Canadian parliament votes to halt weapons sales to Israel
Palestinian solidarity protesters take part in a march for Gaza on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, Nov. 4, 2023. | Spencer Colby / The Canadian Press via AP

TORONTO—Ceasefire advocates and the Palestine solidarity movement didn’t get everything they wanted, but leaders are calling the Canadian government’s decision to halt weapons sales to Israel “a step forward.”

Canada’s parliament voted 204 to 117 on Monday to end arms exports to Israel, demand an immediate ceasefire and the release of hostages, and “work…to pursue…the establishment of the State of Palestine as part of a negotiated two-state solution.” It also commits the government to “support the work of the International Court of Justice,” where Israel faces genocide charges brought by South Africa.

The motion was a watered-down version of a resolution originally put forward by the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) that would have required Canada to immediately recognize the State of Palestine and suspend all trade in military goods and technology with Israel.

The vote to pass the motion came as a surprise because the ruling Liberal Party had vowed earlier in the day not to let the opposition alter its foreign policy. Behind the scenes negotiations throughout Monday, however, resulted in language that the government and the NDP could agree on.

In the final minutes of Monday’s sitting, Government House Leader Steven MacKinnon shocked MPs when he rose to advance a reworked version of the NDP’s motion. When the tally came in, the “yes” votes were overwhelming.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, along with almost every Liberal MP, and all lawmakers from the NDP, Bloc Quebecois, and Green Parties, voted in favor. Standing opposed were right-wing Conservative Party Leader Pierre Poilevre and his MPs.

Jagmeet Singh, leader of the labor-backed social democratic NDP, declared a partial victory, telling reporters, “We have forced the government to move in a certain direction.” The party’s foreign affairs critic, Heather McPherson, said that previously “we’ve seen the complete failure of Canada’s Liberal government to stand up for what is right…. This was never supposed to be a wedge issue…this was always to get help for the people of Gaza.”

Michael Bueckert, vice president of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), said that even though the motion “did not go nearly as far as we wanted,” it is a “step forward in ending Canadian complicity in Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza.”

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said Monday, ‘We have forced the government to move.’ | Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press via AP

Though he criticized the amended motion for continuing to promote “false Israeli narratives and an acquiescence to the horrific status quo,” Bueckert said the substantive effect of the decision still constitutes a “major concession.”

The language of the motion requires the government to “cease the further authorization and transfer of arms exports to Israel.” Canada is now bound to institute a policy of weapons export restrictions in accord with human rights qualifications. The change applies not just to approval of future shipments but also to already-issued permits.

Although the U.S. is by far the largest supplier of deadly weapons to the Netanyahu government, Canada is a significant shipper of arms to Israel—including a record-breaking $28.5 million CAD worth in just the last three months of 2023.

“While this is imperfect, it is a tangible victory on the road to a Canadian two-way arms embargo with Israel,” Bueckert said. He expressed satisfaction in the fact that parliament had finally “endorsed concrete measures to bring an end to the violence.”

Pointing to the tens of thousands of Canadians who had petitioned lawmakers for a much more forceful ceasefire and arms restrictions resolution, though, Bueckert said the opposition in the House cannot consider its work on the issue done.

“The NDP must not rest on its laurels,” he concluded. The party “must continue to fight Canada’s relationship with the Israeli military-industrial complex.”

His group, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, meanwhile, urged the entire ceasefire and Palestine solidarity movements to keep an eye on the government to make sure it sticks to the resolution it just adopted.

In a statement issued late on Monday, the organization urged Trudeau to “ignore the backlash from those who seek to vilify this motion, including the far-right Israeli government itself.”

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C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left.