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Thursday, August 28, 2014

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An invitation to COR: our door is still open

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Over the past eight months, The CJN has investigated the veracity of a series of rumours, insinuations and allegations regarding the practices of the Kashruth Council of Canada, known colloquially as COR. Primarily, CJN reporter Paul Lungen sought to examine long-circulated claims that COR stifles competition in Toronto’s kosher certification market. This week, The CJN presents part one of “Behind the Label,” a three-part series detailing what he found.

Lungen spoke to owners of kosher businesses, including food manufacturers and caterers, and the stories they related about their dealings with COR certainly suggest something is awry. Many told of ever-changing rules and regulations, rising fee structures and false claims about what is and what is not kosher.

Meanwhile, Badatz Toronto, an upstart kosher certifier, charges that COR has threatened kosher businesses under its supervision or those considering a switch that if they moved to Badatz, their products would be off limits wherever COR is the sanctioning body.

Next week, Behind the Label continues with a look at how COR’s practices may be affecting the price you pay for kosher products such as chicken and meat. One of the founders of Badatz alleges that kosher food produced in Toronto “costs consumers 10 to 15 per cent higher [than it otherwise would] because of COR.” And in two weeks, the series concludes with a look at what the future may hold for kosher supervision in Toronto.

It’s worth noting, though, that the co-owner of one of Toronto’s largest kosher caterers described his company’s relationship with COR to The CJN as “collegial” and that among COR’s chief critics are two former employees, neither of whom left the organization on good terms. That’s precisely why we sought out COR’s version of events during the course of this investigation and why we were so disappointed when it refused to comment.

Instead, COR elected to run an advertisement in this week’s newspaper (the ad ran in another Toronto-based Jewish newspaper some weeks ago, after COR was made aware of the investigation and was offered the opportunity to respond), which begins: “The Kashruth Council of Canada (COR) would like to take this opportunity to initiate a dialogue with the community about our services and in the interests of transparency, discuss our fee structure, our business model and the origins of our organization.” It’s a terrific sentiment, but forgive us for wondering why, if that’s the case, COR rejected The Canadian Jewish News’ invitation.

The CJN has been accused of committing a chillul HaShem (the biblical prohibition against desecrating God’s name) for undertaking this investigation, and the indictments will likely multiply in the coming weeks. Make no mistake: we are sensitive to such concerns. We want to emphasize that the imperative to not make a chillul HaShem – to, in fact, produce the opposite, a kiddush HaShem – informed the reporting process and decision to publish.

Ultimately, our goal and that of COR would seem to be the same: to establish an open discussion about kosher supervision in Toronto. So I’ll conclude by re-extending the offer to COR: if you want to talk on the record, we’ll be happy to hear from you. It’s not too late to tell your side of the story. 

– yoni

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