Canada will not take part in a major United Nations conference on racism next year because the event is likely to descend into "regrettable anti-Semitism", a top official said on Wednesday.
Officials said they believed Canada was the first nation to announce it will not attend the conference in Durban, South Africa.
The so-called Durban II conference ''has gone completely off the rails'' and Canada wants no part of it, said Jason Kenney, Canada's secretary of state for multiculturalism and Canadian identity.
''Canada is interested in combating racism, not promoting it,'' Kenney said. ''We'll attend any conference that is opposed to racism and intolerance, not those that actually promote racism and intolerance.''
The 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban turned into ''a circus of intolerance,'' Kenney said, when Arab and Muslim countries criticized Israel. Israel and the United States walked out in protested, but the former Liberal Canadian government remained to speak up for Israel.
With Libya elected to chair the next gathering, Cuba appointed vice-chair, and anti-Israel rhetoric and actions building, Kenney said his government was left with no choice but to abandon the preparatory process for the followup meeting.
Iran was named to the organizing committee, Kenney noted.
''This is a country whose government has publicly expressed its desire to eliminate the only Jewish country in the world,'' he said.
"(We) had hoped that the preparatory process for the 2009... conference would remedy the mistakes of the past. Despite our efforts, we have concluded that it will not. Canada will therefore not participate," Foreign Minister Maxime Bernier said in a statement.
The Canadian government is a strong supporter of Israel. Bernier apologized on Saturday for an internal Foreign Ministry training manual that listed both Israel and the United States on a torture watch list.
B'nai Brith Canada praised Ottawa for pulling out of "a farce of conference" that it said "pays lip service to anti-racism but in fact provides a platform for the promotion of hatred and bigotry".
The Canadian Jewish Congress also commended Ottawa for what it said was a principled stand.