Legal Frameworks Uphold Colonial Complicity in the Occupation of Palestine
Staff members of Pivot Legal Society have roots across the globe, and each of us brings our own unique perspectives, lived experiences, and cultural teachings to our work and the communities we belong to. Many of us are people who were forced into the diaspora, or whose families and ancestors came here for a better life, and we find ourselves organizing on stolen land – namely, the unceded territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam Indian Band), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.
As a legal society operating on stolen land, we recognize the inherent privilege of our position as settlers, and we are committed to learning to work in solidarity as accomplices in shifting the colonial default here in so-called Canada and more broadly across the globe. Our work challenges and changes laws that harm marginalized communities through the colonial legal system, the same system that the state weaponizes against equity-seeking communities.
Although we continue to work locally, Pivot staff understand that the systems of oppression that we see here in Canada are global and interconnected with imperialism, capitalism, and colonization. We stand in solidarity with racialized and criminalized substance users, sex workers, illicit economy workers, incarcerated communities, harm reduction workers, activists, and advocates across the world.
By expanding our awareness of the struggles of people resisting settler colonialism globally, our understanding is richer, our strategies more effective, and our victories more widespread.
Hence the necessity for our first international solidarity statement regarding settler colonial complicity in the occupation of Palestine and its connections to our work.
Pivot Stands in Solidarity with Palestinians Throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories
Pivot wishes to voice full support for a permanent ceasefire and for the liberation of Palestine from settler colonization and imperialism. We unequivocally condemn the genocidal campaign of ethnic cleansing that the nation-state of Israel has waged against the Palestinian people for over 75 years, including a 16-year siege of Gaza.
While laws are but one expression of the ethics of a people, as actors in the legal system we wish to make clear that our position is fully supported by both local and international human rights law. Moreover, our position is necessary as part of a broader legal community currently grappling with its own colonial foundations and committed to decolonizing its practices to the extent that is possible.
We echo global calls for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, the West Bank, and all settler occupied territories of Palestine. Our call for an end to the occupation of Palestine must be situated within a particular historical trajectory that recognizes the decades long occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians since the 1948 Nakba; the egregious bombardment of hospitals, schools, homes and refugee camps; the forced eviction and displacement of Palestinians from their homes and neighbourhoods; and the unlawful detainment of Palestinians including thousands of political prisoners and hundreds of children in Israeli prisons who are held in administrative detention without a charge or trial, which is illegal in Canada and which the Canadian government should condemn.
Ongoing Settler Colonial Occupation and Significance of Palestinian Liberation Movements
As lawyers, organizers, and advocates in “Canada,” we work within settler colonial frameworks and must be clear about how colonial occupation, displacement and the genocide of Indigenous peoples takes root. In the Canadian context, this notoriously includes the Indian Act, but more broadly includes the subjugation of Indigenous peoples to all Canadian laws in place of their preexisting legal systems. Stephen Mussell, formerly Pivot’s board chair, discussed the displacement of Indigenous peoples in the context of Canada and the resistance of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs::
In short, Indigenous laws are Indigenous peoples' own legal systems, which existed long before Canadian colonial state law on these lands, and they continue to exist today as living, breathing, changing systems of law despite hundreds of years of Canada's attempts to abolish them. By contrast, Aboriginal law is the body of Canadian laws that dictate Indigenous peoples' rights under the colonial legal framework… It seems blatantly obvious that this is a continuation of the racist doctrines that enabled the colonial state to establish itself in the first place and that view Indigenous peoples and their governance systems and laws as inferior.
Pivot recognizes the Palestinian right to resist as part of Palestinians’ right to self-determination guaranteed under international human rights law, including their right to return to their homes and property from which they have been uprooted and dispossessed (UN General Assembly Resolution 3236). The enduring political reality of Palestinian and other colonized peoples’ struggle for liberation from colonial domination and occupation is explicitly contemplated under international law (UN General Assembly Resolution 37/43). Israel’s regime of apartheid and racial domination over Palestinian people is well documented, however, as a legal community we often rely on “whitewashing” of this pertinent legal context to absolve settler states of any responsibility. It is well known that South African apartheid was specifically modelled on the Canadian state's treatment of Indigenous Peoples, and Israeli apartheid continues that framework of domination. In light of these connections, it is obvious why Canada fails to acknowledge Israel’s regime of apartheid. Palestine reminds us that the true root of oppression is colonialism. Continued efforts to occupy, expel, forcibly evict, and eviscerate communities are rooted in imperialist violence that purports to uphold liberal democratic principles. However, these sustained colonial efforts reveal the contradictions of political ideologies of liberalism that are founded upon the dispossession, enslavement, murder, and enduring theft of Indigenous peoples’ land and labour globally.
Settler colonial states are founded in the violent occupation and dispossession of Indigenous lands and peoples, displacement, and social control through containment – and genocide. This includes the repression of resistance from the occupied. As oppressive regimes including settler colonial states take hold, they enact laws that encode oppression, displacing existing legal orders and laying the foundations for further oppression.
