Ontario’s social democratic NDP expels anti-apartheid lawmaker Sarah Jama, sparking mass resignations
Ontario Member of Provincial Parliament Sarah Jama, center, joins striking Public Service Alliance of Canada workers on the picket line in Hamilton, Ont., April 2023. | Photo via Sarah Jama

TORONTO—Canada is seeing broad grassroots community and labor unity around the demand for an immediate ceasefire in Israel’s war against the Palestinian people. But that same unity doesn’t apply to the Ontario section of the country’s biggest labor-packed political outfit, the New Democratic Party.

In the last several days, the Ontario NDP has increasingly looked like it’s coming apart at the seams over the Gaza war.

The fight pits the provincial NDP leadership against a major chunk of the membership and trade union base that are firmly in solidarity with Palestinian civilians. The latter are angry over what they see as the efforts of party brass to silence an outspoken critic of Israeli occupation.

The controversy started when Sarah Jama, an NDP member of the provincial parliament, posted a statement on X (Twitter) on Oct. 10 condemning the Israeli “settler colonialism” that she argued has “taken the lives of far too many innocent people.”

Jama, a Black Muslim woman, is a 29-year-old disability and housing rights activist who won her seat in the legislature in March in a by-election. She represents a district in downtown Hamilton, Ontario. The city is considered Canada’s industrial heartland and is home to the country’s biggest steel plants. Politically, it has long been dominated by the social democratic NDP.

In her Oct. 10 statement, Jama called for a ceasefire, as has her party, but she went further, demanding that Israel “end all occupation of Palestinian land and end apartheid” and saying Canada must stand by its reputation as a global peacemaker.

Provincial party boss Marit Stiles condemned Jama for giving insufficient mention to the Israeli hostages taken prisoner by Hamas. Jama clarified her remarks, emphasizing, again, her solidarity with all those impacted by the current violence and condemning “terrorism by Hamas.”

Ontario’s right-wing Conservative Premier Doug Ford latched onto the issue, however, and had his caucus table a motion in the provincial parliament to censure Jama, accusing her of “anti-Semitic and discriminatory statements” and of defending “Hamas terrorists.”

Defending herself on the floor of the legislature Monday, Jama showed no sign of being intimidated by Ford.

“The Ford government has nothing meaningful to say about these atrocities, and has now targeted me to distract from its own scandals. Those of us committed to Palestinian life refuse to be distracted,” she said.

“I ground my words in the realities of Israeli apartheid, and Israel’s ongoing domination and occupation of Palestinian lands. Governments and institutions in Canada are trying to use their weight to silence us, to silence workers, students, educators, and peace-loving people who dare to support Palestine.”

She concluded her impassioned speech by declaring, “To every person taking risks to speak up for Palestinian dignity and safety, I see you, I hear you, and I am with you.”

Ford’s Conservatives voted unanimously to censure Jama. The Liberal Party, which is the smallest of the three major parties in the legislature, abstained. The NDP, which is the official opposition, voted against censure. The measure passed 63-23, and Jama is now forbidden from speaking in the legislature unless she issues an apology and deletes her social media post.

The support Jama’s own fellow NDP elected officials gave her stopped with the censure vote, however. Stiles ordered Jama expelled from the party’s caucus, insisting she had “undermined our collective work and broken the trust of her colleagues.”

Stiles claimed the expulsion was due not to Jama’s strident anti-apartheid position but rather because she caught her NDP colleagues off guard by unilaterally serving Premier Ford with a cease-and-desist letter. Her lawyers delivered a letter to Ford’s office last Thursday informing him he would face a legal action for defamation if he did not remove a social media post calling Jama anti-Semitic and a supporter of terrorism.

Jama released a statement to the press Tuesday evening saying that she and her staff had been “locked out of our emails, calendars, and databases used to communicate with and help community members.” So now, tenants she was helping with evictions or apply for disability benefits may have to start all over, as the NDP has blocked her from accessing their files.

