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NDP volunteers, execs, two former MPPs oppose tossing Jama

'They never want us to speak': At least two former NDP MPPs have spoken out against Jama's removal from caucus
Hamilton Centre MPP Sarah Jama takes her seat at Queen's Park for the first time on March 27, 2023.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article originally appeared on The Trillium, a new Village Media website devoted exclusively to covering provincial politics at Queen’s Park.

The NDP has removed Sarah Jama, and with her, apparently, a chunk of support from the left.

Leader Marit Stiles booted Jama from caucus Monday morning, two weeks after the rookie MPP made a statement calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza war. The statement didn't condemn Hamas' Oct. 7 attacks — context Jama added after Stiles asked her to delete it. The PC government then censured Jama, barring her from speaking or voting in the legislature.

In the end, going off-script in remarks to the chamber about Israeli "apartheid" and "occupation" appeared to be the final straw for the NDP.

Stiles said she didn't have a choice — Jama wouldn't play by the rules that MPPs must abide by to be part of the team. But the saga has left many former NDP voters, volunteers, employees and even MPPs disillusioned and frustrated.

"I volunteered a lot of my time on Sarah’s campaign," said Sahra Soudi, an executive director at the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, which Jama co-founded. "I helped sign up over 1,000 memberships. I did it because I believed in her. But now I will never vote for the NDP ever again."

Sharmeen Khan of No One Is Illegal said she was excited for Stiles to take over the party from Andrea Horwath, who was seen by many on the left as too centrist. Now, Khan said she's "embarrassed" that she phone banked and flyered for Stiles. 

Jama was a bright spot for many young, energized progressives, Khan said. 

"I feel like it helps the party when you have this exciting new member who's controversial and speaking truth to power. I thought Sarah was honestly helping the NDP — for me, anyway," she said. 

Beyhan Farhadi, the former NDP Scarborough-Rouge Park Riding Association president, went one step further, resigning in protest.

"One can't work together as a team, or on the principle of trust, if decrying the scale and asymmetry of injustice is framed as a 'different viewpoint,'" she said in a statement, referring to NDP Leader Marit Stiles' announcement of Jama's removal.

Some in the NDP party structure — which is separate from MPPs in caucus — are organizing to push back internally, according to a member of the party executive.

The exec, speaking on background to avoid reprisal, said several NDP committees and riding associations are drafting a statement (or statements) in support of Jama to send to party membership and Stiles.

Former NDP MPP Rima Berns-McGown, a Black Jewish woman who lived in Israel in the 1980s, said she was "disgusted" by how Jama has been treated. 

Berns-McGown said the NDP actively courts people of colour to "benefit from our street cred" but doesn't support them in office.

"You cannot pull us into politics, and then say, 'Oh, I'm sorry, you care about equity? We don't talk about that here,'" she said.

Khan said politicians have approached her about running for the NDP, but she won't consider it.

"This is why I put my energy into more social movements than political parties. Because I just know that they'll just sell you out once they don't like what you do," she said.

Berns-McGown posted about Palestine during her time in office — to Horwath's chagrin — but avoided the trouble others have gotten in because her statements were careful, she said.

Jama needed mentorship, not condemnation, Berns-McGown said. 

She also pointed to the difference in treatment between Jama, "a young Black woman," and Paul Miller and Michael Mantha, two former NDP MPPs who were also kicked out.

"They let (Miller) hang around for four years," she said, "They treated (Mantha) with respect while they did the investigation. They didn't throw him under a bus like this."

"They never want us to speak," wrote Laura Mae Lindo, another Black former NDP MPP, on X.

"Rather than help someone craft a statement, we push Black folks out and wonder why it always looks the same," she said. 

An NDP source said the party did help Jama write the speech she gave in the legislature the same day she was defenestrated, but that Jama went off-script and mentioned Israeli "apartheid" and "occupation." 

CUPE Ontario President and NDP ally Fred Hahn, who has faced his own Palestine controversy recently, said on X that removing Jama was a "deeply troubling and massively dangerous move."

Jama didn't respond to a request for comment.

Stiles said she tried to make it work.

"We were put in an untenable situation with multiple surprises, which makes it really hard for us because we're also having a difficult time with the people in our caucus and our staff who are hurting right now. We can't have those surprises. It's untenable," she said. "And so we had to do what we had to do."

Deputy Leader Doly Begum said it's "extremely disheartening" that some are questioning the NDP's stance on Palestine, noting that family members of her friends have been killed

"We all come from different backgrounds, whether it's activism, labour — but when you come together to take action and have a goal, you have to be level-headed. You have to make sure that you carefully go through your plans and actually make that into a success," she said. "And for that, our leader has taken steps to do that."

Stiles' constituency office was vandalized with signs that read "FREE PALESTINE" and "BLOOD ON YOUR HANDS" sometime before Tuesday morning. What appeared to be red paint covered her photo on the front window.

Stiles said no one was hurt and that "we'll make the necessary reports."

She didn't seem fazed.

"You know, look, our offices get vandalized," she said. "It's not okay. I would never condone that. I don't want it. But it happens to us in politics sometimes."


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Jack Hauen

About the Author: Jack Hauen

Jack has been covering Queenโ€™s Park since 2019. Beats near to his heart include housing, transportation, municipalities, health and the environment. He especially enjoys using freedom of information requests to cause problems.
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