Photo of a person in a large room with lots of people, reading a statement. Behind them is a banner saying
Member of Jews Say No To Genocide reading a statement to Vaughan Mayor Stephen Del Duca at town hall, Apr 3. Photo: Assia Rami.

Palestinians and Allies Refuse to Be Smeared by Vaughan Mayor Del Duca

Pro-Palestinian attendees at a Vaughan town hall with Mayor Steven Del Duca demanded to know why he is moving to restrict freedom of expression, and to clarify his position on the ongoing genocide perpetuated by Israel against Palestinians. 

On Mar. 7, Del Duca released a statement denigrating planned protests targeting events held by a company that illegally sold Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank. The events, after another location cancelled, were held in the Beth Avraham Yoseph Synagogue.  

On March 18, after the protests, Del Duca announced he would introduce a bylaw prohibiting “unpeaceful demonstrations within 100 metres of certain vulnerable infrastructure.”

Louise Smith, a spokesperson for Jews Say No to Genocide (JSNTG) who attended the town hall on Apr. 3, said that Del Duca’s proposed bylaw is a threat to protests of all kinds.

“It leaves it up to the administration, to anybody who’s being protested. It lets them decide whether or not they think it’s a valid protest and that’s not the way protests are supposed to work,” Smith tells The Grind. “We don’t think it’s a justifiable restriction on people’s right to free expression and right to protest. It really does undermine those values.”

Shortly after the beginning of the meeting, a speaker took the mic to read out a prepared statement that condemned Del Duca’s proposal and demanded the mayor condemn the events illegally selling Palestinian land, the violence perpetrated by pro-Israel demonstrators against supporters of Palestine, abandon the bylaw and to call for “a permanent ceasefire, an end to Israeli occupation, and the freedom of Palestine.” 

Individuals from Queers For Palestine, Eglinton-Lawrence Don Valley for Palestine and Jews Say No to Genocide were present.

After the statement was read out, Del Duca opened his response by reiterating earlier comments he made in November of last year. 

“Every single loss of innocent life, regardless of which life we’re talking about, breaks my heart,” he said shortly before being interrupted.

Vaughan Mayor Steven Del Duca speaking at the town hall, Apr. 3. Photo: Assia Rami.

Ghada Sasa, a Palestinian activist with Mississauga for Palestine, tells The Grind in an interview the day after the town hall that she rejects Del Duca’s approach.

“This whole equating of colonized and colonizer is so disturbing,” she says. “There’s no hospital left in Gaza. There’s no schools. There’s no universities. How on earth are you equating Palestinians with Israelis?”

Del Duca was drowned out by chants from the crowd at the town hall relatively quickly, saying he didn’t address the demands to their satisfaction. 

Other members of the crowd began voicing their displeasure at the activists. One audience member, who identified himself as “George Anderson” grabbed an activist’s phone out of their hand and “threw it across the room,” according to a statement by Eglinton-Lawrence Don Valley for Palestine on X (Twitter). Sasa says this same person later did the same to her in front of Del Duca and police officers.

Police at the Vaugahn town hall, Apr. 3. Photo: Assia Rami.

Sasa says she asked one officer why the man wasn’t charged and they avoided answering her, and so she approached another officer to insist that a report be filed. Sasa has since announced that an investigation is now ongoing.

“It’s disgusting how, right in front of the police and Mayor, Zionists feel emboldened to just assault me like that,” Sasa said.

During the two protests of the illegal land sales, police made high-profile arrests of people targeting Palestine supporters. On Mar. 3, a man who wielded a nailgun and shouted “Every fucking Palestinian will die” was arrested. Later that week, on Mar. 7, a woman demonstrating for Palestine was kicked in the abdomen by a supporter of Israel, who was later arrested. Two other people on the pro-Israel side were also arrested, and none on the pro-Palestine side.

In one on one conversations, some of which were livestreamed on Instagram accounts like Eglinton-Lawrence Don Valley for Palestine, Del Duca spent time conversing with individuals. Attendees raised concerns about the bylaw and his previous comments surrounding pro-Palestinian demonstrations. After a short time, Del Duca left the event, ending the town hall shortly before 7:30pm.

Mayor Del Duca has not commented on the town hall and the City of Vaughan has not responded to The Grind’s requests for comment as of publication time. 

Smith, from JSNTG, says she hopes the intervention at the town hall shows voters and city council about how dangerous Del Duca’s proposed bylaw is.

“There were locals there who probably did not know this was something that he was proposing,” Smith said. “We need to let Vaughan city council know that there is not support for this. It is anti democratic, and it is racist. They need to understand the ramifications of it.”

This article appeared in the 2024 May/June issue.