MPP Sarah Jama threatens to sue Premier Doug Ford over Israel-Hamas comments

Click to play video: 'MPP Sarah Jama threatens to sue Premier Doug Ford over Israel-Hamas comments'
MPP Sarah Jama threatens to sue Premier Doug Ford over Israel-Hamas comments
WATCH: NDP MPP Sarah Jama is threatening to serve Premier Doug Ford with a libel lawsuit over public statements she said depicted her as having a “history of antisemitism." Global News' Queen's Park Bureau Chief Queen’s Park Bureau Chief Colin D’Mello reports – Oct 19, 2023

NDP MPP Sarah Jama is threatening to serve Premier Doug Ford with a libel lawsuit, Global News has learned, over public statements that depicted Jama as having a “history of antisemitism,” which Jama argues have harmed her reputation.

Hamilton Centre MPP Jama has been at the centre of controversy at Queen’s Park after statements she made during the Israel-Hamas conflict were slammed by members of the government who claimed they indicated support of the terrorist attacks on Oct 7.

In her original statement, Jama said: “We have seen this definition of apartheid in real time through the continued violation of human rights in Gaza through the use of white phosphorus chemicals, the withholding of access to food, fuel electric and water, and the destruction of the only exit from Gaza that isn’t controlled by the State of Israel.”

As the statement faced widespread condemnation, Ford issued a public statement calling it “disturbing” and demanded her resignation from the Ontario legislature.

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“Sarah Jama has a long and well-documented history of antisemitism,” Ford’s statement said. “Marit Stiles … has yet to hold Ms. Jama accountable for publicly supporting the rape and murder of innocent Jewish people.”

On Thursday, Ford’s office was served a cease and desist letter along with a notice that a statement of claim could be issued against the premier “personally” unless he retracts the comments and issues an “unequivocal apology.”

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Ford’s statement, the letter says, implied that Jama is “racist” toward Jewish people, sympathetic to terrorism and unfit for office.

“These published statements have done and continue to do serious harm to Ms. Jama’s reputation,” the letter reads.

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The statement was not only sent to members of the media but also posted on social media where, the letter notes, it was viewed 1.5 million times, liked 7,167 times and reposted 2,108 times.

Jama, who’s being represented by lawyer Stephen Ellis, has given Ford seven days to “formally retract the posts and publicly apologize” or risk facing a libel lawsuit.

Ontario housing minister and house leader Paul Calandra said Ford’s comments were not defamatory, and accused Jama — who has not been at the legislature — of “hiding.”

“Not only do I agree with the premier, but thousands of other people agree with him,” Calandra told reporters at Queen’s Park.

“What we just saw in this place, frankly, right now, (is) the NDP sitting on their hands, in essence voting against a motion to condemn terrorist actions,” he added, referencing the party’s decision to abstain on a PC motion to condemn Hamas.

Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles did not directly answer when asked if she had been told Jama was planning to file her statement of claim against Ford.

“I’ve been aware that she feels she’s been libelled,” Stiles said, saying her team was in “constant contact” with Jama.

“She is with her family right now and it’s a very difficult time.”

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Stiles accused the Ford government of a “cynical attempt to distract from the fact that they’re being criminally investigated by the RCMP.”

Ontario Liberal Leader John Fraser called for the temperature to be turned down inside the legislature.

“The problem in this situation is it impacts more people than just the two members, the two people involved,” he said. “And that’s why I would expect her leader to know, that’s why I just think we need to turn the temperature down.”

Click to play video: 'Tensions flare at Queen’s Park as government, opposition exchange accusations'
Tensions flare at Queen’s Park as government, opposition exchange accusations

While Jama has publicly apologized for the statement, Ford’s Progressive Conservatives triggered a legislative debate on whether MPPs should censure Jama until she retracts and deletes her original statement and also apologizes in the legislature.

The motion, if passed, would prevent the speaker from recognizing Jama in the legislature, effectively cutting off her ability to address the Ontario legislative assembly in any capacity. The motion would not prevent Jama from voting or attending.

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In the wake of the initial blowback, Stiles ordered the Hamilton Centre MPP to withdraw the statement, saying it was not approved by the party and does not align with the party’s values.

Both Stiles and Jama released statements confirming Jama would continue to sit with the Ontario NDP caucus at Queen’s Park.

“I heard many voices … raising concerns about my post. I hear them — and above all, I understand the pain that many Jewish and Israeli Canadians, including my own constituents, must be feeling,” Jama wrote. “I apologize.”

Stiles acknowledged the “personal impact” recent events have had on Jama and suggested the MPP, as someone with Palestinian family members, “is not alone in this experience.”

Stiles revealed that the Hamilton politician is taking time to cope with events in the Middle East.

— with files from Don Mitchell

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