Canada Draws Fire Over Freedom of Expression...
In this report we take a brief look at two recent attacks on human rights in Canada. They show the strong influence of Israeli’s lobby on Canada’s mainstream media and decision makers in turning a blind eye on truth.
1- In summer 2020, a hiring committee unanimously selected Dr. Valentina Azarova to direct the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto’s law school. When the school’s dean stopped Azarova’s hire under disputed circumstances, the university commissioned a retired Supreme Court of Canada judge to review that decision. At the heart of concerns is that her appointment was blocked because some of her academic work was critical of Israel’s human rights record. The judge in his report acknowledged that after Azarova’s name was leaked to the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), a pro-Israel advocacy group, a quiet effort began to stop her appointment. He found that days before her appointment was terminated, a former board member of the lobby group, who is a major donor to the university, contacted the university after a CIJA official advised him to warn the university’s leadership that her hire would spark “a public protest campaign [that] will do major damage to the university, including in fundraising.”
However, despite these facts, the judge, who in the middle of his review, gave a keynote address at a conference hosted by the CIJA, sided with the university’s claim that immigration issues were behind the decision. And Rather than attempt to reconcile his conclusion with the sudden termination of the hire following the donor’s intervention, he said his review would not assess the credibility of disputed factual claims.
Several professors at the law school have rejected the report. The Canadian Association of University Teachers found the explanation for the termination so “implausible” that, for the first time since 2008, it imposed a censure for “a serious breach of widely-recognized principles of academic freedom.” The association has asked its 72,000 members to not accept any speaking engagements or positions until the university takes appropriate measures. This case is about much more than the individuals involved: it speaks to the core of what academic freedom means and the principle that no country should be off limits for critique of its rights record.
2- Now, any Canadian editor working at a “major” news outlet with even a rudimentary understanding of what constitutes “news” would assign a reporter to share HRW’s excoriating findings with their audience. Right?
Since its publication on April 27, only two Canadian news organisations produced stories about HRW’s damning report: The Canadian Press wire service and The Globe and Mail newspaper. Canada’s public broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), has not devoted a word or a nanosecond to HRW’s report on any of its gamut of digital and broadcast platforms. Think about that: Canada’s largest, perhaps most influential, news operation with the greatest reach – which lately has claimed to be diversifying its stubbornly white staff in order to tell stories about “marginalised communities” – took an institution-wide pass on a story that the BBC, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post and other notable media covered.
This, despite the fact that the CBC’s parliamentary bureau in Ottawa was, like The Globe and Mail, provided with an advance copy of the HRW report on April 26. Indeed, a group of concerned Canadians wrote an email to a slew of top CBC News editors, including the editor-in-chief, on the morning of the report’s release to ask about the network’s plans. Derek Stoffel, CBC’s world news editor and former Middle East correspondent, wrote back with this sorry, astonishing reply: “We discussed coverage of this story for our broadcast and Digital platforms today, but in the end a decision was made that we do not have the reporter resources on this day to devote to it … we just couldn’t make that work.” The CBC’s blackout of the HRW report represents an affront to, and a shameful dereliction of, the public broadcaster’s editorial mandate to reflect the interests and experiences of all Canadians at home and abroad. (Canada’s two leading private networks, CTV and Global, did not report on the HRW’s study on their nightly newscasts either, although CTV News did spend valuable time showing viewers video of an alligator invading a football pitch in Florida.)
The CBC was not the only mainstream media to treat HRW’s report as radioactive. Their universal hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil reaction to HRW’s scathing report is curious since Canada’s opinion and editorial pages – mostly populated by centrist and reactionary types – love to print instant-coffee-quick columns about human rights reports that flog Venezuela, Syria and other “rogue” states for flouting the international rules-based order. Clearly, when Israel is singled out by a respected human rights group for having committed crimes against humanity, the brave defenders of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international law in the fourth estate suddenly lose their appetite to confront and condemn the culprits.
Israel is the “good guy” that shares Canada’s democratic “values”, while Palestinians are the “bad guys” who elect “terrorists”. HRW’s report says: No, actually, the Israelis have been the bad guys for a long time and the world must, at last, admit and deal with it.