By Allison Jones and Liam Casey in Toronto
A rookie Ontario legislator was kicked out of the New Democratic caucus Monday, moments before Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives effectively silenced her in the legislature over comments she made about the Israel-Hamas war.
Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles had originally defended Sarah Jama after she issued an apology for her initial statement. But she said Monday that while she and Jama had agreed they would work together “in good faith with no surprises,” she was unaware Jama was going to speak in the legislature against the motion earlier in the day.
“I had to make a very difficult decision this morning,” Stiles said.
“Ms. Jama has taken a number of unilateral actions that have broken and undermined the collective work of your Ontario NDP Official Opposition … MPP Jama has chosen not to work with us as a team and so we’ve had to remove her from the caucus.”
Two weeks ago, Jama came under fire for a post she made decrying the “occupation of Palestine,” but did not mention the attack by Hamas militants on Israeli civilians on Oct. 7.
In response, the Progressive Conservative government slammed Jama and tabled a motion that authorizes the Speaker not to recognize her in the House until she retracts her original statement and apologizes in the legislature. It prevents her from participating in debates, but she would still be able to vote.
The motion passed Monday, with the newly independent Jama and the New Democrats voting against what Stiles called a “really egregious motion.” The Speaker’s office said he would uphold the will of the House.
Earlier Monday, Jama spoke against the motion in the legislature, saying it was a move by the Progressive Conservative government to distract from its own scandals.
“Those of us committed to Palestinian life refuse to be distracted,” Jama said.
“I restate my call for an immediate ceasefire by Israeli forces and for the immediate restoration of food, water, fuel and electricity in Gaza.”
Jama has Palestinian family and her statement in the legislature is similar in stance to what she said two weeks ago, when she originally did not condemn the attacks by Hamas that have left more than 1,000 Israelis dead and at least 222 people taken as hostages in Gaza.
Several thousand Palestinians have died as Israel has ramped up airstrikes in blockaded Gaza ahead of an anticipated ground invasion in response to the Hamas attacks. Gaza, with a population of 2.3 million people, is running out of food, water and medicine.
“I ground my words in the realities of the Israeli apartheid and Israel’s ongoing domination and occupation of Palestinian lands,” Jama said Monday.
“Governments and institutions in Canada are trying to use their voice and weight to silence us, to silence workers, students, educators and peace-loving people who dare to support Palestine.”
Stiles kicked Jama out of caucus two hours later, saying she did not know what Jama was going to say. Jama declined to comment after the vote.
Stiles has also said that Jama’s initial statement was not approved by caucus. The NDP leader had publicly demanded that Jama retract it, but while Jama added an apology to her social media post, the original statement not only remains up but has since been “pinned” to stay at the top of her feed on “X,” the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
Jama, who won a byelection in March in Hamilton Centre, former NDP leader Andrea Horwath’s old riding, served the premier with a cease-and-desist letter for his comments about her statement – a move to which Stiles was also not privy beforehand.
Jama alleges Ford defamed her when he said on social media on Oct. 11 she has a “well-documented history of antisemitism” and supports the “rape and murder of innocent Jewish people.”
The premier made the comments in a two-paragraph written statement that provided no specific details supporting the allegations he made against Jama.
Jama said Ford’s comments implied she is “racist in her outlook, particularly towards Jewish people; sympathetic to terrorism; and unfit to properly represent her constituency.”
On Monday, Ford fired back.
His lawyer, Gavin Tighe, denied Ford defamed Jama and said if she files a lawsuit, it will be “defended vigorously.”
“The cease and desist letter is a regrettable attempt to curtail the freedom of speech and freedom of expression of Premier Ford on an issue of tremendous public importance that strikes at the heart of a free and democratic society,” Tighe wrote.
“As premier, our client has not only a right but an obligation to condemn antisemitism and terrorism and the public has a corresponding right and entitlement to hear him doing so.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 23, 2023
Banner image via The Canadian Press