Enabling Genocide: Trudeau, Joly and Poilievre

On December 29, 2023, the government of South Africa filed an application instituting proceedings against Israel before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) concerning alleged violations by Israel of its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the “Genocide Convention”) in relation to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. In its application to the ICJ, South Africa wrote that “Israel, since 7 October 2023 in particular, has failed to prevent genocide and has failed to prosecute the direct and public incitement to genocide” and that “Israel has engaged in, is engaging in and risks further engaging in genocidal acts against the Palestinian people in Gaza.” South Africa also asked that the ICJ indicate provisional measures with an eye to seeking a ceasefire in the conflict in Gaza.

On January 26, 2024, the International Court of Justice rendered its verdict regarding South Africa’s demand for a provisional measure requiring a ceasefire in the conflict in Gaza. While the provisional measures granted by the International Court of Justice did not go so far as to demand an immediate ceasefire (as it did regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine), its ruling that the claim that Israel is in violation of the Genocide Convention (signed by 152 countries) is “plausible,” is an historical and momentous ruling.


In near unanimity, the court instructed Israel to deliver a report to South Africa in a month for its review. Israel is obliged to detail how, when and where it has taken the “compulsory measures not only to prevent genocide, but also the incitement to genocide and to allow humanitarian aid to reach the starving and destitute souls who call the devastated enclave home.” What is implied by the ruling is that for all intent and purpose, Israel must adopt a ceasefire. South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor said during a news conference following the ICJ ruling, “I believe that in exercising the order, there would have to be a ceasefire.” The ruling states as well that Israel must permit humanitarian aid to enter Gaza and not restrict it. As stated by Andrew Mitrovica in an Al Jazeera article, “Near unanimously, the court, in effect, rejected the establishment media notion that the calamity unfolding in Gaza was a ‘war’ between adversaries; but, rather, is prima facie evidence of a deliberate campaign by Israel to erase, wholesale, a people and a nation.”

Virtually following the ICJ ruling, Israel announced that several members of UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for providing much needed assistance to the beleaguered Palestinian people, had been involved in the Hamas attack launched on October 7th. UNRWA has ordered an investigation into Israel’s claim – based on documents provided by Israel – and in the interim has fired 12 of its employees who allegedly took part in the October 7 attack. It should be noted that Israel has a history of fabricating ‘evidence’ for the purpose of spreading disinformation. Its attack on UNRWA coincides with the ICJ ruling in favour of South Africa. Israel lied about its initial attack on Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza, fabricated the story about Hamas beheading babies (which continues to circulate in some media) and a New York Times article depicting the rape of Israeli women by Hamas has been debunked, yet this continues to be circulated by media.

Whatever the facts about the UNRWA employees may happen to be, the ICJ ruling states categorically that Israel must take measures to improve the humanitarian situation for Palestinian civilians in Gaza. That ruling is also binding on all 152 countries as per their own support for the humanitarian situation of the population in Gaza. It is clear to all observers that any cuts to UNRWA aggravate the already dire living conditions of the civilian population of Gaza. Agency chiefs in the UN’s highest-level humanitarian coordination forum, including the heads of the WHO, the UN rights office, UNICEF and the World Food Programme, “warned defunding UNRWA risked a ‘catastrophic’ humanitarian collapse in Gaza.” US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said, “There is no other humanitarian player in Gaza who can provide food and water and medicine at the scale that UNRWA does.”

More than 27,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza and more than 65,000 injured since October 7, 2023. Of the fatalities, 11,000 are children and 7,500 are women. There are more than 8,000 Gazans missing, buried under the rubble from Israeli carpet-bombing. The entire population in Gaza is on the point of famine. On January 31, 2024 Israel has been accused of further war crimes after thirty bodies secured in plastic body bags were discovered in the Khalifa bin Zayed school in Beit Lahia in north Gaza following Israeli forces’ withdrawal.

It is against these facts of genocide and war crimes committed by Israel against the civilian population of Gaza that we turn to Canada’s position on both the ICJ ruling and the question of funding to UNRWA. On January 12, 2024, following the announcement of the accusation levied against Israel at the ICJ, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that “his government’s support for the International Court of Justice as a key institution of international law does not mean it backs the premise of the genocide claim brought by South Africa against Israel.”

That same day, Canada’s Foreign Minister, Melanie Joly echoed Trudeau’s statement and went on to say that, “Under the UN’s 1948 Genocide Convention, the crime of genocide requires the intention to destroy or partly destroy a group because of their nationality, ethnicity, race or religion. Meeting this high threshold requires compelling evidence.” Joly went on to underscore the narrative that has been used by pro-Israel organizations to stifle support for the case against Israel by stating: “We must ensure that the procedural steps in this case are not used to foster antisemitism and targeting of Jewish neighbourhoods, businesses and individuals. At the same time, we will continue to stand against Islamophobia and anti-Arab sentiment.” (In short, ‘antisemitism’ is to be drawn as a parallel to the Israeli genocide being committed in Gaza.) Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre dismissed the genocide allegation against Israel as a ‘shameless’ attack, thereby expressing his contempt both for the International Court of Justice – the UN’s highest court – and for the principle of the rule-of-law. It is, in effect the denial of genocide.

What does ‘premise’ infer in the face of the bombing of hospitals, clinics, cultural centers, mosques, churches, residential buildings, the killing of 27,000 human beings in Gaza and the injuring of another 65,000, the forced displacement of 1.9 million civilians and a campaign by Israel to destroy Palestinian lives by way of a deliberate campaign to cause a generalized famine?

Four days later, on January 16, Trudeau and Joly held a press conference to clarify Canada’s position on the case before the ICJ. Officials at Global Affairs Canada said that “Canada will abide by all rulings arising from South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice.” If that is indeed the case, how does the Trudeau government explain the contradiction between ‘abiding by the ruling’ of the ICJ and suspending humanitarian aid to Gaza by suspending the financing of UNRWA? In effect, suspending aid to UNRWA constitutes contravening the ICJ order that Israel (and all 152 countries which are signatories to the Genocide Convention) must see to it that substantial, unrestricted humanitarian aid must be allowed to enter Gaza. In contravening the ICJ order, the government of Canada is in contempt of the International Court of Justice ruling which, it must be repeated, is binding on all 152 countries.

The Trudeau government must restore funding to UNRWA or face the charge of holding the ICJ in contempt and possibly being liable to the charge of enabling the genocide which continues to take place in Gaza by contravening the ICJ order governing humanitarian aid. As for Pierre Poilievre’s statement that UNRWA is a ‘terrorist’ organization and that if he were to become Prime Minister of Canada, he would cut funding to UNRWA, in view of his open dismissal of the ICJ ruling and his vow to cut funding for humanitarian aid to Gaza, it would appear that there are grounds to issue a formal accusation against him for complicity in enabling genocide in Gaza. It is to be noted that there is no statute of limitations on acts of genocide, war crimes or crimes against humanity. That is applicable as well under Canadian law.

The Canadian BDS Coalition makes the following demands:

  1. That the Trudeau government immediately restore funding to UNRWA,
  2. That an inquiry be made involving statements issued by Pierre Poilievre, Leader of the Official Opposition of the Parliament of Canada, regarding the humanitarian situation in Gaza and the integrity of the International Court of Justice,
  3. That Canada suspend arms transfers to Israel. •

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