Ontario legislative building. HELENA NAJM/THE VARSITY

A private member’s bill to restrict business relations with companies and entities supporting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement was introduced into Ontario Legislature on May 18 by Liberal MPP Mike Colle and Progressive Conservative MPP Tim Hudak.

Under Bill 202, the Standing Up Against Anti-Semitism in Ontario Act, “a public body shall not enter into a contract with a person or entity that supports or participates in the BDS movement,” and “no college or university shall support or participate in the BDS movement.”

Hudak called the BDS movement the “insidious new face of anti-Semitism.” He said, “If somebody said they weren’t going to buy from a business because the owners were gay, you would go crazy, but somehow because they’re Jewish or from Israel, oh, it’s free speech all of a sudden? Come on.”

While the BDS movement calls for a “boycott of Israeli companies, goods and services or of international companies involved in Israeli policies violating Palestinian human rights and international law,” it does not advocate for a boycott of businesses owned by Jewish people.

While in Israel on a trade mission, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne clarified that she is entirely opposed to the BDS movement, although she also stated that freedom of speech is “something we must vigorously defend.” The bill was defeated 39–18. with no support from the New Democratic Party caucus and solely Colle’s vote from the Liberal Party.

BDS activists on campus held a press conference at Harvest Noon, the café operated by the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU), on the topic of the bill. The UTGSU is one of several student unions in the country that have endorsed the BDS movement.

“Bill 202 was an obscene attempt by out of touch politicians to criminalize and censor activists campaigning for Palestinians and their basic human rights,” said Omar Sirri, a member of the UTGSU’s ad-hoc BDS committee. “These rights are blatantly violated on a daily basis by vicious Israeli occupation and apartheid.”

Sirri applauded the defeat of the bill, calling it a “victory for the BDS movement.” He said, “MPPs voted down this bill because they realised these McCarthyist tactics violate our basic freedom of speech and expression, calling out Israel for its egregious violations of international law.”

Aidan Fishman, second year law student and co-founder of Israel-on-Campus believes that the authors of Bill 202 did not make an adequate attempt to secure its passage, and says he is concerned that the BDS movement promotes anti-semitism. “My hope going forward is that MPPs from all parties unite to oppose all forms of bigotry, including BDS, just as the federal House of Commons overwhelmingly voted to condemn BDS in February,” he said.

The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union and the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, as well as the GSU, have voted to endorse BDS. The UTSU has not endorsed the movement. 

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