The Trudeau government has still not taken a categorical position on charging Israel in an international court, but said Friday that “irrefutable evidence is needed” to accept the idea that a genocide is taking place in Gaza.
“Under the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention, the crime of genocide requires intent to destroy or partially destroy a group because of its nationality, ethnicity, race or religion. To reach this high threshold, irrefutable evidence is required,” reads in a highly anticipated press release, sent late Friday afternoon.
The federal government assures that it will follow “very closely” the proceedings before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), where South Africa has accused Israel of committing genocide in the context of its major military operation in Gaza. Ottawa does not use a qualifier to mention the approach before the ICJ, unlike the United States, which gave it the label of “unfounded”.
France, for its part, declared that it would support any decision taken by the judicial body of the United Nations.
The statement signed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mélanie Joly, emphasizes instead that “Canada's unwavering support for international law and the International Court of Justice does not mean that we accept the premises of the case brought before the Court by South Africa”. That sentence, recited earlier Friday by Prime Minister Trudeau, had been deemed too ambiguous by the Advisory Center on Jewish-Israeli Relations, which wrote on social media that it was “eager to see the government clearly reject the defamatory allegations of genocide against Israel”.
Minister Joly is also committed to ensuring that this case brought before an international tribunal does not encourage anti-Semitism and the targeting of Jewish neighborhoods, businesses and individuals in the country. “At the same time, we will continue to oppose Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiments. »
His office announced since Wednesday evening that a declaration on the country's position was being drafted. The prime minister spoke of the need to weigh Israel's arguments before the ICJ, heard Friday morning, before publishing his opinion on the matter. The communiqué finally issued does not clearly indicate that Canada opposes the cause brought by South Africa, although no sympathy towards it can be detected.
A criticized ambivalence
That Prime Minister Trudeau does not clearly announce his position constitutes a political calculation, criticizes Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre. He himself positions himself resolutely against any accusation of genocide against Israel, which he equates to “a shameful and dishonest attack on the Jewish people and the Jewish state.”
“I want to highlight Justin Trudeau’s cynicism. [The Prime Minister] asks some of his MPs to take a stand for the allegations against Israel, and others to say the exact opposite to another group of voters,” said the leader of the official opposition during a press briefing held Friday in Manitoba. “He wants to convince both sides of the debate that he agrees with each [of them]. He is not a head of state. You have to have moral clarity. »
Elected officials within the Liberal caucus have displayed irreconcilable positions on the genocide allegations heard before the ICJ. In December, Justin Trudeau's troops were also divided over the demand for a ceasefire between the belligerents.
Former minister Marco Mendicino and Quebec Liberal MP Anthony Housefather asked the government to support Israel’s cause. Their Ontario colleagues Iqra Khalid and Salma Zahid, on the contrary, showed their support for South Africa's pro-Palestinian approach. Ms. Zahid told Devoir in December that federal MPs have “a legal and moral responsibility to protect innocent civilians.”
NDP MP Heather McPherson wrote to Minister Joly on Tuesday to ask her “not to intervene” against the South African request and to support the decision of the International Court, like France. The Green Party of Canada supports South Africa’s initiative.
The choice of words
The Palestinian group Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel on October 7, which left around 1,200 people dead and dozens of hostages. Since then, Israel's response to Gaza has also caused significant civilian casualties on the Palestinian side. Hamas estimates that more than 23,000 Gazans have already lost their lives, or 1% of the enclave's population, mostly women and children.
As events have evolved, the Canadian government has modified the vocabulary it uses to describe the situation in the Middle East. He has never called Israel’s actions “genocide” until now. On the contrary, Canada has consistently emphasized Israel’s right to defend itself, adding: “in accordance with international law [and] international humanitarian law.” This position is repeated in Friday's press release.
Under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, ratified by 153 countries, including Israel, genocide is defined as acts “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such.”