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Former ambassador to Israel sues Canadian government

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Vivian Bercovici
Vivian Bercovici

A former Canadian ambassador to Israel is suing the federal government, alleging she was undermined in her post and is owed pension funds.

Vivian Bercovici served as this country’s envoy to the Jewish state from January 2014 until she was informed of her termination in April 2016 – six months after the election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government.

In a 37-page statement of claim filed in the Ontario Superior Court late last month, Bercovici alleges she was treated in bad faith and accused Ottawa of several breaches of duty.

It claims that senior officials and “countless others” in the public service had “intentionally and maliciously waged a campaign of abuse against” her that was “designed to malign, undermine and destroy her credibility … such that by the time of her dismissal, she had become a mere pawn, stripped of authority and ability to do anything more than obey, and accept abusive treatment as the status quo.”

She claims that senior officials “maliciously defamed” her as “racist” and “anti-Arab,” and accused her of “putting Israel’s interests before those of Canada’s.”

The claim states that the posting was to last for four years, though it also says that Bercovici “served at the pleasure of the prime minister.”

READ: THANK YOU, AMBASSADOR BERCOVICI

The lawsuit seeks a total of $10 million in personal costs and damages, and nearly $32,000 that Bercovici claims she’s owed in pension funds.

None of the allegations have been tested in court and those named in the action have yet to file a defence. However, documents contained in a seperate action over her pension state that the government denied it acted in bad faith and that it had fulfilled its obligations to Bervovici.

The government documents also argue that diplomatic postings as “intrinsically precarious.”

Bercovici, who stayed in Israel following her dismissal, referred The CJN’s email asking for comment to her Toronto lawyer, Natalie MacDonald.

The case “is all about the unconscionable behaviour that (Bercovici) experienced over the course of her appointment,” MacDonald told The CJN. The 26 allegations in the statement of claim detail “deplorable” and “reprehensible” conduct by her superiors, MacDonald said, including instructing Bercovici to contradict the government’s policy on the Middle East, prohibiting her from conducting outreach to Canada’s Jewish community and “sidelining and questioning” her competency during then-prime minister Stephen Harper’s official visit to Israel in early 2014.

“This is about the mistreatment of an individual who has been our former ambassador to Israel,” MacDonald said.

Vivian Bercovici with John Baird FILE PHOTO
Vivian Bercovici, left, and John Baird. FILE PHOTO

Bercovici, whose a lawyer by trade, occasionally wrote columns for the Toronto Star, in which she voiced strong support for Israel and its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. She was named ambassador to Israel by Harper’s Conservative government.

The appointment of someone with no experience in diplomacy or the foreign service to such a sensitive post raised some eyebrows at the time and was seen by many as squaring with the Conservatives’ well-known support for Israel.

Bercovici “is Jewish and a supporter of Israel,” her statement of claim says. “Unlike many ambassadors, she was not a career diplomat at the time of her appointment.”

She was “a controversial appointment and did not come from the diplomatic service,” said MacDonald. Upon her appointment, she “immediately she began to experience very significant abuse and harassment,” MacDonald continued.

Within six months of starting her job, Bercovici found herself defending her forceful tweets about Israel’s 2014 Gaza war that were criticized as partisan and undiplomatic.

In a 2016 interview with The CJN, she said: “I’m not partisan, never have been. People choose to read into things I’ve said or written. There has been a lot of absolute fiction attributed to me, and I have no idea where that comes from. I’m not pro-Likud. I’m there as a public servant to represent the government of Canada.”