Federal public sector union facing human rights complaints over “anti-Israel agenda”

One of Canada’s largest public sector unions has been hit with 14 human rights complaints from Jewish members who allege a “culture of discrimination and harassment” amid their union pushing an “anti-Israel agenda.”

The complaints, which accuse the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) of “advocating unbalanced and biased views towards Israel and creating a culture of fear, discrimination and bias towards Jewish (union) members,” list several problematic events.

Incidents include hosting a “solidarity with Palestine” webinar in which participants allegedly accused Israel of colonialism, apartheid and genocide. “The webinar featured presenters who actively presented one-sided and biased views,” the complaints claim.

The union is also accused of having handed out “antisemitic” flyers promoting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement, rejecting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, and targeting Zionism.

Furthermore, the complainants take issue with the union promoting the Ceasefire Now Coalition, which they say falsely accused Israel of bombing the Al-Shifa hospital, as well as with the promotion of anti-Israel rallies and a donation of $25,000 to the controversial UNRWA agency.

Last month, Canada joined the United States in suspending funding to UNRWA following allegations of staff involvement in Hamas’ Oct. 7 terrorist attacks on Israel. 

Many of the complainants say they tried bringing up their concerns to the union’s leadership, but investigative or remedial actions were not taken. 

The complainants are represented pro bono by lawyers Daniel Lublin and Marc Kitay.

“The essence of the complainants’ case is that PSAC is clearly advancing an agenda that discriminates against Jewish union members, including donating union funds to UNRWA despite credible reports of agency workers holding innocent Israelis hostage and other behaviours that adversely impact them,” said Lublin in a statement.

“A union’s job is to represent the interest of all its members,” added Kitay. “No one should be made to feel like a second-class citizen or targeted because of their background and beliefs. There must be impartiality.”

Kitay stated that “PSAC’s alleged behaviour is a clear violation of the Canadian Human Rights Act that prohibits the union from engaging in differential treatment on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, and religion or religious beliefs.”

The complainants are making several demands, including orders to require the union to “cease engaging in any form of discrimination, hate or offensive conduct towards Jewish members,” to “ensure impartiality and balanced views of panelists and presenters at future conferences,” to “immediately cease funding UNRWA and to take steps to reclaim the funds previously designed to UNRWA,” and “prohibiting PSAC from providing financial support to BDS or other related causes using member dues.”

The complainants also want $100,000 each in damages, for the leadership to undergo antisemitism education training, and for the union to issue an apology.

“Jewish members of PSAC should not be forced to endure their union’s dissemination of anti-Israel views and anti-Jewish propaganda, which creates an unsafe environment where Jews are villainized in the eyes of their peers,” said Kitay.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs helped the complainants find free legal representation.

In a statement to True North, a Public Service Alliance of Canada spokesperson said that while the union “opposes all forms of oppression, racism, and discrimination,” it will continue to call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

“The unrelenting bombardment of civilians in Gaza and mounting death toll, along with the lack of water, electricity, medicine and food, has created a humanitarian catastrophe that must not be ignored.”

The PSAC spokesperson added that “members experiencing antisemitism, anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia or any other form of discrimination in their workplace will receive the full support of their union.”

PSAC is not the only Canadian public service union to find itself in hot water over anti-Israel activism.

CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn expressed support in a social media post for a Palestinian phrase commonly acknowledged as calling for the destruction of Israel and said on Thanksgiving saying he was “grateful” for “resistance.” He later apologized for that post. 

Several CUPE locals have also promoted anti-Israel content.

Twenty-five CUPE Ontario members filed a human rights complaint against the CUPE union and its leadership last November, alleging that their actions promoted “violence and discrimination against Jewish people.”

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