On May 29, 2018, I and four other activists disrupted a Bay Street luncheon at which the Trade Ministers of Canada and Israel promoted a ‘modernized’ free trade agreement between Canada and Israel.
My fellow disrupters were Canadian-Israeli spiritual leader Sandralaya Ruch, Canadian-Palestinian activist Hammam Farah, Canadian-Israeli filmmaker Lia Tarachansky, and Ontario lawyer and activist Stephen Ellis.
The luncheon was organized by the Canadian Club of Toronto. Its stated mission is “to connect Canadians with world-class leaders and newsmakers and be a leading platform for influencers to engage Canadians on what matters most.”
The purpose of this grand affair was to promote a ‘modernized’ trade agreement between Canada and Israel, which the governments of Justin Trudeau and Benjamin Netanyahu signed on May 28 in Montreal. The keynote speakers at the Canadian Club luncheon were Canadian Minister of International Trade Francois-Phillipe Champagne and Israel’s Economy Minister Eli Cohen. Cohen is a former major in the Israeli Air Force.
The signing of the new and improved Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA) came only days after the conclusion of the Great March of Return, in which Israeli forces killed at least 113 Palestinians. From March 30 to May 22, a total of 13,190 Palestinians, including 1,136 children, were injured in demonstrations along Gaza’s border with Israel. Of these, 3,360 were injured by live ammunition fired by Israel’s well-protected and heavily armed soldiers; 332 are still in critical condition. Five upper-limb amputations and 27 lower-limb amputations were performed.
The wounded included Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani. On May 14, Dr. Loubani was shot twice in the legs by an Israeli sniper as he stood in the open wearing medical apparel. The medic who treated Doctor Loubani, Musa Abuhassanin, was murdered by an Israeli sniper one hour later.
The shooting of Dr. Loubani finally caused Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to condemn Israel’s atrocities in the Great March of Return. Until then, Trudeau had remained silent for 45 days as Israeli forces used lethal force to repress peaceful protests in Gaza. Trudeau’s statement, issued on May 16, declared:
Canada deplores and is gravely concerned by the violence in the Gaza Strip that has led to a tragic loss of life and injured countless people. We are appalled that Dr. Tarek Loubani, a Canadian citizen, is among the wounded – along with so many unarmed people, including civilians, members of the media, first responders, and children…
Reported use of excessive force and live ammunition is inexcusable. It is imperative we establish the facts of what is happening in Gaza. Canada calls for an immediate independent investigation to thoroughly examine the facts on the ground – including any incitement, violence, and the excessive use of force.
Two days later, however, the Trudeau government opposed a resolution by the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish a commission of inquiry into the Gaza killings. That resolution passed with overwhelming support, despite the Trudeau government’s opposition. On May 26, the Trudeau government also opposed a broadly-supported World Health Organization resolution to send a team of WHO experts to Gaza to investigate health conditions there. Then, of course, came the signing of CIFTA on May 28.
If nothing else, Justin Trudeau has a curious way of demonstrating that he is “appalled” by Israel’s human rights atrocities.
Trudeau’s lavish support for Israel was the backdrop against which we mounted our action at the Canadian Club luncheon on May 29. Our goal was to expose the Trudeau government’s dishonesty and its callous disregard for Palestinian lives.
Tickets for the luncheon cost $95 apiece. We purchased them online during the week of May 21. In order to do so, we were obliged to disclose our identities to the Canadian Club.
The luncheon took place in the Imperial Room at the posh Fairmont Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto. Upon my arrival in the lobby of the Royal York, I activated a recording device hidden in the pocket of my suit jacket. I then registered at the registration desk for the event and attempted to enter the Imperial Room. At the time, I was wearing no name badge.
As I approached the entrance to the Imperial Room, I was blocked by a woman in business attire, who was accompanied by a security guard. I had never met either of them before. Without introducing herself, the woman immediately offered to refund to me the cost of my ticket. I declined to accept a refund and asked her who she was. She disclosed to me that she was Colleen Kennedy, Executive Director of the Canadian Club.
I asked Ms. Kennedy why she was offering to refund to me the cost of my ticket. She responded that “a variety” of “police” had told her that my presence would create “security issues.” She also asserted that I had “disrupted” events in the past.
In fact, this is false: until the Canadian Club luncheon on May 29, I had never participated in a disruption of this nature.
After a lengthy exchange between me and Ms. Kennedy, she allowed me to enter the Imperial Room and to attend the luncheon. You can listen to my exchange with Ms. Kennedy here:
All other members of our team entered the Imperial Room without incident.
TD Securities and the Bay Street law firm of Borden Ladner Gervais sponsored the luncheon.
Also present and seated at the head table with the Ministers were Martine Irman, a senior Vice-President of TD Securities, Bambina Marcello, the Business Development Director of Air Canada, and Jeff Graham, a senior corporate partner of Borden Ladner.
Graham boasts in his biography on Borden Ladner’s website that “Most recently, in his capacity as Co—Chair of the firm’s Middle East Practice, Jeff has helped to create the Canada-Saudi and Canada-UAE Business Councils….”
The essential purpose of the Canada-Saudi Business Council (CSBC) is to facilitate trade between Canada and Saudi Arabia, whose autocratic regime is one of the most repressive and barbaric on earth. The Chair of the CSBC Board is Ed Holder, an insurance salesman who somehow managed to become Science and Technology Minister under the far-right Conservative government of Stephen Harper.
