OTTAWA -- The Trudeau government has appointed former ambassador Deborah Lyons as Canada's Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism.

Lyons is Canada's former ambassador to Israel and to Afghanistan, and she replaces former attorney general Irwin Cotler, who held the role for three years.

The role involves collecting data and speaking out for Jewish people when they are attacked within Canada and abroad, and similar roles exist for Muslims and LGBTQ2S+ people.

Lyons was named to the role Monday morning during a conference on antisemitism in Ottawa.

She told reporters that her appointment comes amid "the malignancy growing here, that cancerous hate speech, that desire to polarize and divide and disrupt and destroy the spirit that is Canada."

It also comes as Israel grieves a gruesome Oct. 7 attack by Hamas that left 1,400 dead, and concerns by the United Nations that Israel is violating humanitarian law by depriving Palestinian civilians of food, water and electricity.

The events have been marked by rallies and protests in Canada, some of which have included overt antisemitic messages.

"Although we might each feel alone in this pain and misery there is only one pathway and that is for all Canadians to come together, as Canadians, in our shared humanity," Lyons said.

She said her job is to tackle a rise in hate speech targeting Jewish people, particularly on university campuses and on social media.

"Working with communities across Canada, we must and will promote and support extensive efforts on antisemitism education. And yes, we will visit the universities," she said.

"We will be working very hard with the major corporations and governments everywhere to address the online antisemitism."

While she is not Jewish, Lyons said it's important that all Canadians work together to weed out dehumanizing rhetoric and to learn from the horrors of the Holocaust.

Lyons said she supports a definition of antisemitism that the federal Liberals have embraced alongside various western countries, though it has been opposed by human-rights groups.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance says that antisemitism includes "claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour" and "applying double standards by requiring of 1/8Israel 3/8 a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation."

In April, 104 civil society organizations from Israel and other countries urged the United Nations not to use the definition, with groups such as Human Rights Watch arguing that it hinders serious inquiry about whether Israel is undertaking apartheid against Palestinians.

Lyons argued the definition helps sort out when someone is making fair criticism or when they're zoning in on Israel out of an anti-Jewish animus.

"The purpose of the antisemitism definition is very clear and the definition itself is clear," she said.

"When it becomes a complete and constant target, without any other focus, or balance with other conflicts or controversies, then it becomes very obvious that it is done from an antisemitic perspective."

Lyons declined to weigh in on whether Israel is respecting international humanitarian law in its current "total siege" of the Gaza Strip, saying she can advise the government privately but does not have a mandate to weigh in on geopolitics.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 16, 2023.