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Ontario court throws out request by Hamilton MPP Sarah Jama to overturn Ford government’s censorship of her

Now an Independent MPP, Sarah Jama is not allowed to speak in the Legislative Assembly. The censorship by Premier Doug Ford's government came after Jama posted statements in support of Palestinians after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, 2023.

Ontario Superior Court of Justice determined it doesn't have the authority to intervene

Woman wearing keffiyeh

Hamilton Centre MPP Sarah Jama will continue to be censured at Queen's Park after an Ontario court dismissed her application for a Progressive Conservative motion to be overturned.

A panel of three justices ruled last week that the dispute is a matter of "parliamentary privilege," which allows elected officials to have free speech within the Legislative Assembly. That's what the members of parliament did when they denounced a statement Jama posted to social media platform X and decided to censure her, the decision says.

Therefore, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice determined, it doesn't have the authority to intervene.

"With this disappointing decision, the court is essentially stating that the Ontario Legislature can, with impunity, censor an elected opposition member with whom it disagrees," Jama said in a statement emailed to CBC Hamilton.

"The courts are requesting I resolve this issue through political means. However, that would require me to fulfill the request of the Speaker of the legislature, who has advised that before I can again be recognized I must disavow the statements that got me censured."

In an Oct. 10 post, Jama, then an NDP MPP, called for a ceasefire as well as an "end to all occupation of Palestinian land."

She did not specifically mention that Hamas had attacked Israel days before, killing about 1,200 civilians and taking about 250 hostages. The post drew condemnation from Premier Doug Ford who claimed it was anti-Semitic and condoning Hamas' violence.

Jama apologized but refused to delete the post and Ford's PC Party passed the censorship motion. Jama has not been allowed to speak in the Legislative Assembly since, although she can vote, participate in committees and table motions.

Since the Hamas attack over seven months ago, Israel's subsequent military invasion into Gaza has killed more than 36,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza's health ministry.

The Israeli government says 130 hostages remain unaccounted for.

Jama argued censorship unconstitutional

Jama and her lawyers appealled to Ontario Divisional Court in December for the motion to be quashed and declare it unconstitutional. They argued the motion was an abuse of power, designed to curtail Jama's right to engage in political speech as an MPP.

The court's decision said Jama, now an Independent MPP, would have to find a resolution within the Legislative Assembly system.

This application is separate from Jama's threat to sue Ford for defamation. She served him with a cease and desist letter on Oct. 11 about his post stating she has "a long and well-documented history of antisemitism."

Jama's letter called the premier's post "reckless and malicious" and an attempt to "tarnish her reputation."

Jama's lawyer for that case nor the Premier's Office did not respond to requests for comment.

Watch: Sarah Jama describes being removed from NDP Party

Hamilton Centre MPP Sarah Jama describes being removed from the Ontario NDP caucus

7 months ago

Duration 1:16

Sarah Jama said she learned of her removal from the Ontario NDP via email and has not heard from party leader Marit Stiles.

Nearly two weeks after her initial post on X, the NDP kicked Jama out of caucus over her statements on the Israel-Hamas conflict and not consulting with the party ahead of time. She's sat as an Independent since.

Most recently, Jama wore a keffiyeh in the legislative chamber despite a ban by Speaker Ted Arnott earlier this month. She was asked to leave along with two NDP MPPs wearing scarves in solidarity.

A keffiyeh is a checkered scarf typically worn in Arab cultures that has come to symbolize solidarity with Palestinians.

Arnott decided earlier this year that it is being worn to make an overt political statement, which is against the rules of the legislature. He said if a member asks for and receives support from all MPPs to wear a keffiyeh in the legislature, it will be allowed.

'Many of my colleagues have changed their position'

On Tuesday, Jama said she continued to stand by her original statement and would not be apologizing for calling for a ceasefire, among other points.

"Nearly eight months after I was silenced for daring to speak in support of Palestinian human rights, we are continuing to watch the atrocities unfold in real time, with the particularly horrific images coming out of Rafah this past weekend," she said in her emailed statement.

"In the months since my censure, many of my colleagues have changed their position on Palestine, now being vocally critical, while I continue to be punished for voicing my opinion early on."

Jama said she is considering whether to appeal the court's decision but asked fellow MPPs to "do the right thing and vote to end my censure, if not because they have come to agree with my statements, then at least because they recognize that in a democratic country, I must have the right to make them."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Samantha Beattie is a reporter for CBC Hamilton. She has also worked for CBC Toronto and as a Senior Reporter at HuffPost Canada. Before that, she dived into local politics as a Toronto Star reporter covering city hall.

    With files from The Canadian Press and Bobby Hristova

    *****
    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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