Canadian coalition calls for urgent action to uphold civil liberties and Charter rights at protests and encampments across the country

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This article originally appeared on the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group's (ICLMG) website. To join the ICLMG in calling on government officials to uphold the Charter-protected rights of freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, please visit their website

As people across Canada come together to voice their concerns over the crisis in Gaza, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG), representing 46 Canadian civil society organizations, is urgently calling on government, university, law enforcement and other officials to uphold the Charter-protected rights of freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association.

“Recent rhetoric by some officials and commentators, which conflates criticism of the Israeli government with support for terrorism, not only undermines the principles of free expression, assembly, and association but also threatens the civil liberties of those engaged in peaceful protests,” said Tim McSorley, national coordinator of the ICLMG. “Such unfounded allegations serve to mischaracterize legitimate political expression as dangerous extremism, creating a chilling effect on open dialogue and perpetuating discrimination against Muslim and Arab communities. It is imperative that all levels of government uphold the Charter’s protections and resist any attempts to erode the legitimate exercise of these rights through misrepresentation or over-policing.”

This is a continuation of the vague, unfounded allegations of support for “terrorism” that have for decades been used to justify surveillance, over-policing and significant rights abuses directed particularly at Muslim and Arab communities.

For example, over the past several days, peaceful protest camps on the campuses of McGill University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Toronto and the University of Ottawa have been wrongly attacked by politicians and officials as being “antisemitic,” “dangerous,” “pro-Hamas,” and in support of “terrorism.” Calls by student protesters to discuss their demands for divestment and a just peace have been answered by university administrations with unwarranted requests for police intervention to remove protesters. The involvement of police, as seen with recent efforts to clear encampments on university and college campuses in the United States, has often been the cause of escalating tension and violence, as opposed to the encampments themselves.

Attempts to vilify and discredit protest camps as expressing support for “terrorism” and posing a threat to public safety comes after months of the same accusations being directed at marches and protests that have swept the streets of Canadian cities, resulting in unfounded arrests, unwarranted ticketing, and the curtailment of free expression.

The coalition is also expressing its deep concern with the recent ban on the keffiyeh in the Ontario legislature. The keffiyeh is a common and culturally important piece of clothing for Arab, and particularly Palestinian, communities. Whatever one may think of banning political props from legislatures, applying such a rule to clothing of cultural significance is misplaced, reductive, and discriminatory. Banning the keffiyeh inhibits Palestinians and Arabs the legally protected ability to engage in democratic processes, and propagates racism.

The ban also sends a dangerous message that the keffiyeh is an unacceptable piece of clothing that should be excluded from public venues. This was recently demonstrated at an Oakville, ON, high school where a student was asked to remove his keffiyeh because it reminded a staff person of terrorists. The keffiyeh ban is part of a disturbing trend of students and workers facing repercussions again for simply supporting Palestinian human rights, and must be overturned.

As the toll from Israel’s attack on Gaza continues to mount, reaching 34,000 people killed and 77,143 injured as of April 29, 2024, and the International Court of Justice‘s interim measures to protect Palestinians in Gaza from acts of genocide are being ignored, the ICLMG is also reiterating its Fall 2023 appeal for Canada to not only call for a permanent ceasefire, but to halt all arms sales, transfers and military aid to Israel. To refuse to do so is a violation of Canada’s obligation under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide to do all in its power to prevent genocide.

In summary, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group urges:

  • Officials to stop equating Charter-protected expression and dissent with “support for terrorism,” and refrain from calling for law enforcement to forcibly end or prevent protest activities.
  • Law enforcement agencies to refrain from acting against protesters exercising their Charter-protected rights, including at encampments.
  • The Ontario legislature to immediately reverse the keffiyeh ban.
  • Canada to call for a permanent ceasefire and to halt all arms sales, transfers and military aid to Israel.

Inter Pares is a proud founding member of the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group. Learn more.

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