Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly is condemning sexual violence committed by Hamas during its attack on Israel, after weeks of pressure to speak out.
“Using sexual violence as a tactic of war is a crime,” Joly wrote Thursday on X, formerly known as Twitter.
Canada strongly condemns sexual and gender-based violence, she wrote, “including rape, perpetrated by Hamas against women in Israel on Oct. 7. We believe Israeli women.”
Joly was referring to the brutal incursion two months ago by Hamas militants, who killed an estimated 1,200 people.
Opposition parties have been pressing the government for weeks to condemn the sexual violence by Hamas, at times arguing that it’s not enough to simply speak out against violence in general.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh told delegates at the party’s convention Oct. 14 that “there can be no justification for the torture, murder and sexual violence committed by Hamas.”
Two weeks ago in Parliament, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner called on the governing Liberals to denounce the United Nations for not having condemned Hamas’s sexual violence, which the organization ended up doing a week later.
At the time, parliamentary secretary Pam Damoff responded that Canadacondemns Hamas’s “actions against women and other civilians.”
Conservatives also took aim Thursday at Canada’s embassy in Tel Aviv for a post on social media that the Tories say suggests Palestinians have been victims of sexual violence in the war between Israel and Hamas.
“Sexual (and) gender-based violence impact both Israeli (and) Palestinian women and girls, and also men and boys, in distinct ways,” the post reads.
“Canada condemns all use of sexual and gender-based violence as a tactic of war. We advocate for justice for all victims and survivors.”
Seven minutes later, the embassy added that “we must acknowledge that Israeli women and girls have been profoundly impacted by the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. Accounts of brutal sexual violence during the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks are deeply concerning and must be investigated.”
Conservative deputy leader Melissa Lantsman pounced on the original post, writing, “You can’t even get this right.” Added former Conservative Sen. Linda Frum: “Only one side is using rape as a tactic of war.”
Global Affairs Canada acknowledged but did not immediately address a request to clarify the original post.
The latest statements come afterCanada’s envoy for combating antisemitism called it an anti-Jewish double standard to question reports of Hamas militants raping Israeli women.
“What we are seeing with the refusal/indifference to believe Jewish women who were sexually assaulted is a clear form of antisemitism,” Deborah Lyons wrote Sunday on X, chastising women’s groups.
“Non-Jewish and non-Israeli women would not be questioned and challenged in this same way.”
In Edmonton, the University of Alberta replaced the head of its sexual assault centre last month for endorsing an open letter that questioned the validity of sexual assault claims against Hamas.
In Israel, women’s organizations have been calling on the international community to speak out, and the government has recently criticized other countries for not doing so.
Yet police in Israel are still investigating what happened two months ago, after officials prioritized identifying bodies instead of preserving evidence, The Associated Press reported.
Officials say they have found it difficult to find rape survivors because many of the people believed to be victims of such acts were killed by their attackers.
On Dec. 1, UN Women said it condemned Hamas for “numerous accounts of gender-based atrocities and sexual violence during those attacks” on Oct. 7.
“This is why we have called for all accounts of gender-based violence to be duly investigated and prosecuted, with the rights of the victim at the core,” the agency wrote.
The agency’s statement came after weeks of pressure, since it had already raised the alarm about Palestinian women in the Gaza Strip being displaced and widowed by Israel’s bombardment, which the UN says violated international law.
Using sexual violence as a tactic of war is a crime. We strongly condemn #SGBV, including rape, perpetrated by Hamas against women in Israel on October 7. We believe Israeli women.
Canada will always stand against #SGBV and advocate for justice for all victims.
— Mélanie Joly (@melaniejoly) December 7, 2023
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 7, 2023.
— With files from The Associated Press