Thu 24 Jan 2008
Time: Wed January 23 21:17:47 2008 EST
Canada will not participate in a United Nations anti-racism conference in South Africa next year, the federal government has announced, saying the first one in 2001 degenerated into "expressions of intolerance and anti-Semitism."
In a statement released Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier said that while Canada participated in the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa, it will not attend a followup event in 2009.
"Unfortunately, that [first] conference degenerated into open and divisive expressions of intolerance and anti-Semitism that undermined the principles of the United Nations and the very goals the conference sought to achieve," the statement read.
The UN would not comment directly on Canada’s withdrawal from the conference. UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe said instead that "racism is too important an issue for member states not to work out their differences."
Jason Kenney, secretary of state for multiculturalism and Canadian identity, said the 2001 conference was "a circus of intolerance" that Canada will not support a second time.
"Our considered judgment, having participated in the preparatory meetings, was that we were set for a replay of Durban I, and Canada has no intention of lending its good name and resources to such a systematic promotion of hatred and bigotry."
Canada’s delegation to the 2001 conference issued a statement of reservation on its final declaration, which included a statement of concern for the "plight of Palestinian people under foreign occupation." The document stopped short of directly condemning Israel.
At the time, Hedy Fry, the head of Ottawa’s delegation to Durban, castigated the conference for what she characterized as attempts to de-legitimize the state of Israel – largely by Arab and Muslim countries. Consequently, the Canadian delegation disassociated itself from all text in the document referring to the situation in the Middle East.
Kenney cited numerous examples of how the upcoming conference "has gone completely off the rails," including the election of Libya as chair and the appointment of Cuba to vice-chair and rapporteur. Iran was nominated onto the organizing committee.
He also said important pre-conference meetings have been scheduled on Jewish high holidays, preventing participation by Israeli officials.
"We’ve tried to influence it so that we would not revisit the overt expressions of hatred which came out of the original conference," said Kenney. "But we unfortunately ran into a brick wall." B’nai Brith Canada said it supported the government’s decision Tuesday, saying Durban I "degenerated into a hate-fest directed at Israel and the Jewish delegates attending the conference."