Ireland defeated Canada for a United Nations Security Council seat on June 17, 2020, with the minimum number of votes required to avoid a runoff. Had it been one less vote for Ireland, then the second seat open in the Western Europe and Other group would have gone to another vote.
Even just one vote swayed made a difference in that contest — and it seems plausible that civil society played a role in the outcome.

Israeli media have recognized the work of pro-Palestine groups campaigning against Canada’s bid for a Security Council seat, and that Canada’s loss is bad news for both Israel and the U.S. Meanwhile, Canadian mainstream media, including the publicly funded CBC and corporate media, have remained quiet, not even asking what role the Israel factor, or even other foreign policy, played in the defeat.

Leading up to the vote, there was much engagement across Canada and around the world. A letter initiated by the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute and signed by more than 100 prominent individuals was covered in the Toronto Star in May and garnered over 3,500 signatures by the time it was sent to UN ambassadors the week before the UN Security Council vote. On June 1, all UN ambassadors received another letter launched by Just Peace Advocates that was signed by over 100 organizations and dozens of prominent individuals. This letter described how Canada “has consistently isolated itself against world opinion on Palestinian rights at the UN” as shown by its dismal United Nations voting record on Palestine.

On the defensive, Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, Marc-André Blanchard, made it clear that the vote was in fact very much about Palestine when on June 10, 2020, he sent a private letter to each of his UN counterparts trying to explain away the condemnation of Canada’s record on Palestine by saying the Just Peace Advocates letter “contains significant inaccuracies.” But as Father Robert Assaly pointed out, in a follow-up response to the UN ambassadors, “in his two pages, [Blanchard] did not identify a single inaccuracy. We take this as further affirmation of the full factuality of our carefully researched letter to you.”

In the last weeks before the UN Security Council vote, over 1,300 individual letters were sent to UN ambassadors from people around the world indicating Canada did not deserve a seat given its record on Palestine.

The original campaign began in November 2018, when Just Peace Advocates and Canadian Friends of Sabeel initiated a letter signed by more than 40 organizations calling Canada to change its stance on Palestine at the United Nations if it was to be worthy of consideration for a Security Council seat. The government neither responded nor heeded the call. During 2019, including in the lead up to the federal election, this call was included as part of the #IVotePalestine and the ABC (Anybody But Canada) for the UNSC campaigns.

While the Canadian government was running a multi-million-dollar, five-year campaign to secure a Security Council seat, a few volunteer activists were also at work with their only resource — the tenacity to say that votes should be cast based on a country’s track record regarding human rights and international law.

Karen Rodman is the director of Just Peace Advocates.