Ontario NDP leader under fire for removal of rookie legislator

By Liam Casey and Allison Jones in Toronto

The Ontario NDP is facing division among its ranks after party leader Marit Stiles booted a rookie legislator out of caucus, dousing one political firestorm, but in turn sparking another.

Earlier this week Stiles kicked Sarah Jama out of caucus after a series of events that began with a statement on the Israel-Hamas war that failed to mention or condemn the attack on Israeli civilians, though the ouster ultimately came after a series of moves from Jama that either publicly defied Stiles or caught her unaware.

There’s no road back to caucus at the moment for Jama, Stiles said Thursday.

“The member put us in a very untenable position and I had to make a very difficult decision and I know that there’s going to be some hurt out there and we have a lot of conversations to have and I’m listening,” she said.

NDP legislator Jill Andrew defended Jama, saying she did not support kicking her out of caucus and questioning Stiles’ statement on the matter.

“The release went on to conjure what I feel were stereotypical tropes often used to communicate about Black people, especially Black women, who are perceived as difficult,” Andrew wrote Wednesday in a social media post.

“I expressed my concerns about this release to the leadership team and to my caucus members.”

On Thursday, Andrew declined further comment, but said she stood by her post.

Stiles said in her statement Monday that Jama had “undertaken a number of unilateral actions that have undermined our collective work and broken the trust of her colleagues.” 

“Some of Ms. Jama’s actions have contributed to unsafe work environments for staff,” Stiles wrote.

She backtracked on the safety comments Thursday, but said many staffers have been receiving threats over the past two-and-a-half weeks.

Jama’s now former riding association in Hamilton Centre demanded her return to the NDP caucus and charged that Stiles and her leadership team have engaged in a “shameful assault” that “constitutes an attack on democracy, social justice and all those activists who fight for truth and human rights.”

The riding association demanded a leadership review.

Another riding association wants Stiles gone.

“Rather than supporting MPP Jama’s courageous leadership and principled stand to support human rights, you decided to distance yourself from MPP Sarah Jama for what appears to be short-term political calculus,” the Kitchener Centre riding association wrote in an unsigned letter calling for Stiles to resign.

Various people claimed on social media to have cancelled their NDP memberships and one said she resigned as riding association president in Scarborough-Rouge Park.

Matthew Green, the MP for Hamilton Centre, wrote in a statement that he is frustrated with the provincial party’s decision to remove Jama.

“The actions taken against Sarah Jama censoring her in the legislature and her expulsion from the Ontario NDP perpetuates a long history of racialized voices being dismissed and ignored in spaces where decisions are made,” he wrote.

The Progressive Conservatives passed a motion in the legislature this week authorizing the Speaker not to recognize Jama in the House until she retracts her original statement and apologizes again. It prevents her from participating in debates, but she would still be able to vote.

Stiles had originally defended Jama in the face of vocal pressure from Tories and Jewish groups to boot Jama, but made the decision to oust her after she said Jama broke an agreement to work in good faith with no surprises in order to stay in caucus.

Stiles had publicly demanded Jama retract her initial post on social media on Oct. 10. In that post, Jama decried the “occupation of Palestine,” but did not mention the attack by Hamas militants on Israeli civilians on Oct. 7.

Jama refused to retract the statement, but the next day apologized for it. 

She then served Premier Doug Ford with a cease-and-desist letter late last week over comments he made that she alleges defamed her.

Stiles wasn’t privy to those moves beforehand. The final blow came on Monday when Jama decided to speak in the legislature about the Progressive Conservatives’ motion to censure her for her post.

Jama and Stiles had “agreed” on the content of Jama’s short speech, but what she later said was different and, similar to her original post, called for a ceasefire and spoke to the plight of the Palestinians, but did not condemn Hamas.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 26, 2023.

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