MPP Sarah Jama asked to leave Ontario legislature for wearing a keffiyeh

Independent MPP Sarah Jama openly defied a keffiyeh ban in the Ontario legislature. As Tina Yazdani reports, she was asked to leave the chambers but refused, prompting a heated debate.

Independent MPP Sarah Jama was asked to leave the Ontario legislature Thursday for refusing to take off her keffiyeh.

Speaker of the House Ted Arnott banned the wearing of the traditional Palestinian scarves after he said it appeared to him the keffiyeh was being worn to make a political statement.

Jama, who sits as an independent for Hamilton-Centre after being booted from the NDP caucus last year, was asked to remove the keffiyeh but refused. She was then “named”, which meant she was not allowed to vote on matters at the legislature or participate in any committees or table motions.

“You must leave the chamber,” Arnott said.

Jama did not move. The clerk and the sergeant-at-arms both spoke with Jama, but no one tried to remove her with force.

Arnott said later that he was not willing to go that far.

“There was no way for me to have her removed short of physical force,” Arnott said. “I wasn’t prepared to do that or order it.”

It was the second time this week Jama wore the keffiyeh inside the legislature and she said she will continue to wear it, reminding people it is a cultural cloth.

“Absolutely, I’ll be back …I’ll definitely continue as [long as] I’m here to wear it.”

When asked about how wearing it has become a political statement, Jama said she isn’t the one making it political.

“Every party leader has spoken up about how this ban shouldn’t exist. The Premier has spoken about this ban, this ban needing to not exist and yet his own members, the PCs, are the ones consistently saying no to the removal of this ban. The Conservatives are making this political, the NDP, the Liberals, the Greens have all said that the suspension should be removed,” said Jama.

NDP Leader Marit Stiles called Jama being asked to leave “outrageous,” and said she was “absolutely appalled” by the attempt to silence and remove a member.

When asked about the decision to kick Jama out of the legislature, Premier Doug Ford said, “The speaker is the one who runs the legislature.”

The Ontario Liberals later introduced a unanimous consent motion to hold a formal vote on the ban that wouldn’t require unanimous consent, but PC MPPs voted no. 

The Ontario NDP has twice tried to introduce a unanimous consent motion to overturn the ban, but it failed both times.

“I don’t know what her intentions are for the future … I will respond as speaker, according to the standing orders to enforce the standing,” said Arnott when asked about what might happen if Jama continues to wear the keffiyeh.

Jama was censured by the Ontario legislature and removed from the NDP after a controversial social media post about the Israel-Hamas war last year.

Premier Doug Ford has called for the reversal of the decision, saying the ban on the keffiyeh was made “by the speaker and the speaker alone.”

“All of the parties have agreed and acknowledged that the ban on wearing the keffiyeh was unnecessarily divisive,” Stiles added during question period Thursday.

Liberal parliamentary leader John Fraser said the government has to bring the matter to a vote, rather than opposition parties moving unanimous consent motions that will invariably fail. Progressive Conservative Robin Martin has said she will continue to support the ban.

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

The keffiyeh has come to symbolize solidarity with Palestinians. Keffiyehs have been regularly spotted in the crowds of pro-Palestinian rallies in Toronto over the last several months.

Under the order, keffiyehs are banned in the legislative precinct by Members, staff and the public.

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