The free speech of pro-Palestinian protesters must be protected.

Do you remember the surge in Islamophobia after the 9/11 terrorist attacks? Governments around the world – including here in Canada – used a climate of fear and division to justify mass surveillance, attacks on human rights, racial profiling and police persecution of Muslim and Arab communities.

These policies, carried out in the name of public safety, actually stoked violence – with a surge in hate crimes against Muslim and Arab people for years – and creeping authoritarianism in the form of increased policing powers and spying on activists.1,2

I see that disturbing history repeating itself today. Following the horrific attacks by Hamas on October 7, there has been a dangerous rise in Islamophobic and anti-Semitic hate crimes.3,4 At the same time, many politicians and media outlets are conflating any peaceful protests advocating for Palestinian human rights with support for terrorism.5 Those who do speak out against the Israeli military's collective punishment of Palestinians – war crimes including the indiscriminate bombing of civilians and blockades of food, water and medicine – can face extreme professional, personal, and political consequences.6,7

We’re now seeing growing calls to broaden the legal definition of hate speech in order to silence these peaceful protests.8 These changes would set a dangerous and chilling precedent of repressing free speech in public and academic spaces. Unwarranted accusations of hate speech shut down open dialogue and protected free speech – a cornerstone of Canadian democracy.

We need our political leaders to keep people safe, stand up for human rights and protect free speech and the rights of peaceful protesters.

Let me be clear: Leadnow unequivocally condemns all violence against civilians and the actual glorification of terrorism and murder. And we have been dismayed over the past weeks to see Canadian leaders conflating peaceful pro-Palestinian protests with hate speech or support for Hamas.

Solidarity with Palestinian people is not anti-Semitism, nor is criticizing the State of Israel. And grieving for Israeli civilians and other foreign nationals killed and held captive by Hamas is not anti-Palestinian or Islamophobic, nor is solidarity with Jewish people in Israel and around the world calling for peace and justice.

Canadian leaders must reject the dangerous narratives that conflate all Jews with the actions of Israel – and reject those that say standing in solidarity with Palestinian civilians under siege is synonymous with hate speech.