March 25, 2015

“Affirming that States must ensure that any measure taken to combat terrorism complies with all their obligations under international law and must adopt such measures in accordance with international law, in particular international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law.”
– General Assembly, Measures to eliminate international terrorism, UN Doc. A/RES/69/127 (10 December 2014) (adopted without a vote), preamble.
“We recognize that development, peace and security and human rights are interlinked and mutually reinforcing.”
– General Assembly, 2005 World Summit Outcome, UN Doc. A/RES/60/1 (16 September 2005) (adopted without vote), para. 9.
“Courage is the willingness to do what is right even though we may be fearful.”
– said during Canadian Yearly Meeting discussion on civil liberties and anti-terrorism legislation, 2003

Bill C-51 protest. Photo credit: Jeremy Board CC-BY

Bill C-51 protest. Photo credit: Jeremy Board CC-BY

Our desire as Canadians for a secure society need not be in conflict with our desire for just treatment, personal freedoms, or respect for our human rights. Since the early days of Quakerism, Friends have recognized that due attention needs to be given to processes and not just end results. In 1693 William Penn famously said, “A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it.” We find this question extremely pressing with respect to the “Anti-Terrorism Act” Bill C-51. Friends do not feel that lack of due process, criminalization of dissent, and expanding the powers of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to break laws constitute warranted or necessary evils. We are troubled by the Bills’ changing the roles of judges, requiring them to issue rulings on when laws may be broken. Judges are uniquely skilled at protecting rights and upholding laws, not providing guidance on when to break them.
When Canada introduced anti-terrorism legislation following the attacks of September 11th, 2001, CFSC concluded that it was developed to appease anxieties rather than to answer any evident need. We found that pre-existing Canadian and international law was already more than sufficient for purposes of reasonable security. We consider that to be all the more true today, and yet Bill C-51 is being moved forward rapidly and with minimal space for debate.
We question the extent to which this legislation is based on evidence of need, evidence of demonstrable efficacy in terms of increased security, and is proportional to actual threats.
We remember the torture and other unspeakable horrors experienced by innocents like Maher Arar, Benamar Benatta and others whom Canada falsely decided were “terrorists”. These individuals help us recall that laws like the “Anti-Terrorism Act” have far reaching implications for real people. Too often, our security approach has caused incredible suffering due to an unaccountable system with a lack of proper checks and balances and the lack of opportunities to defend one’s self in a court of law. C-51 promises to further exacerbate this problem by granting additional powers without increasing oversight.
We remain deeply troubled by the lack of clarity about what constitutes “terrorism” and can only conclude that this definition has been left deliberately vague. We join many concerned members of civil society in wondering to what extent the powers granted under C-51 may be abused to target nonviolent activists, Indigenous peoples, immigrants, refugees, naturalized Canadians, Muslims or Canadians of Arab descent [1]. And indeed, as noted in our 2003 Yearly Meeting minute, “as a people engaged in publishing Truth, Friends themselves have experienced their share of arbitrary arrest, and detention without due process.”
In our view, security and respect for human rights are complimentary and mutually strengthening aspects of a vibrant Canadian society [2]. We believe that responses to terrorism must be dispassionately based on facts and careful moral judgements. They should take into account a great many factors including: evidence and recommendations arising from the thousands of academic studies about terrorism which have been conducted since 2001, clear and reasonable objectives (requiring a measured and intelligible definition of the actual threat), mechanisms for appropriate oversight of all counter-terrorism efforts, respect for human rights and the rule of law, and respect for the rights of Indigenous peoples under Section 35 of Canada’s Constitution.
Canada should rise above rhetoric and fear mongering. Fearful people tend to make unwise decisions. We are not limited to only two options – embracing a loss of privacy and civil liberties or embracing terrorism. However this false dichotomy has often been employed around C-51 [3]. We are also concerned that if Canada undermines human rights and unfairly targets individuals or communities we may create conditions where some become more desperate and angry – thus increasing their vulnerability to recruitment into terrorism.
We monitor and engage with these issues on an on-going basis primarily through our membership in the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG). We encourage you to visit their website and sign up for their News Digest to stay up to date and find ways to take action if you feel so led.
Lana Robinson
Clerk, Canadian Friends Service Committee
[1] See for example:;;
[2] While addressing violent crime and not terrorism per se, much of the thinking behind our 2010 minute Justice is Possible: Compassionate Response as the Foundation for Public Safety is relevant here too.
[3] See for example:;
Download this statement in PDF. Learn more about Friends’ concerns around civil liberties.


