The federal government is set to hold a national summit on antisemitism today — but political tensions swirled on the eve of the event as opposition leaders said they weren’t initially invited.
In a media statement earlier this month, Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Youth Bardish Chagger said she invited various cabinet ministers and party critics to join the discussion.
But opposition leaders were saying as late as Tuesday that they had yet to receive any invitation.
Green Party leader Annamie Paul was the first to raise the issue on Twitter, saying Tuesday she had not received an invitation despite being the only federal leader who is Jewish.
“I am the only Jewish Leader of a federal party and a constant target of antisemitism. The government knows I should be there,” Paul said in her tweet.
The government is hosting a National Summit on Antisemitism tomorrow. MPs, govt officials & Jewish civic leaders were all invited. I wasn’t.<br><br>I am the only Jewish Leader of a federal party and a constant target of antisemitism. The government knows I should be there. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/cdnpoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#cdnpoli</a>
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole’s office said he also didn’t receive an invitation to today’s summit, or to the one being held Thursday on Islamophobia, despite asking the government for an opportunity to speak.
“The Leader of the Opposition hasn’t received an invite to either event and we have reached out multiple times to ask that he be allowed to speak,” a member of O’Toole’s office told CBC on background.
When asked by CBC News why opposition leaders hadn’t been invited Chagger’s office sent a statement Tuesday evening saying that all opposition leaders would be able to participate.
“At this time, all four leaders of the opposition have been invited to participate as observers to ensure the summit remains a space where community members can express their opinions and ideas,” Chagger’s press secretary Aidan Strickland said in an email.
The summit will be held virtually. The government has said it will include leaders of Jewish communities but it hasn’t released a full list of participants.
The event will be mostly closed the public — a measure to ensure the safety of those participating, says the government. Opening remarks set to take place at noon will be open to media and the public.
Summit needs to be followed by action, Cotler says
Former federal justice minister Irwin Cotler, now Canada’s special envoy for preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating antisemitism, will participate in today’s summit.
Cotler said the summit is “timely” and “necessary” but he wants to see it followed up with action.
“It can’t just be a one-time discussion. It will have to be an action plan that is developed and implemented as a result of the discussion,” he said.
Chagger’s statement announcing the summit said the event will help inform the government’s anti-racism strategy.
“We must actively listen to the voices of communities directly affected by racism,” Chagger said in the statement.
A new report suggests online activity by right-wing extremists in Canada spiked last year during the pandemic, despite efforts by governments and social media companies to curb extremism and hate speech.
Cotler said a rise in antisemitism online is particularly troubling because it targets and attracts a younger demographic. He said that online hate speech can inspire offline hate crimes.
“This is a very dangerous mix that we’re seeing,” he said.
Islamophobia summit set for tomorrow
The antisemitism summit will be followed by a summit on Islamophobia tomorrow.
MPs voted unanimously in favour of a motion calling for a national summit on Islamophobia in June, following the attack in London, Ont., that killed four members of a Muslim family as they were out for an evening walk.
During a press conference on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked about recent eruptions of Islamophobia in Canada.
Trudeau pointed to the upcoming summit as an effort to tackle Islamophobia but said it’s up to all Canadians to fight intolerance.
“It’s not only up to Muslim Canadians to fight Islamophobia, but it’s up to all of us to fight Islamophobia, hatred, intolerance in all its forms,” he said.
WATCH | Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says combating Islamophobia is the responsibility of every Canadian: