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Prime Minster Justin Trudeau speaks at a fundraising event in Vancouver on Dec. 14, 2023.Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press

The Prime Minister said Friday that Canada does not support the premise of South Africa’s case before the International Court of Justice that Israel’s military action in Gaza is genocide.

Speaking to reporters in Guelph, Ont., Justin Trudeau said that Canada has long been a “tremendous supporter of the international rules based order” and the International Court of Justice.

“But our wholehearted support of the ICJ and its processes does not mean that we support the premise of the case brought forward by South Africa,” he said, adding that Canada would continue to follow the case closely.

Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly, in a statement, echoed the Prime Minister’s view that support for the court “does not mean we accept the premise of the case brought by South Africa.”

She also reiterated Canada’s support for international efforts to gain a ceasefire, and said in defending itself from Hamas, Israel “must respect international humanitarian law.”

A spokesperson for the Embassy of Israel said “Canada’s announcement that it does not accept the premise of the case brought by South Africa to the ICJ against Israel, is significant.”

South Africa’s legal team argued on Thursday that the court in The Hague must urgently impose an interim order against Israel to prevent the risk of further “irreparable harm” to Palestinians in Gaza. It had filed an 84-page legal brief arguing that Israel’s military action and bombing of Gaza breach the Genocide Convention, which requires member countries to take actions to prevent genocide.

It argued that there was a plausible claim that “genocidal acts” had been committed by Israel in Gaza.

But Israel refuted the claim on Friday. It has said it is responding to a deadly October attack by Hamas, a terrorist organization whose intention is genocide.

The Liberal government has come under conflicting pressure this week from its own MPs to publicly support or reject South Africa’s case.

Liberal Chandra Arya said he was “disappointed” by Canada’s stand and said South Africa had provided evidence of a massive death toll among Palestinians in Gaza.

“However, I am glad to note Canada will follow the proceedings at ICJ very closely which implies that Canada will respect the decision made by the ICJ on this case,” he said. “Anyone who has read the submission of South Africa to [the] ICJ knows that it provides substantial evidence in support of its accusation.”

Some Liberal MPs, including former public safety minister Marco Mendicino, have been pressing the government to reject South Africa’s argument that Israel’s military action in Gaza is “genocidal in character.”

Mr. Mendicino said he was pleased the government has stated it “does not support South Africa’s claim of genocide against Israel.”

He urged the government to “take further steps to actively oppose South Africa’s suit, whether by seeking intervenor status or by endorsing the positions taken by other G7 countries, including the U.S.A. and Germany.”

MP Anthony Housefather also welcomed the government’s position and said Hamas has not hidden its intention to obliterate Israel.

Salma Zahid, among the Liberal MPs who urged the government to back South Africa’s motion publicly, said she was “glad the Prime Minister recognizes the ICJ as the appropriate venue for these allegations to be heard.”

”It is up to the ICJ to hear from all parties, evaluate the evidence and do its work. We must respect this process,” she said Friday.

Liberal MP Ken Hardie said the court could play a role as an “honest broker” in the conflict. “My personal view is that both combatants should be subjected to a review by international bodies including the ICJ,” he said.

On Friday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre accused the Prime Minister of “incredible, sinister and hypocritical double-speak” on the issue, and of spinning opposing messages to different groups of voters to cater to their views.

“He sends out some of his MPs to claim that they support calling Israel genocidal when they are talking to one group of voters. And then he sends out another group to say that they’re against calling Israel genocidal,” he said at a press conference.

“I find it incredible these countries have not accused Hamas of genocide when it is in Hamas’s charter that they want to commit genocide against Israel,” he said. “They admit that their October 7 attacks were motivated by genocidal aims.”

In a long-awaited statement on the South African case, Ms. Joly said Canada “will follow the proceedings of South Africa’s case at the International Court of Justice very closely.

“Under the UN’s 1948 Genocide convention, the crime of genocide requires the intention to destroy or partly destroy a group because of their nationality, ethnicity, race or religion. Meeting this high threshold requires compelling evidence,” she said.

Canada continues to condemn Hamas’s attack on Israel, she added, and Israel has the right to exist and defend itself from terrorist attacks.

“In defending itself, Israel must respect international law,” the statement said. She reiterated Mr. Trudeau’s call last month for a ceasefire.

Israel on Jan. 12 rejected accusations brought by South Africa at the UN's top court that its military operation in Gaza is a state-led genocide campaign.


The merits of the full case could take years to settle, but legal experts say the court could rule within the next two weeks on the request for an urgent interim order.

Meredith Preston McGhie, secretary-general of the Ottawa-based Global Centre for Pluralism, told The Globe and Mail that divisions in Canada on the South Africa case “are stark.”

“But we need to trust in our capacity as Canadians to hold space for empathy and for multiple perspectives. A commitment to the rule of law, rejection of violence in all its forms, and belief in the just resolution of conflicts have been hallmarks of Canada’s global reputation in the past. We need to return to these core principles, at home and abroad,” she said.

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