Ontario union leaders tell Ford: ‘If you don’t reverse racist keffiyeh ban, we’ll defy it’ | The Ontario Federation of Labour

Ontario union leaders tell Ford: ‘If you don’t reverse racist keffiyeh ban, we’ll defy it’

The following OFL media release was issued on Globe Newswire on Thursday, April 25, 2024.

TORONTO, April 25, 2024 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) – The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) is calling on Premier Doug Ford to reverse the racist and discriminatory ban on the keffiyeh at Queen’s Park, which members of his caucus continue to support.

On two occasions this week, MPPs had the opportunity to support an ONDP motion to overturn the ban, instituted by Speaker of the Legislature Ted Arnott, but defended it instead.

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

The keffiyeh is a long-standing and deeply significant cultural symbol for Palestinians, widely understood in the Arab world and internationally as an expression of Palestinian identity.

“It’s a disgrace that Arab-Canadian community members were denied entry into legislative buildings this week–simply because they were expressing their identity as Palestinians,” said Ahmad Gaied, OFL Secretary-Treasurer. “An attack on my community is an attack on all communities in Ontario, and we condemn it.”

Earlier today, Toronto Star reporter Kristin Rushowy tweeted this iconic photo from Queen’s Park, where Independent MPP Sarah Jama (Hamilton Centre) was being asked to leave the Legislature for wearing a keffiyeh.

“This racist ban not only targets a particular community, but also those who speak out for them, as Sarah has done with courage and dignity,” said Walton. “The targeting of Sarah in the Legislature is outrageous, and we won’t stand for that, either.”

The labour movement, including the OFL, has a long history of defending workers and community members from many cultural groups who have faced similar bans on expressions of their identity. At the OFL’s biennial convention in November 2023, Ontario workers reaffirmed their commitment to oppose anti-Palestinian racism, Islamophobia, antisemitism, and other forms of racism and hate.

“We’ve been down this road in the past, with bans on the hijab, the kippah, the dastar, and other items of clothing that express someone’s faith, identity, or association,” said Gaied. “We were right to oppose those bans then, and we’re going to do the same now–until it’s overturned.”

Ford’s government has instituted other bans at Queen’s Park over the years, including on the colour purple during a province-wide strike by education workers in November 2022. At the time, Conservative MPPs perceived purple clothing as expressions of solidarity with workers who were defending their labour rights.

In response to the keffiyeh ban, the OFL has launched an email tool that allows Ontarians to tell Ford and the Conservatives to end it.

In addition, the OFL has called an emergency rally at Ford’s Constituency Office, 823 Albion Road in Etobicoke, on Friday, April 26 at 5:30 p.m., to bring the public’s opposition to the ban to Ford’s doorstep.

“As Premier of Ontario, and as leader of his party, Ford can’t stand by while his MPPs target these communities–or the people standing up for them, like Sarah Jama,” said Walton. “But we won’t wait for Ford to find his voice. We’re taking action this week, and we won’t stop until the ban is reversed.”

The Ontario Federation of Labour represents 54 unions and one million workers in Ontario. It is the largest provincial labour federation in Canada. Visit OFL.ca and follow @OFLabour on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.

This statement is also available at Globe Newswire.

For more information, please contact: 

Jenny Sellathurai
Interim Director of Communications
Ontario Federation of Labour

jsellathurai@ofl.ca  |  416-894-3456