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Tensions erupt at Queen’s Park over keffiyeh ban as government MPPs walk out

A second attempt by the Ontario NDP to overturn a ban on wearing the keffiyeh inside the legislature ended in failure after Ontario Premier Doug Ford appeared to admit defeat and allowed his caucus a free vote on the controversial ban.

The issue first surfaced in the house last Thursday, when Ontario PC MPP Robin Martin defied Ford and voted to block an attempt to lift the prohibition on wearing the Arab headdress.

Ford, along with Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles and Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie, has said the ban should be removed. The premier said it “needlessly divides” people but met fierce opposition from within his own caucus.

Speaker Ted Arnott introduced the ban on the checkered scarf, which he said should be considered under the same strict rules that stop MPPs from using clothing or props to make a “political statement.”

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MPPs sit inside the Ontario legislature on April 23, 2024. A second attempt by the Ontario NDP to overturn a ban on wearing the keffiyeh inside the legislature ended in failure Tuesday. Global News

The keffiyeh is typically worn in Arab cultures and has come to symbolize solidarity with Palestinians.

On Tuesday, the NDP tried to reverse the ban a second time by asking the Ontario legislature for unanimous consent to have the keffiyeh recognized as a cultural piece of clothing rather than a political statement.

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“Lots of things take on political meaning at various moments, but cultural attire that connects to your heritage … it’s a symbol of pride,” Stiles said ahead of the vote.

The question hanging over the legislature was whether Progressive Conservative MPPs were willing to support the motion given the premier’s stance against the ban.

Moments before the motion was introduced, however, the premier’s office issued a statement that seemed to release PC MPPs from their obligation.

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“The premier has been clear that he does not support this ban and has called on the speaker to reverse his decision,” Ford’s office said in a statement. “Members of caucus are free to support or oppose the NDP motion.”

The new edict – a departure from the party’s efforts last week to whip the vote – emboldened more government MPPs to support the ban.

Palestinian children hold up a large keffiyeh, a traditional Arab headdress, as they participate in a march to commemorate  Nakba, which is Arabic for catastrophe, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Monday, May 17, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Tara Todras-Whitehill

Multiple Progressive Conservative MPPs were heard saying “no” during the verbal vote, which immediately ended the effort.

MPP Martin, who became the centre of the pushback against the premier after the first vote, issued a statement Tuesday morning that said she was prepared to face political consequences for her opposition.

“I recognize that I may personally face political repercussions because of my vote and continued stance on this motion. I accept that,” part of Martin’s statement read.

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Moments after the vote, however, the legislature descended into chaos after protesters waving keffiyeh yelled “free Palestine,” leading to a shouting match with PC MPPs.

“That’s what you wanted,” one PC MPP said in response, while another claimed the protest made her feel “unsafe in my own chamber.”

During another charged moment, as the PC caucus walked out of the legislature after the Speaker called a recess, one government MPP was heard saying “You’re on the same side as the Islamic regime” to Stiles.

Meanwhile, MPP Sarah Jama, who was removed from the NDP caucus during an earlier flashpoint over the Israel-Gaza conflict, immediately donned her keffiyeh after the ban was upheld.

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Stiles has suggested her party could continue advocating for the overturn of the ban but hasn’t detailed what method she would employ.

&© 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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