Najwa Zebian delivers passionate speech amid legal threat at International Women’s Day Breakfast

Najwa Zebian speaking at the 18th annual International Women's Day Breakfast. 980 CFPL / Jake Jeffrey

The room was packed, as Najwa Zebian shared her experiences of discrimination and harassment during Friday morning’s 18th annual International Women’s Day Breakfast.

“Time is up on sexual harassment,” she exclaimed.

“Time is up on sexual assault, on violence against women and men, on gender-based violence, on power abuse, on systematical impression, time is up on silence.”

Those words came days after Zebian was served with a notice of intent to sue for defamation.

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In December, Zebian brought forward allegations of sexual harassment against Michael Deeb, a high school principal and London Police Services Board member. Deeb was forced to step down from that board after the Ontario Civilian Police Commission announced it would launch an investigation. Officials with the Thames Valley District School Board said he is on a paid leave.

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Deeb’s lawyer, Faisal Joseph, confirmed to 980 CFPL in early February that he had also stepped down from the boards of the St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation and Huron University College.

Zebian says despite the letter encouraging her to retract her comments and apologize, she stressed that she would not be silenced.

“I will not be quiet after I discovered the power of my voice, I will not apologize for telling my truth, I will not be silenced after finally being heard.”

Executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre, Megan Walker, applauded Zebian’s courage.

“When the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns broke, it became a pivotal moment in our history, and gave women the strength they needed to come forward and tell their stories,” said Walker.

“I think today will be a pivotal moment in London, and we will soon see many more women coming forward, telling their stories about men in position of power.”

At times during her speech, Zebian spoke directly to women in the room who are dealing with their own forms of harassment and assault.

“The bad people win when the good people stay silent, and it’s not only bullies that empower bullies, bystanders do too.”

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“If you’re afraid of sharing your story, that’s a good enough reason to share it, because you do not deserve to live in shame, or in fear of the consequences of sharing your truth.”

Walker said they had over 700 people in attendance Friday morning, about 150 more than the event usually gets. She expects they’ll surpass their fundraising goal of $65,000.

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