Canada’s about-face on Gaza shows people power at work

Canadian Friends have shown their concern and support for the people of Israel, Palestine, and particularly Gaza, strongly over the past six months, and it has been heartening to see. Since the October 7th, 2023, Hamas attack and taking of Israeli hostages, Israel has led an ongoing assault on Gaza. This has been truly devastating. It has deeply affected not only everyone in Gaza, but safety and security in the whole region.

Despite original unquestioning support of Israel, the Canadian government was forced to acknowledge the need for a ceasefire, humanitarian aid access, upholding its commitment to international law, and an arms embargo with Israel.

That change in position only happened thanks to the persistence of Canadians in advocacy, letter writing, meeting with MPs, and protesting across the country. All actions that I know Friends participated in. CFSC’s two letter writing campaigns saw hundreds of letters sent and many visits to MPs.

While heavily watered down with last-minute amendments, a motion was passed on March 18th—an expression of the will of Parliament and, by extension, that of Canadians. It was important to Canada, to the international community, and, hopefully, for Palestine/ Israel. Other countries are referencing the motion, providing a precedent for more countries to follow.

There is still much left to do in holding Canada accountable, but we now know that the voice of Canadians does play an important part in generating major change—as the chronology of events below demonstrates—from complete support of Israel to an arms embargo with Israel.


—Oct 7, 2023: Hamas attack on Israel claiming the lives of 1,139 Israelis. Over 250 hostages are taken. Within hours Gaza is sealed off by Israel. Access to water, electricity, and fuel are all cut off.

—Oct 8, 2023: Israel declares war on Hamas and begins an aerial bombardment of Gaza.

—Oct 27, 2023: Israel starts ground invasion of Gaza, tells Palestinians to move south. Canada continues to affirm Israel’s right to self defense.

—Dec 12, 2023: UN General Assembly adopts a resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and reiterating its insistence that all parties comply with international law, hostages be released immediately, and humanitarian access be ensured. Canada votes in favour (previously did not vote in favour of a ceasefire).

—Dec 29, 2023: South Africa presents to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) a case for genocide in Gaza by Israel. There have been at least 21,507 deaths in Gaza (approx. 1% of Gaza’s population).

—Jan 26, 2024: ICJ issues provisional ruling of a plausible case of genocide. ICJ acknowledges the urgency of the humanitarian situation and outlines measures for Israel to conduct military operations and guarantee the provision of basic services and humanitarian assistance to the population in Gaza.

—Jan 26, 2024: Funding to UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) by 16 countries (including Canada) suspended due to allegations of staff involvement in the Oct 7th attacks.

—Feb 12, 2024: Foreign Affairs (FAAE) Committee of the House of Commons unanimously passes motion requesting Global Affairs Canada (GAC) to provide documentation on the export permits for military goods and technology issued to Israel since 2006.

—Feb 20, 2024: UN Security Council ceasefire resolution fails 13 to 1 with the US vetoing.

—Mar 8, 2024: Canada restores funding to UNWRA based on reports from a UN investigation.

—Mar 15, 2024: UNICEF shares that 31%—or 1 in 3 children under 2 years of age—in the Northern Gaza Strip suffer from acute malnutrition (an escalation from 15.6% in January). Serious fears of famine in Gaza loom.

—Mar 18, 2024: Parliament passes historic motion on Gaza calling for, among other things, an arms embargo with Israel—the first G7 country to do so.

—Mar 25, 2024: UN Security Council ceasefire for Ramadan resolution passes with 14 votes in favour and for the first time the US abstaining from the vote (allowing it to pass).

—Apr 10, 2024: A new motion is presented at the FAAE Committee asking, again, for the export permits for military arms and technologies sent to Israel since 2020, as the FAAE has yet to receive the documents from GAC.

Sandra Wiens is CFSC’s Government Relations Representative.