In light of the current conflict in Israel and Palestine, many individuals and groups have staged protests to display their discontent with the actions taken by the Canadian government. The direct statement from Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, is that the government “fully supports” Israel’s “right to defend itself in accordance with international law.” However, other leaders and Members of Parliament have different opinions on the issue and, as the crisis has progressed, the government has struggled to maintain a unified front.
As of November 8, the Palestinian death toll was estimated at 10,569 according to the Health Ministry in Gaza and the Israeli death toll was estimated at over 1,400 in addition to 242 hostages taken into Gaza by Hamas. Gaza is currently under siege and has been cut off from food, water, fuel, and other supplies by Israel in response to attacks by Hamas. To address this humanitarian crisis, on October 27, Canada reported that until November 12, it will match every donation up to $10 million made to the Humanitarian Emergency Appeal. As tensions increase, the stance of the Canadian government has come under increased scrutiny.
Trudeau has been clear that the Canadian government supports Israel, however, this stance does not encompass all of the members’ positions. While members including Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre and NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson have echoed Trudeau’s belief that “Israel has every right to eradicate Hamas,” other members have different opinions. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh recently declared “Canada must call for a ceasefire to end the killing of innocent civilians in Gaza immediately,” and the need to end the siege on Gaza. In addition, over 30 MPs, including 23 from the governing Liberal party, have signed a letter to Trudeau calling for him to advocate for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. The letter voiced Canada’s need to act as “the longer this conflict goes on, the more innocent civilians will pay with their lives,” and also posited that while Israel may deserve assistance, that it cannot come at the expense of innocent lives. Thus far, the Canadian government has resisted calls from the NDP, Green Party, and some Liberal members for a ceasefire, instead, supporting the possibility of humanitarian pauses.
This has raised debates over the discernment between these two terms, humanitarian pause and ceasefire, neither of which have a formally agreed legal definition. Both terms would involve a pause in fighting so that aid and supplies can be delivered to Gaza, the main difference being how long the breaks in fighting will last. A ceasefire is typically implemented as a long-term agreement to cease hostilities, on the other hand a humanitarian pause would mean a less formal and temporary break for the purpose of sending aid to vulnerable civilians.
In response to the violence in Israel and Gaza, there have been frequent protests throughout Canada, many of which have targeted the stance and actions of the Canadian government. A recent cause of this upset was the censure and ejection of Sarah Jama from the Ontario NDP (ONDP) caucus. This occurred after Jama expressed her support for the Palestinian people and called for an immediate ceasefire in an October 10 statement on X (formerly Twitter). She was then urged by the government to issue an apology, which she did 24 hours later. Despite this, the ruling Conservative party pushed for her censure, and was later removed from the ONDP caucus. ONDP MPP Peggy Satler said that Jama’s expulsion was due to the party leadership’s disapproval of her “insistence on acting independently, unilaterally, and with repeated disregard for the [ONDP] Leader.” This response encouraged both praise and contempt from the public, becoming an additional catalyst for many pro-Palestine protests.
On October 30, pro-Palestine protesters staged sit-ins at 17 MPs offices in 12 cities across Canada. During these sit-ins, the names of Palestinians who have been killed since October 8 were read out, and the protestors called on MPs to demand a ceasefire and an end to Canada’s complicity in Israel’s apartheid. Sit-ins targeted the offices of MPs who have not pushed for an immediate ceasefire. Three of these sit-ins occurred in Montreal, at the Ahuntsic-Cartierville office of Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly, David Lametti’s office in the riding of LaSalle—Émard—Verdun, and Rachel Bendayan’s office in Outremont.
