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Ottawa to appeal court’s wine labelling decision

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The federal government will appeal a court ruling that found that wines made in the West Bank should not be labelled “Product of Israel.”

A notice filed on Sept. 6 said the attorney general will appeal the July 29 Federal Court ruling, which stated labelling wines made in Jewish West Bank settlements as originating from Israel is “false, misleading and deceptive” because the territory is not considered part of Israel.

The ruling also said consumers have a right to know where products come from so they can “buy conscientiously.”

The court sent the matter back to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) for further consideration.

The decision delighted supporters of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign and angered Jewish groups, which urged an appeal.

According to a statement sent to The CJN, the government is appealing because the judge in the case found that the CFIA’s complaints and appeals office (CAO) should have considered the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in determining whether “Product of Israel” met the requirement for country of origin on the label, but that it had failed to do so. The government says the CAO did weigh the charter in its decision to approve the wines as labelled.

We are hopeful that the Court of Appeal will overturn the ruling.
– Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center

The statement also noted that the standard of review that applied to the case was the “reasonableness” of the CFIA’s decision. The government contends the court applied “a stricter standard.”

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), which cited “substantive errors” in the court judgment and is seeking intervener status in the appeal, applauded the government’s move. “It is our expectation that the Federal Court of Appeal will overturn the lower court’s decision,” CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel said in a news release.

CIJA said the CFIA came to “a reasonable decision in accepting the label ‘Product of Israel’ for wines produced in all the geographical area comprised in the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement.”

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center CEO Avi Benlolo said there is “nothing misleading” in labelling a wine as a product of Israel “if it is produced by Israelis in an area controlled by Israel.” He said the wines at the centre of the case were produced in a part of the West Bank controlled by Israel under the terms of the 1995 Oslo Accords.

“We are hopeful that the Court of Appeal will overturn the ruling, which we feel effectively discriminates against Israelis in the West Bank,” Benlolo added.

B’nai Brith Canada, which intervened in the Federal Court proceeding and will apply for the same status at the appeal, also welcomed the government’s decision. It’s “the only reasonable option available,” said CEO Michael Mostyn.

The case began in 2017, when the CFIA ordered the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) to pull wines from the Psagot and Shiloh wineries, both of which are in the West Bank. Following intense pressure from Jewish groups, the agency reversed itself and approved the wines for sale as made in Israel. Winnipeg resident and pro-Palestinian activist David Kattenburg took the matter to court after the CFIA’s appeals board upheld the reversal.

Psagot Winery promotional image

Kattenburg’s lawyer, Dimitri Lascaris, said that for decades, Canada “has openly acknowledged that the West Bank is not part of Israel, and that the settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention and are a serious obstacle to peace.”

The government’s decision to appeal the Federal Court’s ruling is “indefensible,” Lascaris told the Canadian Press.

Independent Jewish Voices, a pro-BDS group that intervened in the court case, said, “Sadly, the appeal looks to be solely for political reasons – to appeal to certain voters and lobbyists – rather than to pose any legitimate challenges to the judge’s interpretation of Canadian law.”

In a related development, wines and beers from the Taybeh winery and brewery in the West Bank town of Ramallah have been delayed for sale by the LCBO because they are labelled “Product of Palestine.” The liquor board cited the Federal Court ruling on goods from “this region” and said it is awaiting instructions from the CFIA.

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