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MPP Sarah Jama defies order to remove keffiyeh at Queen’s Park

An Ontario legislator refused to remove her keffiyeh at Queen’s Park and was subsequently banned from returning to the chamber for the rest of the day on Thursday.

Speaker Ted Arnott ordered independent member Sarah Jama to leave the chamber because of the scarf, but she refused.

Legislative security did not physically remove her from question period. Arnott said he was not prepared to remove Jama by force.

Jama told reporters in a scrum later that the keffiyeh ban is racist and arbitrary and she has pledged to continue wearing the scarf. She said the keffiyeh is a “cultural” piece of clothing in support of Palestinian people.

“This is a political issue, my job is to be political, and so I will continue to wear this garment,” Jama said.

“The repression against Palestinians and the anti-Palestinian racism in this place needs to continue to be called out,” she added. “It’s upon all of us to fight injustice, with our feet and hands, with tongues, with our words and in our hearts.”

MPP Sarah Jama
MPP Sarah Jama speaks to reporters in a scrum outside the legislative chamber on Thursday. (CBC)

A keffiyeh is a checkered scarf typically worn in Arab cultures that has come to symbolize solidarity with Palestinians. Arnott banned the scarf in March after a complaint, saying it was being worn to make a political statement, contrary to the rules of the assembly. All four party leaders, including Premier Doug Ford, have called on the speaker to reverse the ban. 

In an email on Thursday, the speaker’s office said Jama was “named.” Named MPPs are limited in their ability to participate in the legislature.

“As a result of being named, the member, for the reminder of the day, is ineligible to vote on matters before the assembly; attend and participate in any committee proceedings; use the media studio; and table notices of motion, written questions, and petitions,” Arnott said in the House.

Jama says she’s not worried about repercussions

Jama said Thursday she isn’t afraid of further repercussions from the legislature. 

“The focus should be on the genocide, the fact that 40,000 people have been killed and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight against this violence,” she said. 

In January, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to take measures to prevent and punish direct incitement of genocide in its war in Gaza and said it won’t throw out genocide charges against Israel for its military offensive in Gaza as part of its preliminary decision.Israel has rejected the genocide claim outright

Shortly after Oct. 7, Jama was removed from the NDP caucus for her social media comments on the Israel-Hamas war. 

Jama has said she believes she was kicked out of the party because she called for a ceasefire in Gaza “too early” and because she called Israel an “apartheid state.”

Behaviour towards MPP ‘appalling’: NDP leader

Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles commented on X, formerly Twitter: “The behaviour we saw in the legislature today towards an MPP is appalling.”

Stiles made the comment in reaction to a photo taken by Toronto Star reporter Kristin Rushowy of Jama being asked to leave the legislature. 

“The Premier and this government are sending a strong message to Arab, Muslim, Palestinians in our province, that they are not welcome here at Queen’s Park,” Stiles said. “The Ontario NDP will not stand for this.”

The NDP has tried twice to overturn the ban on keffiyehs in the legislature.

Stiles proposed another unanimous consent motion on Thursday to reverse the ban but it wasn’t allowed in question period. 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford reiterated this week that he does not support the ban, but that it’s up to members of Parliament to make their decision,

“It’s very divisive, in my opinion … It’s a very sensitive topic for certain people,” he said Tuesday.

Ford can fix problem, Ontario Liberal MPP says

Liberal MPP John Fraser moved another motion on Thursday calling on the government to move its own motion to do away with the ban. Again, several Conservatives refused to agree.

Fraser said the issue is creating division and that Ford has the power to bring forth a motion that could bring an end to the ban. He said the ban is causing hurt outside the legislature.

A politician speaks while giving a news conference.
Ontario Liberal MPP John Fraser says: ‘It needs to be brought to a vote on the floor of the legislature. It can’t be one or two or three people who say no. We live in a democracy.’ (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

“It needs to be brought to a vote on the floor of the legislature. It can’t be one or two or three people who say no,” Fraser said. “We live in a democracy.”

A government motion would require a majority to pass, and could not be defeated by a few government members, he added.

“The premier is the leader of this province, not just the leader of his party. He’s got a responsibility, said Fraser.

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