Are pro-Israel groups in Canada working together to legally get around new restrictions imposed on the ability of lobbyists to take MPs on sponsored travel? That’s a question events over the past few months should have prompted media outlets to ask, but none have.

For context, in May 2023 the Lobbyists’ Code of Conduct was updated, including with a rule preventing lobby groups from taking MPs they lobby or expect to lobby on sponsored travel. Lobbying commissioner Nancy Bélanger wrote in a letter to MPs explaining the changes that, “Providing such travel to an official (and possibly to their guest(s)) could reasonably be seen to create a sense of obligation on the part of that official.”

The CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), a pro-Israel lobby group, has stated that it will be “disproportionately impacted by the change.” CIJA estimates that it and its predecessors have taken more than 800 MPs on fully paid trips to Israel over the past few decades. It has previously described these “educational missions” as “the single most important activity [we undertake] to educate Canadians about the people of Israel.”  

In November 2023, I updated a list of sitting MPs at the time that had been on these trips. I found that 73 sitting MPs (22 per cent) had attended the trips, with several going on more than one. CIJA spent at least $894,000 on these sponsored trips, for an average of $12,257 per MP trip. CIJA has also lobbied 89 per cent of the sitting MPs they’ve taken on Israel trips. As such, it’s reasonable to infer that CIJA considers it important to be able to do both for the same MPs. 

CIJA Has Taken Nearly 25% Of MPs On Paid Trips To ‘Israel’
MPs from four major parties have gone on these trips with the Zionist organization, receiving average benefits worth more than $12,000.
Here Are The 10 MPs Most Lobbied By CIJA
Nearly 60 per cent of current MPs have been lobbied by CIJA, but these 10, from all three major parties, stand out.

So how may CIJA be seeking to continue their activities given the rules preventing them from doing so?

I reported, in an article published yesterday, that CIJA’s initial response was to ask Bélanger to grant them an exemption for a July 2023 trip with seven MPs. She granted them this, claiming it was fair because they had supposedly planned the trip months earlier, but demanded that they have a two-year “cooling off period” where they couldn’t lobby any MPs who went on the trip. Just six months later, CIJA lobbied one of the trip participants (and invited the other six to be lobbied as well) which Bélanger gave them another pass for after they said they made a “mistake.” You can read more about that here.

CIJA Contravened A Lobbying Requirement With No Repercussions
The pro-Israel group was barred from lobbying an MP for two years after taking him on an Israel trip, but did so just six months later.

Presumably, however, these exemptions to lobby rules will not continue to be granted, or perhaps even asked for, so what comes next? 

In November 2023, five Canadian MPs went on a sponsored trip to Israel.

The trip attracted a great deal of criticism online, including several tweets from me that received hundreds of retweets, given that it took place in the midst of a genocide and put the MPs in touch with Israeli officials. What went almost entirely unquestioned, however, was how the trip could have taken place legally given the change in lobbying rules. This question was never raised in any of the mainstream media coverage I’ve come across, most of which didn’t even identify who paid for the trip. But it’s a good question.

The most straight-forward answer is that the trip was paid for by the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Toronto (UJAT), which is not a registered lobby group, and therefore has no such restrictions on its ability to sponsor travel. As a result, the trip appears to have not violated any rules. My article does not intend to suggest otherwise.

However, it would also be incorrect to think of CIJA and UJAT as two entirely unrelated groups. 

CIJA describes itself as “the advocacy agent of Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA, representing Jewish Federations across Canada.” The Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA’s website lists UJAT as one of its local federations. The page notes that while “Canadian Federations operate according to the uniqueness of each community” all of them also “accept and participate in the ‘National Collective Responsibility’ (NCR), a system that supports a range of programs that strengthen our Canadian Jewish communities and brings Canadian Jewry across the country to stand together in times of challenges and crises.”  

UJAT’s website, meanwhile, lists CIJA on its page of “partner agencies programs & departments,” and has described CIJA as “our advocacy partner.” The CIJA website also lists UJAT as one of its “federation partners.”  

If you want to donate money to CIJA, you are prompted to do so through The Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA’s website, which states: “You are now on the donation page of CIJA’s funder, Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA, who directs funds to CIJA for our advocacy work.” The CIJA website notes: “As the advocacy agent of Canada’s Jewish Federations, CIJA’s core funding comes from Jewish Federations through Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA (JFC-UIA).”

And UJAT in specific — which gets funds from the main federation, including $130,034 in 2022 — has also given money to CIJA. I reviewed reports from UJAT covering the years 2012 to 2023, and found that they gave CIJA at least $38.6 million in grants during this period. 

So, while CIJA and UJAT are not the same organization (CIJA is a federal corporation and UJAT is a charity), the two have financial and structural links, and are also both pro-Israel.

I believe it’s plausible, then, to think that CIJA and UJAT (as well as other Jewish federations under the main umbrella) could work together to allow for the Israel trips to continue and for CIJA to keep lobbying the MPs that go on them. 

Take the November 2023 trip: all five of the MPs that went on it have since been lobbied by CIJA.

Crucially, neither UJAT nor any of the other local federations have sponsored a trip to Israel for currently sitting MPs prior to the lobby rule change. I think this is further evidence the broader pro-Israel community of organizations has altered its strategy to allow both the trips and lobbying to continue (which, again, would not be illegal).

Two current MPs have gone on trips to Israel sponsored both by CIJA and UJAT: Mendicino and Rempel Garner, in 2016 and 2023. I reached out to both to ask about how similar the trips may have been, but neither responded. 

In addition, I reached out to both CIJA and UJAT to ask about how much, if any, coordination there was in setting up the trips. Neither responded. 

I will continue to monitor sponsored MP travel to Israel as well as action from the Israel lobby.