy Council Office were involved in validating my complaint, and then reversing themselves. Months prior to the CFIA’s July 2017 initial ruling, GAC trade specialists had advised their CFIA counterparts that CIFTA had no bearing on domestic wine labeling. Product labeling and the Canada-Israel trade deal are “two different things,” one specialist wrote.

So, the CFIA’s rationale for reversing itself on a dime, based on “new information” about CIFTA from Global Affairs Canada (their Director General and Assistant Deputy Minister, this time), was not based on new information at all – other than that the government wanted the CFIA to forget about its guiding laws and regulations, and let Israel do what it wants.

Heavily redacted email exchanges among a dozen staffers from the Privy Council and Prime Minister’s Office, the evening before the CFIA’s public mea culpa, reveal a sense of urgency in getting the CFIA to rescind its wine labeling decision. They themselves faced heat from the Government of Israel, its Canadian lobbyists, and powerful pro-Israel members of the Liberal caucus (Members of the Canadian Parliament, in other words, sworn to uphold Canadian laws, not the ambitions of a foreign power). Among the communicants: Justin Trudeau’s Foreign & Defense Policy Advisor within the Privy Council Office. Deep-pocketed Montreal supporters in mind, Trudeau had surely asked to be kept in the loop.

Mid-evening on July 12, 2017, PCO flacks weren’t sure if CFIA President Paul Glover would bend. He had, having spoken throughout the day with PCO staffers and the Deputy Minister for Global Affairs. “Just spoke to Paul,” Glover’s chief of staff revealed, in a note to senior CFIA personnel. “We are ultimately going to rescind our decision. Statement should note, we regret any confusion this may have caused.”

Under intense pressure from the highest of on high, the CFIA had rescinded a decision arrived at by over a dozen specialists in international trade and consumer protection law. Was Jody Wilson-Raybould aware of this at the time? As Minister of Justice and Attorney General, she may have been. She surely was, once my wine labeling case was filed.

Given the rules of attorney-client privilege, JWR is not at liberty to reveal specifics about the CFIA’s wine labelling flip-flop. But publicly available details are damning enough. She can certainly speak out about Israel’s settlement enterprise – a ‘grave breach’ of the 4th Geneva Convention, therefore a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, conventions Canada is bound to uphold. JWR is also aware of Canada’s official position that the only path to “peace and security” between Israelis and Palestinians is the ‘Two-State Solution’, and that Jewish settlements threaten this outcome.

Most to the point, JWR must realize that by going to court to defend Israel’s right to market “Product of Israel” settlement wines on Canadian store shelves, the Trudeau government effectively endorses Israel’s de facto annexation of the West Bank, thereby engaging itself in the gravest of prohibited acts: the annexation and commercial exploitation of lands seized by force, from people now living under military occupation and apartheid, deprived of the universal right to self-determination.

What’s more scandalous – this, or cutting a bit of slack for a homegrown, albeit corrupt corporation that breaks a few laws in the course of creating Canadian jobs?