Ottawa ignores law against foreign military recruitment, again

Has the Trudeau government violated the law by promoting Canadians joining the Ukrainian military?

Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly recently responded to a question about Canadians joining the Ukrainian military by saying, “we understand that people of Ukrainian descent want to support their fellow Ukrainians. We are all very supportive of any form of support to Ukrainians right now.” For her part, Defence Minister Anita Anand stated, “‘all foreigners willing to defend Ukraine and world order’ to contact the foreign diplomatic missions of Ukraine.”

The Foreign Enlistment Act prohibits Canadians from recruiting for a foreign military. It notes, “any person who, within Canada, recruits or otherwise induces any person or body of persons to enlist or to accept any commission or engagement in the armed forces of any foreign state or other armed forces operating in that state is guilty of an offence.”

Recently, the Ukrainian government announced it was setting up an international brigade to fight the Russian invaders. The country has waived visa requirements for foreigners wanting to fight and claims 20,000 have registered. There have been a bevy of stories about Canadians traveling to Ukraine to join the fight and a Canadian-Ukrainian battalion is being set up with over 500 individuals.

In fact, there’s been organized support for the Ukrainian military in Canada since the deadly war broke in eastern Ukraine eight years ago. Established in 2014, Toronto-based Friends of Ukraine Defence Forces Fund had raised over $1.5 million before the flare up in tension three months ago. They claim to have raised more than that sum since.

A Maclean’s interviewer recently asked Friends of Ukraine Defence Forces Fund co-founder Ihor Kozak, “This reminds me, at least in name, of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, which provides purely social and educational supports. Was that an inspiration?” The retired Canadian Forces member responded, “absolutely. We have been amazed with the resistance the State of Israel has been able to put up to various threats, and how Jews around the world have been about supporting the Israeli Defense Forces. We thought that was a great model.”

A number of Jewish Canadian organizations support the Israeli military. In another possible violation of the Foreign Enlistment Act, United Jewish Appeal of Greater Toronto, Friends of Israel Scouts’ Garin Tzabar and Sar-El have induced individuals to join or assist the IDF. In violation of Canada Revenue Agency rules that prohibit supporting a foreign military, registered charities such as the Canadian Zionist Cultural Association and HESEG have also supportedthe Israeli military.

The Canadian government doesn’t simply turn a blind eye to support for the IDF. In January 2020 the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv held an event to celebrate Canadians fighting in the Israeli military. They invited all 78 Canadians in the IDF to the ambassador’s residence to demonstrate their appreciation. Referring to non-Israelis who join the IDF, ambassador Deborah Lyons told the Jerusalem Post, “Canadian lone soldiers are a particularly special group … This is something we want to do on a yearly basis to show our support.” At the event Canada’s ambassador said, “we bothshare a love of Canada and a love of Israel. We at the embassy are very proud of what you’re doing.”

Through an access to information request Karen Rodman of Just Peace Advocates recently received 150 pages of email messages between the Canadian officials who organized the pizza party for lone soldiers. The diplomats worked on it for months and said their objective was to boost the morale of Canadians in Israel’s occupation force after a lone soldier committed suicide.

It’s outrageous that Canadian diplomats celebrate those joining a force humiliating Palestinians at checkpoints in the West Bank, firing on protesters in Gaza and bombing Syria in violation of international law.

Canadian support for the IDF rests uneasily with the government’s criticism of Russia. If it was principled why aren’t they concerned with the Israeli military’s violation of international law and violence?

And what about Canadian law against recruitment for foreign militaries? Is that something the government can just ignore when it is politically useful?



Please sign this parliamentary petition calling on the Justice Minister to investigate those who have recruited for the IDF.

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