Gaza Genocide – The Many Ways Canada Could Send Message to Israel

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Image: Palestine Chronicle)

By Yves Engler

Canada’s arms ban made international headlines. But in reality, Ottawa isn’t severing assistance to Israel’s military.

In a first, Parliament spent a full day debating a motion on the Israel/Palestine conflict. The March 18 opposition day motion presented by the social democratic NDP called for Canada to recognize Palestine, fund UNRWA and “support the work of the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court” on Israel.

The motion also called to “suspend all trade in military goods and technology with Israel.”

Instigated amidst months of protests and backed by a huge email campaign, the majority of the governing Liberal party MPs looked set to vote for the original resolution.

Justin Trudeau’s pro-Israel government panicked and sought to have the NDP, which is propping up the minority Liberal government, water down the motion in exchange for passing the bill. After unprecedented late-night negotiation between the two parties, two thirds of parliament, including the PM and cabinet, supported a watered-down version of the motion, which effectively dropped the recognition of Palestine, but kept the call to fund UNRWA and support the ICJ and ICC.

The final resolution also called for Canada to “cease the further authorization and transfer of arms exports to Israel.” The government sought wiggle room to continue approving outstanding arms permits. According to The Maple, 300 weapons permits were pending a decision. The Maple found that Ottawa’s response to the mass killing in Gaza was to expedite permits for arms. In the first two months of Israel’s onslaught on Gaza, Ottawa approved $28.5 million in weapons transfers, processing permits in as little as four days.

In recent years Canadian companies have sold around $20 million in arms directly to Israel. A larger sum worth of components has been shipped to Israel as components in US weapon systems, which aren’t reported as per a 70-year-old agreement that effectively treats Canadian firms as part of the US military industrial base.

The Maple’s investigative reporting was spurred by activists who have been campaigning against arms transfers. In recent months they’ve repeatedly blockaded the facilities of firms selling arms to Israel.

There have also been multiple legal challenges. In February Nicaragua announced it would take Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and UK to the International Court of Justice for continuing to arm Israel after the ICJ found Israel was a “plausibly” committing genocide in Gaza. Foreign affairs minister Melanie Joly responded angrily to Nicaragua saying, “It is just their own propaganda.”

In early March the Canadian Lawyers for International Human Rights sued to stop arms exports to Israel. On behalf of Canadian and Palestinian applicants, they asked the Federal Court to order the government to stop issuing export permits for military goods and technology to Israel and to declare that issuing permits is unlawful under Canada’s Export and Import Permits Act. According to the law, Canada shouldn’t export arms to a country if there is “a substantial risk” they would undermine peace and security or be used to violate international law. As a signatory to the UN Arms Trade Treaty Canada is also obliged to not transfer arms to a country responsible for grave human rights violations.

As the Coalition for Canadian Accountability in Gaza makes clear in a just launched legal challenge over the government “failing to fulfil its preventative duties under the Genocide Convention”, arm sales aren’t the only form of direct Canadian assistance to the Israeli military. Registered charities, which can grant donors tax credits, raise tens of millions of dollars for projects that assist Israel’s military.

Established “to recognize and honor the contribution of Lone Soldiers to Israel”, the Heseg Foundation is the highest profile example. Set up by two of Canada’s leading capitalists, the Heseg Foundation provides scholarships and other forms of support to Torontonians, New Yorkers and other non-Israelis (Lone Soldiers) who join the Israeli army

For the Israeli army high command — the Heseg Board has included a handful of top military officials —foreigners volunteering to fight for Israel are a powerful symbol to pressure/reassure Israelis weary of their country’s violent behaviour. At the first Heseg Foundation Grants Awards Ceremony in 2005 Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said that “encouraging and supporting young individuals from abroad” to become lone soldiers “directly supports the morale of the IDF (Israeli army – PC)”. Since 2005 Heseg has raised over $150 million.

And it is not alone. Other “charities” also assist the Israeli army. In 2022 Beit Halochem Canada (Aid to Disabled Veterans of Israel) raised $5 million. The Canadian Zionist Cultural Association has raised many millions of dollars in recent years for groups with direct links to the Israeli army.

Additionally, Israeli universities that work closely with the military raise tens of millions of dollars annually through Canadian registered charities.

