Freeland, who is also Canada’s finance minister, tweeted Tuesday evening that O’Toole should apologize, saying “Canadians deserve better from their political leaders.”
She released the statement amid increased pressure from Tory MPs over comments she made in the House of Commons last week following Canada’s support for a United Nations resolution on Palestinian self-determination. The resolution passed at the General Assembly by a vote of 163-5.
Last Thursday, Conservative foreign affairs critic Michael Chong rose in question period to ask why the government voted “against the state of Israel” at the UN General Assembly. Chong noted Canada voted in favour of another UN resolution on Palestinian self-determination last December, moves that he said are “contrary to our longstanding Canadian policy of opposing all resolutions that single out Israel.”
Freeland, who was fielding most questions that day since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was not in attendance, called Israel “a close and important friend of Canada,” and pledged Canada will always stand with the Jewish state. She also condemned an “appalling rise in anti-Semitism” at home and around the world.
Chong suggested Liberals broke with Canadian policy at the UN last year to win support in the government’s ultimately unsuccessful campaign for a Security Council seat. Canada ended up receiving six fewer votes than it did in its last bid in 2010, Chong said, calling it a “damning indictment” of the Liberal government’s foreign policy.
Tories highlighting Freeland’s remarks in question period
“When will the government restore Canada’s longstanding opposition to these anti-Israel resolutions, which were upheld by previous Liberal and Conservative governments and put in place by former prime minister Paul Martin?” he asked.
Freeland’s response to that question is what Tories are now highlighting as a concern.
“Let me speak to Canada’s place in the world and to our foreign policy,” she said. “Today, we are living in a world where there is a worrying rise of authoritarian regimes and a worrying rise of anti-democratic populism.
“Our country, in that world, will always stand up for human rights and will always stand up for the rules-based international order. That may not always be popular, but that is the Canadian way.”
Watch Freeland’s exchange with Chong in question period on Nov. 19:
Though the remark did not seem to raise the ire of the Official Opposition at the time, it has fuelled new attacks this week.
On Monday, Tory MP Marty Morantz said Freeland linked Canada voting in favour of the resolution to a worrying rise in authoritarian regimes and anti-democratic populism. “Was the deputy prime minister seriously trying to compare Israel to authoritarian regimes?” he asked.
Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne fired back that Morantz should let Freeland “speak for herself,” and said his counterpart in Israel knows Canada will always be a steadfast ally.
O’Toole: Freeland ‘compared Israel to authoritarian regimes’
On Tuesday, O’Toole kicked off question period by stating that Freeland “compared Israel to authoritarian regimes,” and asked Trudeau if he would demand an apology from his deputy.
Trudeau did not comment on Freeland’s remarks. He said the UN vote was a “reflection” of a commitment to the right of self-determination for both the Palestinian people and for Israelis.
“Canada is a strong ally and a close friend of Israel. We are committed to the goal of a lasting peace in the Middle East, including the creation of a Palestinian state peacefully side by side with Israel,” he said.
O’Toole noted that former Liberal MP Michael Levitt, who resigned in September to become president of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, has sharply criticized Canada’s UN vote.
In a statement last week with leaders of two other Canadian Jewish organizations, Levitt said his group was “dismayed by Canada’s decision to undermine its longstanding policy of rejecting one-sided and prejudicial anti-Israel resolutions at the UN.” Levitt said the vote would provide ammunition to those seeking to “delegitimize and demonize” the Jewish state.
Ex-Liberal MP slams Canada’s UN vote
In the statement, Levitt and leaders from B’nai Brith Canada the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said the UN resolution failed “to affirm Jewish self-determination in the indigenous and ancestral homeland of the Jewish people, intentionally erasing historical Jewish connections to Jerusalem.”
O’Toole again said Freeland compared Israel to an authoritarian regime and asked Trudeau if he would “publicly disavow” her comments.
Trudeau did not, but said his government has consistently stood up against “the illegitimate singling-out of Israel through one-sided votes at the United Nations,” while recognizing the right of Palestianian self-determination.
Liberal MP Ya’ara Saks, an Israeli-Canadian who last month won a byelection to replace Levitt in the Toronto riding of York Centre, tweeted Tuesday it was “shameful” Conservatives are making Israel a partisan issue.
In her tweet, she told O’Toole that he doesn’t “own the narrative on what it means to be a friend to the State of Israel or the Jewish community.”
O’Toole stood by his criticism of the deputy PM in a statement emailed to HuffPost Canada Wednesday.
“Minister Freeland has made it clear that the Liberal government is not a friend of Israel. Calling their one-sided anti-Israel vote at the United Nations an opposition to authoritarian and anti-democratic regimes is an insult to the only democracy in the Middle East and the Jewish people,” O’Toole said.
“Their actions speak even louder than their words – it is clear to Canadians that the Liberal government has abandoned their support of Israel at the United Nations.”