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MPP Sarah Jama asked to leave Ontario legislature for wearing keffiyeh

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MPP Sarah Jama was asked to leave the Legislative Assembly of Ontario by House Speaker Ted Arnott on Thursday for wearing a keffiyeh, a garment which has been banned at Queen’s Park.

Jama, however, refused to leave the chamber.

“Sarah Jama you are named. You must leave the chamber,” Arnott told the Independent representative for Hamilton Centre during question period.

Last week, Arnott announced the ban on the scarf, which is commonly worn by Arabs and Muslims and has become a symbol of Palestinian solidarity. The Speaker said "extensive research" led him to categorize the garment as a political statement.

“As a result of being named, the member, for the remainder of the day, is ineligible to vote on matters before the assembly, attend and participate in any committee proceedings, use the media studio and table notices of motion, written questions and petitions,” Arnott said.

Jama remained in the chamber throughout question period. After the fact, Arnott said there was “no way” to remove Jama, short of physical force.

“I wasn’t prepared to do that,” he told reporters.

All four of Ontario’s political party leaders, including Premier Doug Ford, have called for a reversal of the ban. Meanwhile, two of NDP Leader Marit Stiles’ attempts to allow members to wear the garment through unanimous consent have been unsuccessful.

Asked about the incident at an unrelated news conference Thursday, Ford said: “The Speaker runs the legislature. I know that was his choice.”

Following the request for Jama’s removal, Stiles called the move “outrageous.”

“Today, we are seeing a member removed for wearing a sign of her culture and community. I am appalled. Appalled,” Stiles said, adding that she thinks the premier should “compel” his caucus to grant unanimous consent to allow the garment and other forms of cultural attire in the House.

While House Leader Paul Calandra took issue with Stiles’ use of the word “compel,” he said his party would continue to follow the rules of the legislature, “until those rules are changed.”

MPP Sarah Jama is seen in the Ontario Legislature on April 25, 2024 after she was asked to leave the chamber by House Speaker Ted Arnott. (CTV News Toronto/Siobhan Morris)

Speaking to reporters at Queen’s Park, Jama accused the Progressive Conservatives of making the wearing of the keffiyeh in the House a political issue.

“This is a cultural piece of clothing. Every party leader has spoken up about how this ban shouldn’t exist. The premier has spoken about this ban needing to not exist. And yet his own members, the Conservatives, are the ones consistently saying 'no' to the removal of this ban,” she said.

Earlier this week, days after the ban had been reiterated, Jama wore the keffiyeh in the legislature without incident.

One of the members who has voted against the motion -- and said she will continue to do so -- is PC MPP Robin Martin.

“The rules of the legislature are clear that props and clothing that makes a political statement cannot be worn in the chamber,” she said in a statement released Tuesday.

“These rules exist to keep the peace in our democratic institutions and to ensure that we use only our words to debate and persuade each other. I believe these rules are important to the proper functioning of the legislature and must be upheld.”

In October of last year, Jama was removed from the NDP caucus and censured by the Ontario legislature for her comments on the Israel-Hamas war and the events of Oct. 7. 

Jama said she plans to keep wearing the keffiyeh in the house when MPPs return after a 10-day break.

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