NDP leader Stiles said Jama’s threat against Ford violated an agreement she had made to only take action in coordination with the party leadership, and that this was the reason she decided to boot Jama from the party.

No one is buying the explanation, though. The Ontario NDP was reportedly consumed by an avalanche of resignations and a firestorm of grassroots denunciations on Monday evening.

Sid Ryan, the former president of the Ontario Federation of Labor and still an influential voice on the left, said, “The Ontario NDP has rendered itself irrelevant to progressive voters…with their decision to eject Sarah Jama for speaking up about the genocide taking place in Gaza.”

Disgusted by the NDP leadership’s stance, he concluded, “It’s time to think about a new party.”

The president of the Ontario branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Fred Hahn, called Jama’s expulsion “troubling and massively dangerous.” He said, “What my party, the Ontario NDP, must understand is that this move…just handed the right a gift.”

Anthony Marco, the president of the Hamilton and District Labour Council (HDLC), based in Jama’s district (or riding, as they are called in Canada), said the NDP could consider his membership card “revoked.”

The HDLC, which is heavily populated by members of the United Steelworkers, followed its president’s lead, condemning the NDP for removing Jama. “For decades, the party has done everything it could to quash any discussion of the apartheid and occupation at every convention and council meeting,” the body declared.

The Toronto constituency office of Ontario NDP leader Marit Stiles was vandalized Monday night. | Screengrab via YouTube

It said that organized labor in Hamilton will work to ensure Jama is re-elected whether she runs under the NDP banner or not. “A call for peace is not a cause for punishment,” it concluded.

A rupture with organized labor could be deadly for the NDP’s political future. It has relied on the labor movement for support, campaign staffing, and, most importantly, funding ever since it was founded in 1961. The party was actually the product of an alliance between the Canadian Labour Congress and Canada’s old social democratic party, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF).

Beyond the ranks of labor, the condemnations are also pouring in from social justice and community groups.

Rabbi David Mivasair, formerly of the Ahavat Olam progressive synagogue in Vancouver, spoke up for Jama, saying, “I know of exactly one elected official in all of Canada who had the integrity and clarity to speak up when all others cowered in fear of the powerful lobbies manipulating them.” He said the NDP’s actions against Jama make it “hard for me to remain a member.”

The Equity Network, an anti-racism advocacy organization, also came to Jama’s defense. “This is a grave injustice that the Ontario NDP has used anti-Black racism and Islamophobic tropes stating Ms. Jama is creating an ‘unsafe’ work environment within the party,” the group said.

“In truth,” the statement adds, “the Ontario NDP are the ones who have created and perpetuated a violently unsafe environment for a Black Muslim disabled revolutionary woman.”

Grassroots vigilante anger was evident by Tuesday morning, as well. Stiles’ Toronto constituency office was vandalized overnight. Giant letters were pasted onto the windows spelling out: “Free Palestine” and “Blood on your hands.” Red paint was splattered across the image of Stiles’ face that appears on the office’s front window. The office was empty when the vandalism occurred, and no one was injured.

Whether Stiles will take the advice of the Hamilton and District Labour Council and “make a final effort to repair” the relationship “with Jama, Palestinian Ontarians, and those who stand in solidarity with them, including the working class,” remains to be seen.

At a time when organized labor and progressive organizations across Canada have coalesced around a demand for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the end of Israel’s inhuman blockade of the besieged territory, the party appears tone-deaf with its expulsion of Jama.

If the Ontario NDP leadership does not reverse itself and act to get back in line with its members and support base, a further exodus from its ranks and future electoral woes are near-certainties.

We hope you appreciated this article. At People’s World, we believe news and information should be free and accessible to all, but we need your help. Our journalism is free of corporate influence and paywalls because we are totally reader-supported. Only you, our readers and supporters, make this possible. If you enjoy reading People’s World and the stories we bring you, please support our work by donating or becoming a monthly sustainer today. Thank you!


C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left. In addition to his work at People's World, C.J. currently serves as the Deputy Executive Director of ProudPolitics.