Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly recently condemned the sexual violence perpetrated by Hamas during the Israel attacks. Joly stated that using sexual violence as a tactic of war is an atrocious crime. Moreover, the minister made a direct reference to the brutal Hamas incursion two months ago where it is believed that many people lost their lives. Joly also emphasized Canada’s strong condemnation of all forms of sexual and gender-based violence, specifically citing the reported rapes against Israeli women on Oct. 7. She assured Canadians that Canada believes the survivors and victims of these heinous crimes.
Opposition parties expressed their concern for the situation and ultimately pressed the government to denounce the sexual violence by Hamas. The New Democratic Party (NDP) Leader Jagmeet Singh, at the party’s convention, and Conservative MPs in Parliament have been vocal about their demand for acknowledgment and condemnation of this violence.
The Government of Canada was also scrutinized in connection to a post made by Canada’s embassy in Tel Aviv and Ramallah. The post was deemed to cast doubt on the nature of the violence facing Palestinian women during the war, leading to a backlash from Conservative members. In response, the embassy clarified its statement to highlight that both Israeli and Palestinian women and girls, and men and boys, have been affected by the ongoing conflict. Canadian Conservatives disputed this claim, maintaining that the aggression targeting women is primarily perpetuated by Hamas.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs also expressed their concern over the Department of Global Affairs’ statement, deeming it inaccurate and insensitive. However, the group showed gratitude to Joly for speaking out against the violence.
The situation has raised red flags internationally. The head of the University of Alberta’s sexual assault centre was replaced for endorsing an open letter that questioned the validity of sexual assault claims against Hamas. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized other countries for not condemning Hamas for its actions during the attack. Police in Israel’s investigation of the allegations was deemed complex as identifying survivors seemed more challenging as many of whom were killed by their attackers.
Upon numerous allegations and accounts of gender-based violence, Hamas has dismissed accusations that its fighters committed any sexual assault. However, UN Women has condemned Hamas for “numerous accounts of gender-based atrocities and sexual violence” during the attacks and has called for a thorough investigation. Similarly, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights requested access to Israel and the Palestinian territories to collect information on the events unfolding. Israel, vehemently opposed to the organization’s alleged bias against its state, has declined to cooperate.