March 17, 2015

Canadian Friends Service Committee supports Bill C-641 – An Act to ensure that the laws of Canada are consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Jennifer Preston, CFSC Indigenous Rights Program Coordinator, speaking about the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as part of a panel in 2014. To her left is Paul Joffe, and to her right Grand Chief Ed John and Craig Benjamin. Photo credit: Maureen Grant.

Jennifer Preston, CFSC Indigenous Rights Program Coordinator, speaking about the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as part of a panel in 2014. To her left is Paul Joffe, and to her right Grand Chief Ed John and Craig Benjamin. Photo credit: Maureen Grant.

Jennifer Preston, CFSC’s Indigenous Rights Program Coordinator, was in Ottawa recently as part of a panel discussing the implications of the Bill and what other countries around the world are doing to realize the Declaration.
In our assessment, passing the Bill would contribute to the ongoing work of reconciliation. For many years we have worked with Indigenous partners and others to draw attention to the need for full and effective implementation of the UN Declaration.
Canada has officially endorsed the Declaration and Canadian courts can use it to interpret Indigenous peoples’ rights. The proposed legislation would go further, requiring a review of all Canadian laws to ensure their respect for the rights of Indigenous peoples. This would be a significant and positive step in honouring the Nation-to-Nation relationship.
We urge you to contact your MP and express your support for Bill C-641.
An excellent letter written by the Assembly of First Nations provides more details about the positive impacts this law would have on Canada.
Regrettably, according to the Hill Times, the Government of Canada has expressed opposition to Bill C-641.
“The government’s major problem with the bill, Mr. Strahl [MP for Chilliwack-Fraser Canyon, B.C.] said, is its opposition to article 19 of the UNDRIP, which states that governments must consult in good faith and obtain ‘free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.’
Mr. Strahl said this would amount to a veto for aboriginal peoples on legislation. ‘In the strongest terms, our government rejects this notion.'”
The Hill Times article also notes that the Government of Canada’s position is that, “the UNDRIP is an ‘aspirational, non-legally binding document.'”
We joined with partners in September to issue a press release when Canada made similar claims about “free, prior and informed consent” being a “veto”. As stated there,
“‘The right of free, prior and informed consent is crucial to us, as self-determining peoples,’ said Matthew Coon Come, Grand Chief of the Grand Council of the Crees. ‘The government has never explained what it means by “veto.” Is a “veto” absolute? If so, then a “veto” isn’t the same thing as “consent.”‘
In international law, human rights are generally relative and not absolute. The right to free, prior and informed consent in the UN Declaration is not absolute.”
Together with partners, we have written several times about why Canada’s claim that the UN Declaration is merely “aspirational” is also flawed. Learn more at: and

March 12, 2015

Rob Nicholson
Minister of Foreign Affairs,
Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development
125 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, ON K1A 0G2
Dear Rob Nicholson,
Canadian Friends have long held a concern for the well-being of all in Israel/Palestine. We have expressed this through official minutes, through the tireless work of many individuals to engage in dialogue and nonviolent direct action toward a just peace, and through our support of the International Middle East Media Centre (IMEMC) which provides news from a rarely heard Palestinian perspective. We feel that only through careful and fulsome consideration of multiple perspectives and realities may we come to understand and support Israelis and Palestinians in their search for peace. We remain open to new Light in this on-going struggle.

Inside Ramallah Meeting House in the West Bank. An Epistle from Ramallah Friends started a multi-year discernment process among Canadian Friends leading in 2014 to our support for the boycott of products made in illegal settlements. Find out more here:

Inside Ramallah Meeting House in the West Bank. An Epistle from Ramallah Friends started multi-year discernment among Canadian Friends leading in 2014 to our support for the boycott of products made in illegal settlements. Find out more.

Steven Blaney, Canada’s Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, in addressing the United Nations on January 22nd, 2015, noted Canada’s desire to, “advance our coordinated global effort against hatred and anti-Semitism including attempts to delegitimize Israel such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.” A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) had been signed between Canada and Israel to this end on January 18th. While we certainly commend Canada’s desire to prevent anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred and discrimination in the world, we question the content of this MoU.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “anti-Semitism” as “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group.” Based on the text of the MoU, it appears that the Government of Canada assumes all of the following to be true:

  • That the State of Israel is a “Jewish State” – a question of on-going debate, in particular with respect to what that means for the 1.7 million Palestinian citizens of Israel who are not Jewish.

