In the wake of her removal from the Ontario NDP’s caucus, MPP Sarah Jama is pledging she’ll continue representing her Hamilton constituents, as some throw their support behind her.
In an email to constituents Tuesday evening, Jama said the NDP’s decision took her and her staff by surprise and they were immediately locked out of their emails and files, hindering their ability to respond to community members with pressing issues.
“Please bear with us during this time,” Jama said in her statement. “I am very committed to the constituents in Hamilton Centre, and will continue to be here to support you.”
The Ford government has also banned Jama from speaking in the legislature, in response to her comments supporting Gaza residents in the ongoing Israeli-Hamas war.
Jama, now an independent MPP, said she can still vote and “advocate around important issues to Hamilton Centre.”
Her comments come as some members of the NDP, including at least one sitting MPP, members of the Muslim community, labour groups in Hamilton and residents say they disagree with the party’s decision to remove Jama from caucus.
Anthony Marco, president of the Hamilton District Labour Council, told CBC Hamilton Jama has an “incredible amount of support” in Hamilton because of her years of community activism including for people with disabilities, Muslims and Black residents.
“We’ve got her back,” Marco said. “We’re standing in solidarity.”
Marco said within the labour council, an umbrella group with 15 members on its executive, there was “universal disgust” over the NDP decision.
Hamilton councillor Nrinder Nann called the NDP decision “unconscionable,” and said both that move and the censure of Jama within the legislature “set dangerous precedences for our democracy and for future outspoken, progressive politicians across Ontario and the country.”
NDP leader stands by decision
The controversy began earlier this month when Jama, 29, posted a statement on social media platform X, formerly Twitter, that called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza as well as an “end to all occupation of Palestinian land.”
She focused largely on the Palestinian territories, saying “violence and retaliation rooted in settler colonialism have taken the lives of far too many innocent people.” She did not directly mention the Hamas attacks.
The statement prompted both anger and support. Premier Doug Ford called for Jama’s resignation and he accused her of antisemitism. Jama did not take her post down, but apologized on social media, saying she understood “the pain that many Jewish and Israeli Canadians, including my own constituents must be feeling.”
Jama’s office also served Ford with a cease and desist letter, threatening to sue the premier for defamation if he did not remove his statement. Ford denied her accusations and said, through his lawyer, that he’s prepared to defend himself in court.
On Monday, Jama spoke in the Chamber, reaffirming her support for Palestinians in Gaza. Shortly after, NDP leader Marit Stiles announced Jama had been removed from its caucus, stating Jama had “undertaken a number of unilateral actions” and “contributed to unsafe work environments” for staff.
“There’s a point at which, in a way, someone makes a decision to continue to act independently, then they can sit independently,” Stiles told reporters on Monday.
The next day, she stood by the decision.
“We’re standing together, but it is difficult,” Stiles told reporters. “I think our party will be stronger as a result of this. We have to stay focused on what we need to accomplish.”
Doly Begum, NDP MPP for Scarborough Southwest, also defended the party.
“We stood up so that member from Hamilton Centre, Sarah Jama, has a voice and we voted against the censure motion,” Begum said.
She also said the NDP supports a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.
Jill Andrew, NDP MPP for Toronto-St. Paul’s, said she doesn’t support Jama’s removal, despite Stiles saying she had the support of the caucus.
“I learned about this decision… when the decision was already made,” Andrew wrote on X.
Andrew said she also had concerns over the wording of the announcement, saying it conjured “stereotypical tropes often used to communicate about Black people, especially Black women, who are perceived as difficult.”
Matthew Green, the federal NDP representative for Hamilton Centre, put out a statement Wednesday criticizing the censure of Jama at Queen’s Park.
He also clarified that the decision to remove her from the NDP caucus was one taken “by the Ontario NDP alone” and has left him “feeling frustrated.”
Hamilton resident ‘enraged’ at NDP
Jyssika Russell has lived in Jama’s riding for nine years and consistently voted for the Ontario NDP. She said she was “enraged” by the NDP’s decision, which, along with the PC’s censuring, further hinders Jama’s ability to represent constituents.
“The undemocratic nature and silencing of my community and myself in provincial parliament is disgusting,” Russell said.
She’ll be revoking her party membership and is calling for leader Stiles to resign.
“She’s caving into what Doug Ford wants,” said Russell. “I don’t think she will be able to lead the progressive wave that needs to happen to secure the party win in the next election.”
Ahona Mehdi, a Hamilton resident and friend of Jama’s who was with her at Queen’s Park Monday, said the decision to remove Jama from the NDP sends a signal.
“The one politician that was brave enough and firm enough in her principles to speak the truth, and speak for, you know, the greater cause was reprimanded for it… What does that say, for the rest of us? Who are students, who are workers, who are just people in community, who want to speak up about this?” Mehdi told CBC Hamilton.
Former NDP MPP Laura Mae Lindo said she was “filled with frustration” for Jama who is a “voice for the voiceless in a space where we are far outnumbered.
“Part of what we have to do as [MPPs] is to use our positions of influence to ensure those voices are there,” said Lindo, who’s now an assistant philosophy professor at the University of Waterloo.
“And oftentimes when Black MPPs do that, they’re told they aren’t listening. They’re told they’re difficult to work with. “They’re told these tropes around being Black in a space that wasn’t made for us.”
Imam Aarij Anwer lives in London, Ont., and said as an NDP voter he’s “hurt” and “betrayed” by the party’s decision and “flies in the face of free speech and democracy.”
“She’s speaking her mind and speaking her conscience,” he said. “She should be proud of what she’s done. I want her to know that people of all faiths support her and this is hopefully … a catalyst for something positive for her in the future.”
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