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Protestors interrupted NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s talk at the Democracy Forum held by The Dais at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) on Friday.
The protest began with questions called out from an audience member who referenced the controversial comments recently made by Selina Robinson, a B.C. MLA for the NDP.
The B.C. Minister of Post-Secondary Education referred to Palestine as a “crappy piece of land” during a public panel via Zoom on Jan. 30. When asked about the comments at the Democracy Forum event, Singh rejected what was said. “It was harmful, horribly wrong and factually incorrect.”
The protester also called Singh out for not mentioning anti-Palestinian racism as part of his language while discussing ongoing Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, which have become pressing concerns since the recent conflict in the Middle East.
In response, Singh apologized. “You’re right. I’ve often said that, but today, in my response, I did not,” he said. “And I apologize.”
The forum moderator Martin Regg Cohn attempted to open the floor to questions from other attendees, but the protester continued to yell, while some others in the crowd joined in and questioned Singh on what the NDP had done to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.
In response, Singh said the NDP was one of the first parties to call for one (precisely four days after on Oct. 11, 2023). They also urgently asked to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, sent letters, and continued putting pressure on the government to call for a ceasefire.
“Most recently, folks who have been following will also know that Canada voted in favour of a ceasefire,” said Singh.
Protesters at the Democracy Forum event were eventually asked to leave and on their way out chanted, “NDP, shame on you. While you’re talking, bombs are dropping.”
Fifth-year public health student at TMU, Marwah Azizi said the event was emotionally intense. Despite being a supporter of the Palestinian cause, Azizi chose not to protest due to her belief in the power of assertive conversation.
“We didn’t get to hear what action has or is being taken,” said Azizi. “While I have attended protests, I wanted to stay back and have that conversation.”
Azizi spoke with Singh after the event while others lined up to do the same. He mentioned to her that in addition to doing what he described, they’ve also called on the Liberal Party to end Canada’s arms supply to Israel.
Azizi mentioned her appreciation for the opportunity to have these conversations but also said Canada’s call for a ceasefire would have had a much stronger impact if it had happened much earlier.
Other issues discussed at the event included Canadians’ struggles with affordability, Canada’s relationship with the Indian government and the inclusion of medication in Pharmacare.
The event concluded with The Dais’ Executive Director Karim Bardeesy reiterating democracy forums are a pro-democracy effort. “It’s tough to calibrate the kind of expression we know needs to happen with the responsibility we have to the entire audience,” he said.