Canada's Role and Complicity in Colonial Violence and Repression of Pro-Palestine Political Expression
As a legal advocacy organization, Pivot is deeply concerned with the unjustified repression of political expression in the context of Palestine. We know that historically and today, the State in various nations globally leads persistent incursions on marginalized communities' ability to exercise constitutionally protected rights and liberties, including free speech, expression, and peaceful protest and assembly. This is made possible through efforts to criminalize, repress, surveil, and subdue liberation movements that oppose imperialism, colonial occupation, and neoliberal forms of globalization. Our Palestinian comrades, and people struggling under systems of racial capitalism and colonialism from Turtle Island to Haiti (whose working class Black communities led the first Black revolution opposing a colonial power), know that state repression of Black, Palestinian, Indigenous, environmental, and racial justice protesters is not new. The recent surge of anti-Palestinian censorship, repression, and criminalization follows this same trajectory.
Across Canada, Groups like the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs have criticized the conflation of critiques of the state of Israel with antisemitism and hate speech, and warned about the chilling effect that results from the repression of political speech by racialized groups. We know that state policing and military forces are often used to legitimize and enforce colonial laws and legal orders. For instance, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) has been policing, in large numbers, Palestine solidarity rallies and marches in Vancouver. Among other police forces, the VPD has made several arrests, and has engaged in attempts to criminalize organizers that oppose the colonial occupation of Palestine. We view these actions as unjustified violations of people’s constitutionally protected rights to free expression, assembly, and non-discrimination.
Palestinians and their allies around the world and in Canada, including students, organizers, academics, and lawyers, have been under attack for expressing political dissent through peaceful protests, hunger strikes, sit-ins, rallies, community blockades, and other forms of political expression, whilst enduring harassment, doxing, censures, employment-related reprisals, including termination, and other forms of repression rooted in anti-Palestinian racism. While the Canadian state and various legal institutions purport to uphold the rule of law and freedom of expression, they have targeted pro-Palestine speech and supporters of Palestinian rights.
Independent Jewish Voices stated on October 8, 2023:
The Canadian government has opposed Palestinian attempts at non-violent resistance, whether through efforts to boycott, divest and impose sanctions or through appeals to international courts and the UN. When non-violent resistance is seen as unacceptable, labelled antisemitic or terroristic, Palestinians are thus stripped of the tools to advocate for their lives, liberties and livelihoods.
In keeping with its own complicity in establishing the Israeli state as a colonial outpost in historical Palestine, Canada has played a troubling role in the continued occupation of Palestine, including through its provision of financial and military aid, including $21 million in military exports to Israel in 2022 alone.
Meanwhile, settler colonial states don’t just fund colonial occupation, they actively train each other – the RCMP have taken an active role in training the forces that police Palestinian people. In this way, Canada, through its deployment of military-style RCMP forces, has played a major part in Israel’s ongoing occupation of the West Bank and Palestine.
Furthermore, on October 27, 2023, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for a “sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities,” but Canada initially abstained, only adding its name to the call for a ceasefire after more than 40 days of popular pressure from Canadians. This is a continuing trend demonstrating Canada’s hypocrisy, as noted by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East:
Canada’s voting record in the General Assembly runs counter to its own official foreign policy. Despite officially recognizing the Palestinian right to self-determination, Canada has consistently voted against the General Assembly’s annual resolution affirming Palestinians’ right to self-determination. Furthermore, although Canada does not recognize Israeli control over the occupied Palestinian territories, it continues to vote against UN resolutions condemning illegal Israeli “settlements.” In all, since 2011, Canada has either voted against or abstained on every resolution supporting the rights of Palestinians. It is well-known that the Harper government, while in power from 2006 to 2015, firmly embraced a pro-Israel position. Trudeau has sought to soften some of the rhetorical rough edges around Harper’s approach, but continues the UN voting pattern of his predecessor.
The Canadian government took a long time to issue any official reactions to South Africa’s case against Israel at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The statements were so noncommittal and poorly drafted they created mass confusion across the political spectrum and required the government to clarify that they would actually abide by rulings on the case. What is clear, is that Canada has refused to support South Africa’s case, while other countries have. As reported by Al Jazeera on January 26, 2024, the ICJ has issued an interim ruling in South Africa’s favour, and ordered provisional measures on Israel “...to take all measures to prevent genocidal acts, prevent and punish the direct and public incitement to genocide, and take immediate and effective steps to ensure the provision of humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza.” As of this writing, Mélanie Joly, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs has officially reiterated that Canada support ICJ’s role, but not the premise of South Africa’s case. Once again creating ambiguity concerning how Canada will respond, which may ultimately be used as a cover for inaction.
One may correctly assume that it is in the interests of one genocidal state to side with another genocidal state on the international stage, lest it call into question its own tactics for maintaining its existence.
As an organization working within the colonial law on stolen lands, the core of Pivot’s work is to condemn and challenge all forms of dehumanization, stigmatization, and discrimination, whether that be antisemitism, racism, anti-poor discrimination or the criminalization of people who use drugs, people who do sex work, and people who are unhoused.
We work daily to build out solidarity in our own communities and internationally as we recognize the interconnectedness of our collective struggles against oppression, hegemony, and imperialism, and we stand with the Palestinian people in our hearts and actions.
Our fight is together.
- Pivot Legal Society
Special Thanks to External Contributors
Works Consulted/ Additional Reading
Center for Constitutional Rights, Emergency Legal Briefing Paper: Israel’s Unfolding Crime of Genocide of the Palestinian People & U.S. Failure to Prevent and Complicity in Genocide (October 18, 2023)
Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.