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Canada Federal Court orders removal of ‘Product of Israel’ labels from West Bank wines

A judge has ruled that two wines made in Jewish settlements in the West Bank should not be labelled “Product of Israel,” because the label is false and denies Canadians the right to exercise their conscience by boycotting the items.

Federal Court Justice Anne Mactavish ruled on Monday that Canadian consumers have a constitutional right to accurate labelling because their buying choices may be an expression of their thought, conscience or religious beliefs.

She said she was not taking a position on the legal status of the settlements. But all the parties in the case and the two intervenor groups agreed that the settlements are not part of Israel, she wrote in her ruling.

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“One peaceful way in which people can express their political views is through their purchasing decisions,” she wrote. “To be able to express their views in this manner, however, consumers have to be provided with accurate information as to the source of the products in question.”

The case reached the Federal Court after David Kattenburg, a Winnipeg man who described himself to the court as a Jewish child of Holocaust survivors, fought a 2½-year battle to change the labels, calling them an affront to human rights and his conscience.

The ruling could have far-reaching consequences, according to Montreal lawyer Dimitri Lascaris, who represented Mr. Kattenburg.

“This has implications for any purchasing decision by a consumer that is related to matters of conscience,” Mr. Lascaris said in an interview. For instance, those interested in animal rights or buying locally will have a right to contest inaccurate labels.

The Canadian government had taken the position that consumer-protection laws were not intended to provide information on sensitive geopolitical issues. Those who wanted such information in this case, it argued, could “just Google the name of the wineries.” Consumers are entitled to accurate information for health and safety reasons, not for reasons of conscience, it said.

Two wines were directly at issue: Shiloh Legend KP 2012 and Psagot Winery M Series, Chardonnay KP 2015. The ruling means the Canadian Food Inspection Authority (CFIA) needs to reconsider their labels, in light of Justice Mactavish’s ruling.

Mr. Kattenburg, a science teacher and journalist, had written directly to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, which was selling the wines, and eventually to the food inspection authority. It initially supported his complaint, but then, after Global Affairs Canada became involved, reversed itself.

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Mr. Kattenburg then complained to the CFIA’s appeals office, which upheld the original ruling. The appeals office pointed to Canada’s free-trade agreement with Israel, which covers territory to which Israeli customs law apply – including the West Bank.

Mr. Kattenburg then sought judicial review at the Federal Court, represented pro bono by Mr. Lascaris. Two Jewish groups intervened at the court, one on each side of the issue. The League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada wanted to keep the labels as they were, while Independent Jewish Voices Canada wanted to change them.

In an interview, Mr. Kattenburg said the “Product of Israel” labels were Israel’s way of “planting a flag staking sovereign claim over stolen land – on Canadian store shelves.”

The Canadian government argued in court that the CFIA’s acceptance of the “Product of Israel” labels was reasonable, partly because labelling regulations for food and drugs require a clear indication of the country of origin, and the West Bank is not part of a country recognized by Canada. Justice Mactavish did not accept that argument, calling the label “false, misleading and deceptive.”

Mr. Kattenburg said the Canadian government had, in effect, endorsed “Israel’s de facto annexation of the West Bank, all the while saying the settlements were illegal and an obstacle to the coveted two-state solution. It was obscene and hypocritical.”

He said the decision could have an effect on other products such as cosmetics made in Israeli settlements. While he believes settlement products should be banned from Canada, he said that at the very least they need to be labelled properly “so Canadians of conscience can decide if they are going to buy them or not.”

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The Globe and Mail contacted Global Affairs Canada, which referred the matter to the office of Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau. A spokesman, Oliver Anderson, said the CFIA is reviewing the decision.

A spokesperson for the LCBO said it will follow the CFIA’s guidance on labelling requirements.

The Israeli embassy said it is reviewing the decision.

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