Citizens, councillors and MPs call for ceasefire, humanitarian aid in Gaza

On Mon. Oct. 30, activists, citizens, and other groups headed to NDP leader Jagmeet Singh’s office in Burnaby for a peaceful sit-in in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. It was a diverse group of people who gathered to “hold space” and read the names of children killed in the recent conflict.

Atiya Jaffar, one of the activists present at the sit-in, told the Beacon the gathering included supporters and allies who came in solidarity with the Palestinian community, including Jewish and Indigenous allies who gathered at Singh’s office. “We held space in the office for the entire day,” she said, “we were surrounded by our own children, a lot of us brought our babies, I brought my baby. It was an immensely powerful and heartbreaking moment to see our children in front of us and read the names of children who had been brutally murdered.”

Since then, there has been a wave of demonstrations and sit-ins throughout Canada, which prompted Singh and the NDP caucus to release a statement. “We condemn the alarming rise in anti-Semitism, anti-Palestinian racism and Islamophobia in our communities and across Canada and we ask for a stronger response from your government,” the statement said.

“I think it’s definitely in the right direction, but I’d love to see Jagmeet Singh and the NDP do more,” Jaffar said. “I’d love to see them stand on the right side of history.”

On Mon. Nov. 6, during Burnaby City Council’s meeting, Coun. Daniel Tetrault brought forth a motion for the mayor to write a letter to the prime minister calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the release of all hostages, and the flow of humanitarian aid, and that the mayor and council condemn all acts of anti-Semitism, anti-Palestinian racism, and Islamophobia in Burnaby. Tetrault then spoke about reading recent Amnesty International reports about how entire Palestinian families have been wiped out. “It immediately brings me back to looking at my own family tree, and learning how so much of my grandparents’ family had been wiped out in the Nazi Holocaust. When my grandparents spoke of this time as survivors of concentration camps, they always said, ‘Never again.’ Never again can we allow this to happen to anyone,” Tetrault said.

“My Jewish values have taught me to stand up against injustices, and human rights abuses, and for the liberation of all people. It is because of these values and lessons from my grandparents that I wish to speak to the immediate need for all levels of government to call for an immediate ceasefire and a stop to violence. Over 10,000 Palestinian civilians including over 4,000 children and 1,400 Israelis have been killed since Oct. 7. My heart breaks for all those that lost loved ones and are scared for their futures,” he added.

Coun. Maita Santiago also spoke in support of the motion, saying, “As a mother I am deeply affected by the civilians, especially the children caught in this devastating conflict, and by the war crimes being committed. I know that as we speak and meet this evening, there’s a mother just like me in Gaza but who unlike me now bears the unimaginable burden of life without them.”

Coun. Santiago wiped tears from her eyes as she spoke about the death and devastation as well as hearing from Burnaby residents who had spoken to the council about anti-Palestinian racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia they were experiencing in their community.

“We must strive for a city where people feel safe and where they are not targeted by virtue of their religion or where they’re from or by exercising their democratic rights to express what they believe,” she said. “We started our council meeting around 5 o’clock, so that’s at least about more than 12 children that have been killed since our meeting began and this number rises literally by the minute,” she added.

Coun. Alison Gu spoke next saying that it is a war crime to use collective punishment and target civilians. “For me, it is psychologically impossible to imagine the scale of death and destruction, 10,000 Palestinian people dead, 4,000 of whom are children, likely thousands more trapped beneath rubble, and 1,400 Israeli civilians,” she said.

Mayor Mike Hurley also spoke in support of the motion, adding, “I also want to address issues in Burnaby that are concerning me. We take great pride in Burnaby in our multiculturalism, and how we look out for each other. And the stories of Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-Palestinian sentiments, are totally unacceptable in our society. I call on everyone in Burnaby to take a step back and let’s treat everyone like a human being, and that’s what we all are in this world.”

Lubna El Elaimy, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Burnaby Beacon