As well, there have been a number of pro-Israel protests. However, these protests have not been met with the same criticism from politicians as those in support of Palestine. While rallies held for both Israel and Palestine have remained peaceful, Trudeau has responded to the two groups distinctly, while he continues to reiterate the government’s support for Israel, he denounced “[t]he glorification of violence” and “the demonstrations that have taken place, and are taking place, across the country in support of Hamas’ attacks on Israel.” In contrast to the Canadian government, some Jewish organizations, including Independent Jewish Voices Canada, have stated their solidarity with the Palestinian people. At a rally held in Toronto on October 29, Corey Balsam, the national coordinator of Independent Jewish Voices declared that “[w]e’re of course gutted by the attacks on Israeli civilians on Oct. 7,” and that they “continue to be terrified at the loss of life, the collective punishment and the just extreme, really inhumane treatment of Gaza right now,” calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
As the bloodshed in Israel and Palestine continues, Canada has become divided into those in support of each side. As unrest over the conflict continues, both Jewish and Muslim communities have expressed their concerns over the heightened risk of hate crimes. Since the beginning of the conflict, there has been a noticeable increase in hate crime occurrences. On October 12, the National Council of Canadian Muslims reported that recently it has received double the complaints of Islamophobic incidents than normal. Additionally, Yair Szlak, President and Chief Executive Officer at Federation CJA, has warned that the Quebec Jewish community “is under attack,” following the overnight shooting on November 8 at two different Jewish schools located on Saint-Kevin Ave. in Côte-des-Neiges and Chemin Deacon in Outremont. No one was injured and authorities believe the shots were fired overnight and the investigation is ongoing to assess the hate-crime situations. In response to this notable rise in hate-crimes against both Jewish and Muslim communities in Montreal, Vincent Richer, Deputy Director of the Montreal police force has announced an increase in police vigilance and presence as hateful acts proliferate.
This statement by the Montreal police force follows a recent confrontation between Israeli and Palestinian students at Concordia that turned violent on November 8. The confrontation began after the Israeli student club, StartUp Nation and Concordia’s Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), set up tables for events they had both reserved on the same day. Both groups have stated they were unaware that the other group had booked a table on the same day and Concordia’s Student Union has been unable to confirm which group actually requested a table first. SPHR was holding a fundraiser for Gaza, selling Keffiyehs to raise money for humanitarian efforts in Gaza. StartUp Nation’s setup included putting up posters of the 240 hostages depicting the hostages taken by Hamas on October 7 and an artistic representation of an empty sabbath dinner. Tensions arose when it was noticed that some of the posters put up by StartUp Nation were attached to a wall in front of the SPHR’s table. Multiple people began to remove the posters of the hostages surrounding SPHR’s table, however SPHR declared that this was not an act they condoned. The President of StartUp Nation insisted that the posters were not intended as a provocation and had been put up before SPHR’s table was set up as they “didn’t know that they would be here today.” Soon after Concordia campus safety and prevention as well as Andrew Woodwall, Dean of Students, arrived to inform StartUp Nation that many of their posters did not align with Concordia’s guidelines and thus had to be removed.
While videos have been circulating the internet, they show only a fragmented portrayal of the event and the entire context and account of the confrontation remains uncertain. Numerous videos and conflicting recounts of the confrontation have emerged, resulting in some ambiguity over the initiation of the conflict. Videos show shoving matches, chanting, and shouting between students, non-students, and staff. During this conflict, multiple altercations broke out resulting in the injury of two Concordia safety staff and one student. At 1:30 p.m. police arrived, calling for the crowd to disperse and arresting a 22 year old pro-Palestine student.
Another video that went viral depicted a Concordia student who has been alleged to have said an antisemitic k-slur. However, a longer video shows a middle-aged non-student being verbally aggressive and homophobic toward the student. Since then, the student has clarified they did not say antisemitic slur, and in fact was not even aware of said slur. In a statement to the Link, the student emphasized that “any kind of slur is not something that I want to be associated with, especially as someone who’s from a marginalized community,” and mentioned the immense fear they now feel on campus. Subsequent to the conflict, in an email, spokesperson Vannina Maestracci from Concordia discussed the event, writing that “the safety of our community is our priority.” Additionally, in response to the confrontation, many organizations and leaders have expressed their opinions on the issue, denouncing the violence that transpired, and the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations has urged educational institutions to take necessary action in order to prevent violence and discrimination on campuses.