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Ontario legislature keffiyeh ban partially overturned as political fighting continues

Click to play video: 'Keffiyeh ban at Queen’s Park partially overturned'
Keffiyeh ban at Queen’s Park partially overturned
WATCH: The Speaker of Ontario's legislature is allowing politicians, staff and visitors to enter the building while wearing a keffiyeh, loosening what had amounted to a ban on the scarf, while maintaining a prohibition inside the legislative chamber. Global News' Queen's Park Bureau Chief Colin D'Mello reports – May 6, 2024

Keffiyehs will once again be allowed into Queen’s Park after the Speaker of the Ontario Legislature announced a partial reversal of the controversial policy that created deep political division and barred some from entering the building.

The Arab headdress will still not be allowed inside the chamber itself, where debates between MPPs take place.

On Monday, Ted Arnott sharply explained the reasons behind the policy and lamented the politicization of the issue before partially revising the decision which, he said, has become “so controversial.”

Moments later two NDP MPPs, Joel Harden and Kristyn Wong-Tam, put on keffiyehs and then walked out of the legislative chamber after receiving a warning from the speaker.

Independent MPP Sarah Jama was ejected from the legislature after refusing to adhere to the long-standing rules against wearing political clothing.

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Arnott first banned the keffiyeh, a black and white checkered scarf typically worn in Arab cultures and often used to symbolize solidarity with Palestinians, earlier this spring.

Arnott decided it was a “political statement” and therefore violated the strict rules that stop MPPs from using props or clothing to send a message while sitting inside the house.

In his latest statement on the situation, Arnott said he never implemented a “blanket ban which singles out only the keffiyeh” but instead was enforcing the existing rules of the legislature.

Arnott believed that MPP who wore the keffiyeh intended to make a political statement and said “events that have transpired since” have confirmed to him the political nature of the clothing.

“It has been our standard practice, again, for many decades to ask those who seek to enter the Assembly not to wear any attire, which appears to be intended to make a political statement of any sort,” Arnott said. “This is intended to promote order and decorum and mostly has had the desired effect through the years.”

Click to play video: 'Ford government divided over Speaker’s ban on keffiyehs at Queen’s Park'
Ford government divided over Speaker’s ban on keffiyehs at Queen’s Park

Arnott, who had earlier maintained that his actions did not cause division, then acknowledged the devolving situation.

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“In this case, which unfortunately became politicized, it has instead fostered division and discord, both in this House and in our communities in the province,” Arnott said.

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Under the new rules, anyone wearing the keffiyeh will be permitted entry into Queen’s Park but will still be barred from wearing it into the legislative chamber.

Government House Leader Paul Calandra said he was pleased with the nuance added to the rules and supported the Speaker in his decision.

“He has the right, the responsibility to organize us… the way he sees fit,” Calandra told reporters.

“I’m glad that he made that distinction today in terms of the building, I think that was certainly important.”

Wong-Tam, who left the chamber after being singled out for putting on the keffiyeh, disagreed with the Speaker’s views on the clothing.

“The ban is making this a political article,” Wong-Tam told reporters after leaving the legislature. “It is unevenly applied on what gets restricted and what isn’t.”

Ahead of Monday, the Ontario NDP said it had sent Ontario Premier Doug Ford an “ultimatum” to work with them to overturn Arnott’s rulings.

Premier Ford, the NDP, Liberals and Greens are all publicly opposed to a ban on wearing the keffiyeh. Several within the Progressive Conservative caucus, however, have gone against the premier and worked to keep the ban in place.

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After failing to get his party members in line on the issue in April, Ford has allowed MPPs a free vote, explaining it is a “sensitive” issue for many.

On Monday, Ford suggested to reporters it was the Speaker’s decision and he wouldn’t be weighing in any further.

“That’s up to the Speaker,” he said. “I’ve voiced my opinion, I was pretty clear, this is the legislature, we have to respect the Speaker… there’s nothing I can do to change the legislature.”

In a Sunday post on social media, Ontario NDP Leader Marit Stiles said she would try and force a recorded vote on the keffiyeh ban if the premier didn’t push to overturn it himself.

“Now it’s up to the Premier to follow through when the Legislature returns this week,” Stiles wrote in a post on X, formerly Twitter. “If he won’t, we will — by forcing a full vote of MPPs. With votes from just 22 PC MPPs we can make this right.”

Speaking after the partial ban, Stiles said she would need to reconsider her party’s next steps. She said allowing the keffiyeh to be worn in most parts of the legislative building was a “step in the right direction” from Arnott.

There’s a lot of emotion on both sides, certainly, it’s still an issue, I think, that people can’t wear it in the gallery or in the legislative chamber,” she said. “I do think it is a step in the right direction, I’m hopeful that we can overturn the full ban and we will be looking at all the options.”

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Calandra pointed out the NDP could use an opposition day motion, a private members bill or say it has lost confidence in the Speaker in order to try and overturn the ban.

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