FSWC Alarmed by Ottawa School Board’s Sudden Postponement of Presentation by Antisemitism Special Envoy Irwin Cotler

May 20, 2022

Media Release

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Toronto (May 20, 2022) – Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) is expressing deep concern over the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board’s (OCDSB) sudden postponement of a presentation by Canada's Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism, the Hon. Irwin Cotler. This comes amid concerns raised by Jewish students, parents and teachers over anti-Israel walkouts at a number of Ottawa schools.

Over the last 10 days, community members have contacted FSWC, saying how alarmed they are about the ongoing activities and initiatives organized and promoted by the Palestinian Youth Movement of Ottawa, including a series of recent student walkouts in the Ottawa area. The Palestinian Youth Movement is well known for its antisemitic propaganda, including the open promotion and glorification of terrorists who have murdered Israeli Jews.

Cotler, who was appointed as Special Envoy by the Government of Canada in 2020, was set to present a workshop on antisemitism to OCDSB staff on Wednesday, but the board postponed the presentation at the last minute. Reportedly, OCDSB staff have expressed concerns over the IHRA definition of antisemitism being "controversial," which has raised questions about whether this could be the reason behind the postponement.

Promotion of the IHRA definition is a foundational element of Special Envoy Cotler's mandate, as reaffirmed by Canada's Prime Minister in early 2022 when he extended his term.

It's outrageous that Jews, unlike any other minority group, are being questioned and challenged for defining the hate they face, especially given the IHRA definition has been adopted by both the governments of Canada and Ontario. This also comes at a time of rising antisemitism across the country.

In a letter sent to OCDSB Director of Education Camille Williams-Taylor yesterday, FSWC Director of Policy Jaime Kirzner-Roberts stated, “The reach of such a group into our schools creates a toxic environment, especially for Jewish students and teachers…The fact that this presentation did not take place as planned has exacerbated the concerns of Jews affiliated with the OCDSB.”

In the letter, Kirzner-Roberts called on the OCDSB to explain the reason they postponed the presentation and what actions the board will take “to address the increasingly hostile environment for Jewish students and teachers in the OCDSB.”

FSWC has requested to meet with Williams-Taylor to discuss these matters and the shared goal of ensuring that OCDSB schools are inclusive and welcoming to all.