Like the CSBC, the Canada-UAE Business Council (CUBC) was established to promote trade between Canada and a rich gulf monarchy that happens to be an egregious human rights violator. Quite apart from their brutalization of their own citizens, the Saudi and UAE regimes bear enormous responsibility for the unspeakable suffering in Yemen, currently the site of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
At the Canadian Club luncheon, the Israeli entourage included the Chief Scientist of Israel, Ami Appelbaum, and Adiv Baruch, the Chairman of the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute. According to the Times of Israel, Appelbaum has 35 years’ experience as a scientist, entrepreneur, business administrator, operational and technological manager at Israel’s Defense Ministry. Baruch was formerly president of Nyotron Information Security Ltd. According to Bloomberg, Nyotron is “an enterprise cybersecurity software company” that “provides security solutions” and “offers PARANOID, a threat-agnostic solution to protect enterprise data from attacks; and Nyotron War Room, a solution that provides forensics and details behind the attack. It also offers managed defense services.”
I and my fellow disrupters waited for Israel’s Economy Minister to speak. Before the Economy Minister did so, Canada’s Minister of International Trade, Mr. Champagne, spoke lovingly about Israel and its Economy Minister. Champagne declared that “it is a great day today.” He waxed about how much his friendship with Cohen, a Minister of an apartheid regime, had grown in the brief time that they had been in their posts, and that together, he and Cohen had improved what was “already a very, very, very good relationship.” Champagne revealed that he and his Israeli counterparts had talked about artificial intelligence. He gushed that Cohen wanted “more, more and more” trade between Canada and Israel. Switching to French, Champagne spoke about the “common values” of Israel and Canada, “including democracy, gender equality and progressive commerce.” He stated that the peoples of Canada and Israel were “deeply linked.” Champagne remarked that there are 20,000 Canadians living in Israel and that bilateral trade between the countries was $1.7 billion and had tripled since the initial signing of CIFTA in 1996. Champagne also praised TD Bank for having an office in Israel.
Champagne claimed the CIFTA was now “one of the most progressive [trade agreements] in the world.” He placed great emphasis on a purportedly innovative feature of the ‘modernized’ agreement, namely, a gender equality chapter that was subject to the dispute resolution mechanisms of CIFTA. Although gender equality is an admirable and indeed indispensable goal, gender inequality is by no means the most prevalent form of inequality in Israel. A far more prevalent problem in Israel is racial inequality. Of this pressing subject, Champagne said nothing. Indeed, nowhere in ‘one of the most progressive trade agreements in the world’ is there any reference to racial equality. In his speech, Champagne did not once mention the Palestinian people. Champagne never mentioned the mass shootings of unarmed protesters in Gaza, the IDF attack on a Canadian doctor (which occurred only days earlier) or any of Israel’s myriad and appalling human rights abuses. Champagne nonetheless concluded his remarks by saying that he was “very, very proud” of this new and improved trade agreement.
You can listen to the entirety of Champagne’s speech here:
After Champagne concluded his speech, Israel’s Minister of the Economy took the podium. A few moments after he began speaking, our first disrupter, Sandralaya, stood up and began reading a prepared speech. After identifying herself as an Israeli-Canadian and Jewish spiritual leader, Sandralaya declared
A trade agreement with Israel puts blood on the hands of Canadians. Palestinians are calling for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel. We all must heed the call.
Notably, the overwhelmingly pro-occupation audience did not react audibly when Sandralaya said that trade with Israel “puts blood on the hands of Canadians,” but audience members booed and pounded their tables loudly when Sandralaya called for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) to be imposed on Israel.
When Sandralya began speaking, Cohen talked over her while claiming that he would “answer any questions.” (In fact, audience members had been told at the outset of the luncheon that any questions would have to be submitted in writing.) When Sandralya persisted, Cohen began pontificating about his love of democracy; in a democracy, he intoned, citizens enjoy the right of free speech. In fact, Cohen couldn’t stop talking about his love of democracy. He prattled on so much about his love of democracy and free speech that Sandralya could not complete her brief prepared speech.
Eventually, Sandralya was escorted from the Imperial Room by security, at which point Cohen settled himself down.
As soon as Cohen resumed his speech, however, our second disrupter, Hammam Farah, stood up.
Hammam began by calmly and firmly explaining that, although Canadian, he is from Gaza and that he continues to have family in Gaza. When Cohen heard the word “Gaza”, he abandoned all talk about democracy and started screaming about rockets. At one point during his tirade, Cohen seemed to accuse Hammam himself of having lobbed bombs into Israel. Throughout Cohen’s ranting, Hammam remained remarkably composed. Hammam displayed fiery indignation only once, at the end of his remarks, when he shouted “how dare you!” At that point, Hammam too was escorted from the room by security.
You can see Hammam’s disruption here.
Our disruption concluded with attempts by me and lawyer-activist Stephen Ellis to highlight some of Israel’s most recent rights abuses, including its shooting of two Canadian citizens, artist Rehab Nazzal and Dr. Tarek Loubani. Stephen and I were repeatedly interrupted by Cohen, who returned to his loud and incessant proclamations of love for democracy and free speech. You can see my and Stephen’s disruptions, along with Hammam’s disruption and the final part of Sandralaya’s disruption on the Facebook page of Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJVC), here. The video posted on IJVC’s Facebook page was taken by Lia Tarachansky.
After the disruption was complete, none of our four disrupters was arrested or charged with an offence. We were simply escorted to the exit of the hotel and told not to return to the property.
Immediately following our action, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), of which I am Board Chair, issued a press release about our disruption.
As of this writing, no mainstream media organization appears to have written or said a word about our disruption of the Canadian Club love-fest between the trade ministers of Canada and Israel. As of the time of this writing, however, Lia Tarachansky’s video of the disruption has over 31,000 views on IJVC’s Facebook page, and my videos of the disruptions of Hammam and Sandralaya have over 10,000 views on my Twitter feed.