Ontario NDP will defy keffiyeh ban if Ford doesn't step in: Stiles

More than 100 people gathered outside the Etobicoke constituency office of Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Friday afternoon to protest the ban on keffiyehs at Queen's Park. (Olivia Bowden/CBC - image credit)
More than 100 people gathered outside the Etobicoke constituency office of Ontario Premier Doug Ford on Friday afternoon to protest the ban on keffiyehs at Queen's Park. (Olivia Bowden/CBC - image credit)

Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles has given Premier Doug Ford a deadline to step in and reverse the ban on the wearing of keffiyehs at the provincial legislature or else she says the NDP will defy the ban.

In a video posted on X, formerly Twitter, Stiles said Ford has until May 6 to reverse the ban. That date is when the legislature is scheduled to resume sitting.

"We've been working to reverse the keffiyeh ban inside the walls of Queen's Park, but Doug Ford's MPPs keep blocking us," Stiles said in the video posted on Friday. "So we decided to give the government until May 6 to reverse this unjust rule or expect us and the community to defy the ban."

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

Speaker Ted Arnott banned the scarf in March after a complaint, saying it was being worn to make a political statement, contrary to the rules of the assembly. All four party leaders, including Ford, have called on the speaker to reverse the ban.

Stiles's statement came as more than 100 people gathered outside Ford's constituency office in Etobicoke to express their opposition to the ban. Also on Friday, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association said the speaker's upholding of the ban was "undemocratic," calling the ban "discriminatory towards Arab communities" and a "direct attack on freedom of expression."

Speaker using powers in 'anti-democratic' way: CCLA

On Friday afternoon, demonstrators gathered to express their opposition to the ban, waving Palestinian flags, carrying placards and chanting slogans. Many were wearing keffiyehs.

Ahmad Gaied, a protest organizer and secretary-treasurer of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), said Ford could get his caucus to support a reversal of the ban.

"If Mr. Ford is going to say that he supports the wearing of the keffiyeh, we have some expectations of him, like to talk to his caucus and reverse the ban on the keffiyeh," Gaied said.

OFL President Laura Walton said in a news release that the ban is an attack on Palestinian, Arab and Muslim communities.

"To target a cultural community like this, in 2024, is simply unconscionable," Walton said. "As labour leaders, we won't stand for it. If Ford won't end this racist ban, we'll defy it."

Olivia Bowden/CBC
Olivia Bowden/CBC

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association's director of fundamental freedoms, Anaïs Bussières McNicoll, called the ban divisive in a news release on Friday.

"Labeling a culturally significant piece of clothing such as the keffiyeh as a political prop, and banning it as a result, is discriminatory towards Arab communities and is a direct attack on freedom of expression," McNicoll said.

"As made clear by the Legislative Assembly Act, the Speaker is guardian of the rights of the Assembly's members. He should not be using parliamentary privilege as an excuse to adopt orders that undermine some of the most basic human rights of its members and with it, those of any individual who wishes to enter the legislative building," McNicoll continued.

"By upholding his ban despite the unanimous request made by leaders of all political parties in the legislature that it be lifted, the Speaker is exercising his powers in a profoundly anti-democratic way."

Ford could bring motion to end ban, opposition says

According to the opposition, Ford could introduce a government motion to reverse the ban. The NDP has brought forth two unanimous consent motions to end the ban but both have failed.

"It's time for us to come together as one community and fight anti-Palestinian racism, hate and division," Stiles said.

Liberal MPP John Fraser has said the government has to bring the matter to a vote, rather than opposition parties moving unanimous consent motions that will invariably fail because Progressive Conservatives MPPs will vote against them.

"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."

Ford reiterated this week that he does not support the ban, but that it's up to members of Parliament to make their decision,

"It's very divisive, in my opinion ... It's a very sensitive topic for certain people," he said Tuesday.

Camille Gris Roy/Radio Canada
Camille Gris Roy/Radio Canada

On Thursday, Independent MPP Sarah Jama refused to remove her keffiyeh at Queen's Park and was subsequently banned from returning to the chamber for the rest of the day.

Arnott ordered Jama to leave the chamber, but she refused.

Legislative security did not physically remove her from question period. Arnott said he was not prepared to remove Jama by force.

In an email, Arnott has argued that the wearing of keffiyehs is intended to make an "overt political statement," which is against the legislature's rule that prohibits MPPs from wearing "props, signage or accessories" intended to express a political message.

Jama told reporters in a scrum that the keffiyeh ban is racist and arbitrary and she has pledged to continue wearing the scarf. She said the keffiyeh is a "cultural" piece of clothing in support of Palestinian people.

"This is a political issue, my job is to be political, and so I will continue to wear this garment," Jama said.