Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino is facing a court application aimed at forcing him to determine whether Canada’s war crimes laws prevent former Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett from attending a speaking engagement in Toronto later this month.
The application — known by its technical term of a mandamus — was filed Friday in Federal Court and asked a judge to compel Mendicino into making a decision on Bennett’s admissibility.
It was filed by Khaled Mouammar, a former national president of the Canadian Arab Federation, human rights groups Palestinian and Jewish Unity and Just Peace Advocates, and the think-tank Canadian Foreign Policy Institute.
The groups sent a request and a legal brief to Mendicino and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) on Monday, arguing that Bennett should be ruled inadmissible from entering the country under Canada’s war crimes laws.
The brief argues the continued existence of Israeli settlements on territory occupied since 1967 constituting a war crime “per Canadian policy and the United Nations.”
“The law says there is a legal duty to render a decision here … and we are going to the court to ask them to tell the government to do their legal duty,” said Nicholas Pope, a lawyer with the Ottawa firm Hameed Law who is involved in the action.
Bennett is scheduled to speak in Toronto on June 14 during an event titled “Israel at 75, the Road Ahead,” hosted by the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre.
Bennett was prime minister in a coalition government for a little over a year between 2021 and 2022.
The court filing alleges that Bennett “committed war crimes” as defined by Canadian law “by making voluntary and significant contribution to the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Golan Heights.”
The filing said Canada’s war crimes laws are spelled out in sections of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.
‘A baseless smear campaign’
Michael Levitt, CEO of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, called attempts to block Bennett’s entry into Canada “a baseless smear campaign” to “vilify and delegitimize the state of Israel and intimidate Canadian Jews.”
Levitt said his organization was “proud” to host a former Israeli prime minister who “formed the most diverse government in the country’s history that included an Arab party.”
Bennett formed the eight-party coalition in June 2021 that included legislators opposed to Israel’s occupation of lands captured in 1967 and those against Palestinian independence, along with an Arab party.
The Israeli embassy in Ottawa did not respond to a request for comment.
Mendicino’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
The legal brief also quotes from arguments crafted by Michael Lynk, a Western University law professor and former UN Special Rapporteur on the issue. Canada’s laws designate the “transfer of parts of the occupying power’s civilian population into occupied territory” as a war crime, writes Lynk.
The document also quotes Global Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly as saying on Feb. 14 that Canada “strongly opposes the expansion of settlements.”
The document says that throughout Bennett’s military and political career, he worked to promote and expand Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories.
The federal government is expected to respond to the legal manoeuvre within 10 days of the day of filing, said Shane Martínez, a Toronto-based lawyer involved with the litigation on behalf of the groups filing the legal action.
A decision may not be reached before the former Israeli prime minister arrives in Canada, he added.