MPPs debate whether to censure Sarah Jama for statement on Israel-Hamas war

The Ford government wants to censure NDP MPP Sarah Jama for her social media post following the Hamas attack while members of the Muslim community appeal for politicians to present a united front and call for peace.

A debate began Wednesday at Queen’s Park on whether to censure an NDP MPP over a controversial social media post she wrote in response to the Hamas attack in Israel.

The Ford government motion called for rookie MPP Sarah Jama to apologize in the legislature for the post she wrote after the Oct. 7 attack. If she doesn’t, she could be banned from speaking in the chamber.

“The member’s musings at any other time would still have been offensive and unacceptable for any elected representative of the people of Ontario, but to make them in association with a violent act of unrepentant and unprovoked terrorism is repugnant and intolerable to the greatest extent of those words,” Government House Leader Paul Calandra said in debate.

Debate on the Tories’ motion is likely to continue in the legislature next week. The Progressive Conservatives have a majority so it is set to pass, but the Speaker would not necessarily be bound to follow it, and could exercise his discretion to still allow Jama to speak.

The NDP has accused the Ford government of playing politics and NDP Leader Marit Stiles called the motion a distraction tactic to take focus off the RCMP’s criminal investigation into the Greenbelt scandal.

“MPP Jama has apologized and made it clear she condemns the terrorist attack by Hamas,” says Stiles. “It is a very drastic move to censure an MPP.”

Jama, the MPP representing Hamilton Centre, posted a two-paragraph statement last week under Ontario NDP letterhead that made no mention of the surprise attack by Hamas militants. The post instead chose to focus on the decades-long struggle of Palestinians under Israeli occupation, which she referred to as “apartheid.”

“I call for immediate ceasefire and de-escalation,” Jama wrote in the Oct. 10 post on X. “We must look to the solution to this endless cycle of death and destruction: end all occupation of Palestinian land and end apartheid.”

The post used the hashtag “FreePalestine.”

Stiles released her own statement in response saying the MPP’s message was not approved by her caucus and asked her to retract the statement. Stiles publicly called on Jama to instead state clearly that “she decries any violence against both Israeli and Palestinian people.”

Jama’s original post remains up on her social media as of this Wednesday, but she did make multiple replies to the original post last week where she apologized and attempted to clarify her original comment.

“I apologize. To be clear, I unequivocally condemn terrorism by Hamas on thousands of Israeli civilians,” said Jama in new replies to her original post.

Jama won a provincial byelection earlier this year, claiming the seat that was previously held by longtime former NDP leader Andrea Horwath. Her campaign garnered controversy and criticism from Jewish organizations at that time due to some of her previous associations and remarks.

During her campaign, Jama said the criticism stemmed from her standing up for Palestinian human rights and her association with student groups. She publicly denounced anti-Semitism during a debate.

Her original statement in the wake of the Hamas attack earlier this month drew heavy condemnation from several Jewish advocacy groups, including the Centre of Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), who have called for her removal from caucus. Premier Doug Ford also asked for her to step down in his own statement last week.

The National Council of Canadian Muslims said Wednesday that actions such as the Progressive Conservatives calling for Jama’s censure have real-life consequences in the form of hatred directed at Muslims.

“We cannot use this horrific conflict where so much pain and trauma is being felt by everyone to score political points,” Uthman Quick, the group’s director of communications, said at a press conference.

“That is because we’ve seen that rhetoric escalates, and communities are made to bear the brunt of the backlash.”

He said on his way to the press conference he received reports of multiple hijab-wearing Muslim women being spat on in Ontario and across the country.

“The temperature, the atmosphere, the environment, is it’s untenable right now,” he said, adding that his heart goes out to members of the Jewish community across Canada who are affected by the violence against civilians.

Jewish groups have strongly condemned Jama’s statement, and the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies said her apology was too little, too late.

“Given her longstanding record of causing hurt and harm to the Jewish community in Hamilton Centre and beyond, we stand by our call for Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles to do the right thing and remove her from the Ontario NDP caucus,” the group wrote in a statement last week.

The motion would not prevent Jama from voting or attending, though she has not been at the legislature this week. Stiles has said Jama has Palestinian family members and she is being given space to deal with family issues.

MPPs to consider motion condemning Hamas attacks

The Ford government has tabled another motion that refers to Hamas as terrorists and recognizes Israel’s right to defend itself.

“What unites us is rejecting brutal acts of terror from Hamas and other terrorists around the world,” said Ford in the legislature on Tuesday. “As we stand firm in the support of Israel, we pray for the safety of all innocent people.”

“Hamas, its actions and unrelenting dedication to terror, show no regard for human life. Israeli or Palestinian.”

The motion will be debated in the legislature this week.

With files from CityNews reporter Cynthia Mulligan and The Canadian Press

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