But, according to Canadian Revenue Agency rules, registered charities are not allowed to support another country’s military. CRA guidelines state that “increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of Canada’s armed forces is charitable, but supporting the armed forces of another country is not.”

In another sign of official indifference to the law when Israel is concerned, dozens of Canadians are likely committing war crimes in Gaza. Citing a half dozen media reports about Canadians fighting in the Israeli military, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East called for an investigation into their possible violation of Canadian and international laws.

A February letter to Justice Minister Arif Virani noted, “Canada must take action to discourage Canadian involvement in the Israeli military, which carries the risk of complicity in criminal activities, and ensure that any person who is involved in the commission of war crimes is held accountable.”

The government has refused to act on the matter as it did when a formal legal complaint and public letter signed by numerous prominent individuals were released in October 2020 calling on the federal government to investigate individuals for violating the Foreign Enlistment Act by inducing Canadians to join the Israeli military.

According to the Act, “Any person who, within Canada, recruits or otherwise induces any person or body of persons to enlist or to accept any commission or engagement in the armed forces of any foreign state or other armed forces operating in that state is guilty of an offence.”

The Trudeau government effectively ignored the public letter and legal complaint even though it was published on the front page of Quebec daily Le Devoir. Then Justice Minister David Lametti responded by simply saying it was up to the police to investigate. The police failed to take the matter seriously and the Crown interceded to halt a case after a Justice of the Peace agreed the evidence warranted a hearing under the Foreign Enlistment Act.

Rather than actually holding Israel to account Ottawa has actually helped the Israeli army. The Canadian Air Force flew 30 Israeli reservists back into the country after Hamas’ October 7 attack. With flights evacuating Canadians from Tel Aviv to Athens, military aircraft transported Israeli reservists in the other direction.

The Canadian military works closely with its Israeli counterpart. Through the Five Eyes, Canadian military intelligence has close ties to its Israeli counterparts. The Department of National Defence run Communications Security Establishment (CSE) has long gathered intelligence on Palestinians for Israel. According to files released by Edward Snowden, CSE spied on Israel’s enemies and shared the intelligence with that country’s SIGINT National Unit.

“Palestinians” was a “specific intelligence topic” of a CSE, US NSA and British GCH project shared with their Israeli counterpart.

Alongside relations with the Five Eyes intelligence apparatus, Israel has a Strategic Partnership with NATO. Canada and Israel both have military attachés in each other’s countries and top military officials regularly visit each other. The Israeli Air Force trains in Canada and Canada has a “border management and security” agreement with Israel, even though the two countries do not share a border. Additionally, the Canada-Israel Industrial Research and Development Fund has pumped tens of millions of dollars into joint research ventures between the countries’ military companies.

Through Operation Proteus Canadian troops in the West Bank have been regularly coordinating with their Israeli counterparts for over a decade. Since 2007 about 20 Canadian troops have been training Palestinian Authority security forces to act as the subcontractor of Israel’s occupation as part of a mission led by the Office of the United States Security Coordinator. Weeks into Israel’s devastating violence it came to light that Canada’s most elite soldiers were dispatched to Israel.

And Canadian-Israeli military ties are not new. Nor is it new for Canadians to kill Palestinians. Hundreds of Canadian World War II veterans fought to ethnically cleanse Palestine in 1948 and at the time Israel’s small air force was dominated by Canadians. Canada has also long armed Israel.

“By the summer of 1950,” notes In the Strategic Interests of Canada: Canadian Arms Sales to Israel and Other Middle East States, 1949-1956, “Israeli arms requests were being placed in Canada with an almost regular frequency, and from this point until the 1956 Suez war, there was never a time when a substantial Israeli arms request was not under consideration by the Canadian government.”

Canada’s assistance to Israel is increasingly being questioned. In recent months hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets, emailed officials, heckled politicians and occupied offices to challenge Canada’s role in enabling genocide. The protests have rattled through the political system and won a small victory to reduce arms sales.

Despite this, Canada continues to be a close ally of Israel. Ironically, this would give Canada plenty of clout if the government actually wanted to send Israel a message about the ongoing genocide.

 – Yves Engler is the author of Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid and a number of other books. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle. Visit his website:

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
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