Hundreds of supporters gathered in solidarity with Sarah Jama, member of Provincial Parliament for Hamilton Centre, in a virtual rally on Friday.
The rally featured a number of speakers who called for a ceasefire in Gaza and shared statements standing firmly behind Jama after her removal from the Ontario NDP caucus and censure in the assembly earlier this week.
“There are those that would rather we stay silent, we stay complicit,” said Bianca Mugyenyi, director of the Canadian Foreign Policy Institute and rally moderator, referring to Israeli violence in Gaza. “And for standing out and standing up against these horrors, Sarah Jama was censured by Ontario’s legislature and kicked out by the NDP caucus.
“This is a shame. The anti-Palestinian racism that we’ve seen is flagrant, but this is also a story of anti-Blackness.”
Since Monday night, Mugyenyi said at least 4,000 people have emailed Ontario NDP leader Marit Stiles, ONDP president Janelle Brady and the caucus advocating for Sarah Jama’s reinstatement through an initiative organised by the Canadian Foreign Policy Network and Just Peace Advocates.
However, not all Jama supporters agree with calling on the ONDP to rescind her removal.
“(Stiles) and the party have tried to paint our sister (Jama) as an uncontrollable and unreasonable person and this is being done on purpose,” said author and activist Desmond Cole who spoke at the rally. “It exploits all the tropes related to Sarah’s Blackness, her womanhood, her Muslimness and her disability.”
“The notion that Jama might return to a party that has treated her this way and is continuing to treat her this way — it makes me sick.”
Despite the criticism, several NDP MPPs say they will continue to stand behind Stiles as leader including Niagara Centre’s Jeff Burch who characterized the Jama removal decision as a “difficult call.”
“As the Caucus Chair, I know how patient Marit has been with MPP Jama, really going above and beyond to find a way forward where they could work together,” Birch said in a statement.
“The Caucus can’t go on with someone who wasn’t being honest. I mean, you can’t agree on a course of action and then do something completely different without so much as a warning. Being a member of a team means working as a team.”
London West NDP MPP Peggy Sattler insisted that Stiles had no other choice.
“A party caucus needs to work together, as a team, which is something the member refused to accept,” she said.
“To be clear, this had nothing to do with the member’s position on Palestine, but rather her insistence on acting independently, unilaterally, and with repeated disregard for the Leader and the collective work of our caucus.”
Following Jama’s removal, the NDP Kitchener Centre riding association has called for Stiles’s resignation. The association for Jama’s own riding, Hamilton Centre, has called for a leadership review.
Stiles responded to the backlash Thursday, indicating she doesn’t intend to step down.
“This was a very difficult decision. It’s not a small matter to remove a member from our caucus and I know some people are feeling a little hurt, a little disappointed,” Stiles said.
A show of support has also come from within the NDP itself. MPP for Toronto-St. Paul’s Jill Andrews said she did not support the decision to remove Jama from caucus and that she was not consulted before the decision was made.
Andrews said she also felt the press release conjured stereotypes about Black women “who are perceived as difficult.”
Matthew Green, the federal member for Hamilton Centre, issued a statement saying Jama’s expulsion “perpetuates a long history of racialized voices being dismissed and ignored in spaces where decisions are made.”
Former MPPs say they’ve experienced similar treatment
Speaking at the rally, Rima Berns-McGown, a former NDP Ontario MPP for Beaches—East York, said she experienced a similar kind of silencing from the party during her tenure.
“I was brought into the party because I have a strong activist background, and then they spent the next four years telling me to shut up and sit down,” she said.
Berns-McGown said she explicitly told the Ontario New Democrats that she supported causes like BDS (boycott, divest and sanction Israel) and was still encouraged to join the party for her views. But when she posted about those causes, she was brought into the office of the chief of staff and “yelled at” for doing so, she said.
“The party has a tendency to reach out to advocates in community because it looks good and it feels good in the moment of recruitment,” Laura Mae Lindo, former Kitchener Centre MPP, said at the rally. “But then when we get into the system, they don’t quite know what to do with us.
“Or in the words of Beyonce, they are simply not ready for this jelly.”
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