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Motion to allow keffiyehs at Ontario legislature fails

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A motion to reverse a ban on the keffiyeh within Queen’s Park failed to receive unanimous consent Thursday just moments after Ontario Premier Doug Ford reiterated his view that prohibiting the garment in the House is divisive.

“We see the division right now that's going on. It's not healthy and this will just divide the community even more,” Ford said at an unrelated news conference on Thursday before Opposition Leader Marit Stiles presented her motion.

On Wednesday, Ford called on House Speaker Ted Arnott to reverse the ban on the scarf, which is worn by Palestinians, Muslims and Arabs across the globe. Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie and Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner also called for the ban’s reversal.

Stiles had previously written Arnott on April 12 stating that members of her caucus had been asked to remove the garment while in the building.

In a letter addressed to Stiles dated April 16, Arnott responded by saying that after “extensive research,” he concluded that the “wearing of keffiyehs at the present time in our assembly is clearly intended to be a political statement.”

However, he said, if a motion to allow the wearing of the garment received unanimous consent, he would accept the decision.

In a motion presented Thursday, Stiles said: “I seek unanimous consent that this House acknowledge that the keffiyeh is a culturally significant clothing item to many in Ontario's Palestinian, Muslim and Arab communities and should neither be considered an expression of a political message nor an accessory likely to cause disorder, and should therefore be permitted to be worn in the House.”

The motion failed.

Speaking at the legislature, Arnott said he heard “audible” no votes when he asked for unanimous consent. 

“It’s extremely politically sensitive, obviously, but procedurally, I believe I made the right decision in the sense of past rulings of Speakers and precedents and traditions,” he told reporters after the vote.

Arnott noted there is a “long-standing” policy about wearing political symbols, and that even MPPs who want to wear sport jerseys in the legislature require a unanimous consent vote.

PC MPP Robin Martin voted against the motion, saying the decision follows the rules of the legislative assembly.

“Political clothing is not allowed to be worn in the legislative assembly … unless there was unanimous consent. (The Speaker) researched that decision and the decision was the correct decision in my view,” she said.

Martin added that it’s similar to a member wearing a “Free the Hostages” shirt in support of Israel in the war against Hamas or wrapping themselves in a flag.

As well, PC MPP Lisa McLeod confirmed she supported the ban on social media.

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