A Canadian university lecturer and radio broadcaster has filed a suit in federal court challenging the inaccurate labelling of wines made in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and exported to Canada as a “Product of Israel”.
David Kattenburg, a 62-year-old Winnipeg resident and son of Holocaust survivors, had previously submitted a complaint in late March to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) about its labelling procedures, indicating that the grapes used were grown in the occupied West Bank and processed in wineries outside of Israel’s formal borders.
“These falsely-labelled products trouble me as a consumer,” Kattenburg said in July after he filed the original complaint. “Canadians have a right to know that [a product] is made in Israel, if it’s made in some other place. This is a matter of concern. They have the right to truthful labelling.”
Canadian food inspectors initially agreed with Kattenburg’s reasoning and issued a directive to liquor stores on July 11 to stop selling wines made in the occupied West Bank.
But within hours, the agency backtracked, saying it “regrets” the directive it had issued, noting that the Canada-Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA) overrode domestic consumer protection laws.
“Further clarification of the CIFTA indicates that these wines adhere to the agreement and therefore we can confirm that the products in question can be sold as currently labelled,” the food inspection agency said in a statement at the time.
The bilateral trade agreement’s provision that the agency references identifies Israel as “the territory where its customs laws are applied,” and not its internationally-recognised border. Trade between Israel and Canada has tripled to $1.6bn since the agreement was expanded in 2014.
But Kattenburg’s lawyer, Ontario-based Dimitri Lascaris, maintains that the Canadian government is “dressing a political decision up as a legal decision” by invoking the trade agreement, which allowed it to bypass the issue of where the grapes were grown.
“The [Canada-Israel Trade-Agreement] deals with trade barriers, as do all free trade agreements,” Lascaris told Al Jazeera. “You look at the rest of the agreement, there’s nothing there about product labelling. A requirement that all products be accurately labeled is not a trade barrier. That’s a consumer protection law.”
When Kattenburg appealed the revoked decision to the agency’s Complaints and Appeals Office (CAO) in August, he was informed that the CFIA would stand by its verdict.
“Now that the CAO has completed its review and the [food inspection agency] has advised that it is standing by its decision, [Kattenburg] was free to seek a judicial review by the Federal Court of Canada. The Federal Court litigation has now formally begun,” Lascaris explained.
In a statement to Al Jazeera, CFIA said “it has no comment as this matter is before the courts”.
Kattenburg’s suit, which was filed last Tuesday, is asking the government to issue an order striking down the legality of the food agency’s decision, which he believes is in violation of Canada’s regulations on food and drugs, and its laws that set requirements for labels to help consumers make informed purchasing decisions.
The Canadian government is saying that “Israel has a right to sell falsely labelled products because they extend its customs law to the occupied territories,” Kattenburg said. . “This is what the CFIA cited… and [that] definition is at odds with international law.”