Colonialism in Canadian politics

How the genocide in Gaza reflects Canadain colonial attitudes

In the four months since Hamas’ October 7 attacks and Israel’s latest assault on Gaza and the West Bank, protestors across the globe have mobilized to demand a ceasefire that would end Israel’s indiscriminate mass killings of Palestinians and abide by international law. However, in Canada, politicians continue to whistle along with the genocidal tune sung in the United States. Most important to Canada’s attitude on Palestine-Israel is its connection to Indigenous issues here at home — it is a window into the logic used to perpetuate colonial violence in Canada.

To summarize the position of political parties in Canada concerning Palestine, Prime Minister Trudeau refused to demand a ceasefire for months, instead bowing to the US like when he almost said “ceasefire” before catching himself and asking for a humanitarian pause. The distinction between these terms is political rather than legal, as a ceasefire is a long-term end of hostilities through negotiation between two parties. In contrast, a humanitarian pause is a short-term halt to give aid to civilians and allow them to leave a localized area. The issue with Trudeau’s words is that Israel’s war is against all Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank, as has been made evident in the case presented by South Africa to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) last month which included genocidal rhetoric expressed by both Israeli officials and IDF soldiers.

Thankfully, the Trudeau government is now calling for a ceasefire, supported by more than 70% of Canadians. However, Canada is now boasting about their collaboration with other colonial states, including the US, the United Kingdom (UK), Australia, and the Netherlands, to bomb 36 targets in Yemen. The Western coalition’s attempt to stop the Houthis’ military blockade on ships linked to Israel violates Yemen’s requirement to blockade Israel under international law. It should also be noted that Nicaragua has called on Canada, Germany, the UK, and the Netherlands to halt weapon transfers to Israel. In the coming weeks, Nicaragua may file a case with the ICJ over their complicity in Israel’s genocide in Gaza. 

As for the Conservative Party of Canada, Pierre Poilievre’s position on the matter gives free rein for Israel to commit more war crimes without consideration for how it will increase the civilian death toll and escalate the regional conflict. Reports by 338 Canada,  find that if a federal election were held today, the Conservatives would win by a landslide and secure a majority in parliament. 

Even the supposedly left-leaning Ontario and BC NDP have demonstrated a disregard for Palestinian lives and their calls for self-determination. Following MPP Sarah Jama’s call for a ceasefire and an end to the apartheid in Israel, the Ontario NDP’s leadership ousted her from the caucus. Ironically, Israel’s apartheid has a longstanding connection to Canada’s poor treatment of Indigenous Peoples. Evidence shows that Canada’s reserve system formed the basis of South Africa’s bantustans, which would later inspire Israel’s apartheid model.

Meanwhile, Sean Orr, the former Vancouver City Council candidate with VOTE Socialist, tweeted out a video of BC’s Minister of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills Selina Robinson, where she unfoundedly claimed that youth 18–34 do not believe in the Holocaust. She continued by arguing that Palestine had no economy or crop yields and “was a crappy piece of land with nothing on it” before the creation of Israel. Robinson was giving a speech as part of a panel for B’nai Brith, a pro-Israel non-profit that has attempted to suppress pro-Palestinian protests by using the courts. She would later apologize for her comments but has since expressed her frustration that British Columbians demanded her resignation. All the while, Robinson’s husband has been liking posts on Twitter that not only mock pro-Palestinian supporters but labelled their protests as antisemitic and agreed with Robinson’s original comments. 

In the aftermath of Robinson’s remarks, Premier Eby acknowledged the harm caused by the minister but refused to force her resignation until the party faced considerable public pushback. Only after protests and a ban on all NDP MLAs from entering 12 mosques across the province did the premier finally have Robinson resign from her post as Minister. Critics have highlighted the discrepancies in responses by the two NDP caucuses as Jama, who is black and disabled, faced severe punishments. At the same time, Robinson, who is white, was defended by Premier Eby and remains in the caucus.. 

As early as December, experts in international law warned that Israel’s action may amount to genocide. In a letter from 55 scholars on genocide and Holocaust studies from universities around the world, they highlighted that Israel’s tactics include “starvation, mass killing, and forced displacement of Palestinian civilians.” As political scientist Norman Finkelstein recently stated in a debate with Alan Dershowitz, a long-time Israel defender and personal friend to Jeffrey Epstein, Israel has shut off virtually all access to electricity, food, water, and fuel to Gaza in “what is a recipe for genocide.” Similarly, Neve Gordon, professor of international law from Queen Mary University of London, remarked that the ICJ “is saying, prima facie [on first impression], Israel is committing genocide.”

Olivia Haill – Argosy Illustrator


If these politicians’ positions on Israel seem familiar, that is because they reflect Canada’s conduct towards our Indigenous communities. Similar to Canada’s founding, Israel’s inception is predicated on the settlement of Palestinian land by Zionists, which was laid out by Zionist founder Theodor Herzl. In his writings, Herzl asked the British colonizer Cecil Rhodes for aid in the creation of Israel because it “is something colonial.” Likewise, Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky highlighted that Zionist colonization was contingent on the forced displacement of the Palestinian population. Today, Israel’s actions remain the same as they ethnically displace Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank to make way for settler construction. On January 28, Israel’s National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich called for the removal of Palestinians from Gaza in a conference attended by 12 ministers from Netanyahu’s Likud party. 

Comparatively, Canada sends in the RCMP to arrest and evict land defenders who refuse expansion onto Aboriginal lands. In BC, the Community-Industry Response Group, or C-IRG unit, was created by the RCMP in the aftermath of the Sioux-led anti-pipeline protests at Standing Rock in 2016 due to fears of similar pushback for the Trans Mountain pipeline. This police unit would go on to brutalize protestors on Wet’suwet’en territory during the Coastal GasLink pipeline injunction and arrest more than 1,100 people at Ferry Creek on Vancouver Island during the old-growth logging protests. Recently, the RCMP expanded the C-IRG unit’s mandate and sent them to police pro-Palestinian rallies, or what senior media relations officer Staff Sgt. Kris Clark calls it “pro-Hamas demonstrations.”

Notably, officers from the C-IRG unit are being investigated both internally by the RCMP and the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) for acts of police brutality. Complaints include their use of “pain compliance techniques,” such as gouging the eyes of a protestor at Ferry Creek and racist remarks towards Indigenous women and protestors, just to name a few. However, the CRCC has stated that they lack adequate resources to investigate complaints and often must defer them to the RCMP to investigate internally.

Canada’s policing attitudes towards Indigenous communities, in addition to Robinson’s comments on Palestine, maintain the logic of the doctrine of terra nullius, that is, a land that can be inhabited but not owned. As stated in the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, the doctrine allowed “imperialists to argue that the presence of Indigenous peoples did not void a claim of terra nullius, since Indigenous people simply occupied, rather than owned, the land. True ownership, they claimed, could come only with European-style agriculture.” The denigration of land and people to a simple calculus of economic capacity opens room for settler colonial systems to operate.

Our politicians’ reaction to the slaughter of over 27,000 Palestinians, 70% of which are women and children, in addition to 67,000 injured civilians, is just another indicator that the attitude of the Canadian state has not changed since first contact, and instead, reflects a continued logic of settler colonialism. Even the NDP is not an ally in this endeavour, as they choose to side with zionist genocidal racists. The challenges of decolonization in Canada are as present as ever and appear to have no end in sight.

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