The Harper government is signalling its intention to use hate crime laws against Canadian advocacy groups that encourage boycotts of Israel.
Such a move could target a range of civil society organizations, from the United Church of Canada and the Canadian Quakers to campus protest groups and labour unions.
If carried out, it would be a remarkably aggressive tactic, and another measure of the Conservative government’s lockstep support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
While the federal government certainly has the authority to assign priorities, such as pursuing certain types of hate speech, to the RCMP, any resulting prosecution would require an assent from a provincial attorney general.
And it would almost certainly be challenged under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, civil liberties groups say.
The government’s intention was made clear in a response to inquiries from CBC News about statements by federal ministers of a “zero tolerance” approach to groups participating in a loose coalition called Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS), which was begun in 2006 at the request of Palestinian non-governmental organizations.
Asked to explain what zero tolerance means, and what is being done to enforce it, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney replied, four days later, with a detailed list of Canada’s updated hate laws, noting that Canada has one of the most comprehensive sets of such laws “anywhere in the world.”