Skip to main content

'Alienated, isolated and alone': Jewish union members launch human rights claim against CUPE

Share

Almost 30 members of Canada’s largest union filed a human rights claim on Monday alleging that the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has engaged in systemic discrimination and promoted antisemitism that isolates Jewish members.

Carrie Silverberg, a CUPE member of 17 years, said she's endured years of mental anguish in the union, particularly when she took on an executive position in a local and started attending conventions nearly a decade ago.

“I basically felt alienated, isolated and alone,” Silverberg said on Monday, after her concerns that the antisemitism encouraged in the union were silenced, she added.

She said her wound only deepened when Hamas launched a surprise assault on Israel Oct. 7, killing thousands and taking hundreds hostage, which CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn responded with a celebratory post about the “Power of resistance.”

“It made me cry and it made me sick,” Silverberg told CTV News Toronto in a telephone interview on Monday.

After two weeks of public backlash over Hahn’s post, he apologized in an open letter on Oct. 21 and admitted the timing of it was wrong. But Silverberg called it a “false apology” that lacked sincerity. “That went through me like a knife,” she said.

“This has caused the Complainants to feel isolated, unwelcome, scared, silenced, discriminated against, threatened and harassed. All of which has been expressed to Mr. Hahn numerous times, to no avail,” the claim reads.

Hahn said the union hasn’t seen a copy of the complaint and therefore can’t speak to the allegations, but that these matters are taken “very seriously,” in a statement on Monday.

“We firmly believe there has been no violation of Ontario’s Human Rights Code and in any forum we will be happy to stand on our record of fighting discrimination and oppression in all their forms,” Hahn said.

The human rights complaint goes on to describe Hahn’s history of telling members that Jewish people “stole” land from Palestinians and should not live in Israel. It points to CUPE conventions dating back to 2018 that claimed Israel “illegally” occupies land and opposes the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism.

The complaint alleges the union encourages prejudice and discrimination against Jewish members, actively participating in the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement (BDS), which aims to delegitimize Israel.

Kathryn Marshall, the lawyer representing the claimants, said the complaint is ultimately working towards ending the pattern of systemic discrimination in the union for Jewish members that’s been going on for years.

“In this country, we have human rights,” she said, pointing to Section 6 of the Ontario Human Rights Code, which states that every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to membership in any trade union, trade or occupational association.

The complainants are seeking $500,000 total in damages for the “pain and suffering” caused and are requesting their union dues be redirected to a Jewish charity. They are asking for the union to create policies that combat antisemitism within their organization and for their leaders to attend educational seminars about antisemitism.

Marshall said she expects the union to fight back hard and she is prepared for a full hearing. “I expect that more people will want to join this fight,” she said.

CTVNews.ca Top Stories

BREAKING

BREAKING State funeral, public condolences being planned for Brian Mulroney

A state funeral will be held later this month for former prime minister Brian Mulroney, who died Thursday at 84. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says there will be opportunities for Canadians to express their condolences to Mulroney's family as well.

First-time homebuyer incentive discontinued: CMHC

Canada's housing agency says it is ending the first-time homebuyer incentive program. Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. says the deadline for new or updated submissions to the program is midnight eastern time on March 21.

Stay Connected