Ontario Legislature bans wearing of keffiyeh scarves

The Ontario Legislature has banned the wearing of keffiyehs because donning the garment is making a “political statement,” the speaker says.In an email on Wednesday, Speaker Ted Arnott said the legislature has previously restricted the wearing of clothing that is intended to make an “overt political statement” because it upholds a “standard practice of decorum.””The Speaker cannot be aware of the meaning of every symbol or pattern but when items are drawn to my attention, there is a responsibility to respond. After extensive research, I concluded that the wearing of keffiyehs at the present time in our Assembly is intended to be a political statement. So, as Speaker, I cannot authorize the wearing of keffiyehs based on our longstanding conventions,” Arnott said in an email.Arnott’s email did not provide specifics on who drew keffiyehs to his attention or when.Keffiyehs are a commonly worn scarf among Arabs, but hold special significance to the Palestinian resistance movement.Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles and Sarah Jama, Independent MPP for Hamilton Centre, are objecting to the ban. Jama drew attention to the ban through a post on X, formerly Twitter, on Wednesday.Ban ‘unacceptable,’ Ontario NDP leader saysIn an April 12 letter to the speaker, Stiles urged Arnott to reconsider the ban, saying she considers it unacceptable.”The Assembly has always permitted Members, staff and guests to openly celebrate their culture, including wearing traditional clothing that represents their history, culture or faith, and I don’t believe it is your intention to change that precedent,” Stiles said.Stiles said MPPs have worn kilts, kirpans, vyshyvankas and chubas in the legislature, saying such items of clothing not only have national and cultural associations, but have also been considered at times as “political symbols in need of suppression.”She said Indigenous and non-Indigenous members have also dressed in traditional regalia and these items cannot be separated from their historical and political significance. “The wearing of these important cultural and national clothing items in our Assembly is something we should be proud of. It is part of the story of who we are as a province,” she said.”Palestinians are part of that story, and the keffiyeh is a traditional clothing item that is significant not only to them but to many members of Arab and Muslim communities. That includes members of my staff who have been asked to remove their keffiyehs in order to come to work. This is unacceptable.”Suppression of cultural symbols part of genocide: MPPJama, for her part, said on X that  the ban is “unsurprising” but “nonetheless concerning” in a country that has a legacy of colonialism. “Part of committing genocide is the forceful suppression of cultural identity and cultural symbols,” she said in part. Jama added that “state powers” have suppressed Indigenous cultural dress, language, ceremony and beliefs “as tools of genocide” at various points in Canada’s history.”Seeing those in power in this country at all levels of government, from federal all the way down to school boards, aid Israel’s colonial regime with these tactics in the oppression of Palestinian people proves that reconciliation is nothing but a word when spoken by state powers,” she said.WATCH | An explainer on the cultural significance of keffiyehs: Keffiyeh: How it became a symbol of the Palestinian peopleKeffiyehs are a common garment across the Arab world, but they hold a special meaning in the Palestinian resistance movement.Arnott said the keffiyeh was not considered a “form of protest” in the legislature prior to statements and debates that happened in the House last fall.”These items are not absolutes and are not judged in a vacuum,” he said.Arnott added that he reminded the legislature in a statement on Feb. 22 of its standard practice of decorum, saying: “It has long been the established practice of this House that members should not use props, signage or accessories that are intended to express a political message or are likely to cause disorder. This also extends to members’ attire, where logos, symbols, slogans and other political messaging are not permitted.”This Legislature is a forum for debate, and the expectation in the chamber is that political statements should be made during debate rather than through the use of props or symbols,” he said.

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