  • That constructive criticism of the actions and policies of the Government of Israel constitutes hostility toward “Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group”.

  • That non-State actors have no role to play in support of the human rights of Palestinians because, as the MoU says, “only direct negotiations between the State of Israel and the Palestinians can lead to a peaceful resolution of the conflict” [emphasis added].

  • That, for all of these reasons, all those involved in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement can be categorically dismissed and labelled anti-Semites.

The conclusion that the BDS movement is anti-Semitic is unjustified. It fails to acknowledge the many supporters of the BDS movement who are Jewish, and the fact that BDS is, by design, a disbursed movement with different entry points and levels of participation for different supporters. Some, like Canadian Quakers, have chosen, after careful discernment, to boycott only products made in illegal Israeli settlements. Canada’s official policy says, “As referred to in UN Security Council Resolutions 446 and 465, Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The settlements also constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace.” At the same time, the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA) fails to place any restrictions on goods from the illegally occupied territories and such goods are currently sold in Canada with the inaccurate label “made in Israel”.
The recently signed MoU reaffirms that Canada and Israel both support the rule of law, but does not address the issue of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. Rafeef Ziadah of the BDS National Committee expressed just how problematic this is by stating that Canada, “is sending Israel the message that it can act with total impunity in violating human rights and international law.”
Far from being an expression of hatred calling into question “the State of Israel’s very right to exist or to defend itself”, as stated in the MoU, for many Palestinians and internationals, the BDS movement represents the best peaceful option available for civil society to take action to end a protracted and unbearable situation. BDS aspires to nonviolently change a greatly unequal power dynamic. In our analysis, BDS is a nonviolent attempt to draw Israel toward more constructive practices, such as recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality. BDS seeks only to influence Israeli practices toward ones more conducive to a just peace, which would ultimately benefit Israelis as well as Palestinians.
While it is possible that some individuals choose to boycott Israeli products due to anti-Semitism, as a movement, BDS has expressed categorical opposition to all forms of racism and discrimination, including anti-Semitism, and we are not aware of any instance where this has not been the case.
We are troubled by the limited vision of this MoU as much as by its lack of balance. The MoU names a “two states solution” apparently as the only possibility for peace. This comes at a time when we are hearing increasingly from our partners in the region, Israeli as well as Palestinian, that this is no longer viable given, among other reasons, the massive expansion of illegal Israeli settlements which have made Israel the de facto one state under which all must now live.
As Friends, we believe that there is that of God in all human beings, which can allow great creativity and positive change to emerge. We feel it more appropriate to allow room for creative alternatives, accepting that a solution, which may well not be a “two states solution”, should come from those most affected by it.
We urge the Government of Canada to reconsider this MoU and its seemingly unconditional support for the actions of the Government of Israel, even when in violation of the international law and human rights standards which Canada seeks to champion.
In Friendship,

Lana Robinson
Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers)
Download this open letter in PDF

February 18, 2015

John Calvi, the founding convener of The Quaker Initiative to End Torture (QUIT!) will offer a one hour talk on the work of Quakers to end American policy and practice of torture. Known and respected for his gifts to help people heal, John has been working with those surviving traumatic experience since 1982. A certified massage therapist, John began this work with women survivors of sexual abuse and has since worked with inmates, tortured refugees, ritual abuse survivors, and addicts among others.
While the worst stories and details will be avoided, this is an adult presentation and not meant for children. It is free and open to all in an accessible and LGBTQ+ friendly space – Toronto Monthly Meeting, 60 Lowther Ave, Toronto, 7 PM, Friday March 27, 2015.

February 4, 2015

International law expert Paul Joffe and Jennifer Preston, CFSC’s Indigenous Rights Program Coordinator, will be speaking at Trent University on Tuesday, Feb. 10th at 7:30 PM, Bagnani Hall. This is a free talk open to all and will be followed by a reception.

Download the poster for more details and to see other talks in the lecture series, including long-time CFSC partner Ellen Gabriel’s on Feb. 24th!