Removal of motion calling for ceasefire in Gaza continues to raise questions about Niagara Region’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts 
Niagara Region

Removal of motion calling for ceasefire in Gaza continues to raise questions about Niagara Region’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts 

On January 25, Niagara Regional Council voted to remove a motion from the meeting’s agenda, entitled “Support for Israelis and Palestinians Living in Niagara”, and other associated items, most notably 18 public delegations. It’s been nearly a month, but the ripple effects of that blocked motion continue in the community, raising questions about how committed councillors are to implementing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. 

The motion presented by St. Catharines Councillor Haley Bateman was removed in a 26-2 vote.  Fellow Regional Councillor, and St. Catharines Mayor Mat Siscoe led the push to remove it, stating the “matter does not pertain to any area of Niagara Region business or mandate and regardless of the outcome, the end result would be division within our community.”  His seconder to the motion was St. Catharines Councillor Laura Ip, chair of the Region’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Committee. 

A little more than an hour after the meeting concluded, a media release went out from the Niagara Movement for Justice in Palestine Israel (NMJPI), which included quotes from some of the delegates who had been slated to speak, criticizing Council’s actions. Other organizations have since come forward with concerns and levelled allegations of hypocrisy and discrimination against councillors, pointing to past motions relating to other global conflicts, particularly in Ukraine, without any similar worries from elected officials.

A joint media release on January 28th announced that the Niagara Region Anti-Racism Association (NRARA) had joined with the Niagara Palestine Coalition in declaring “Palestine an anti-racism issue”.  The organizations called for apologies from Councillors Siscoe and Ip and that the latter resign as Chair of the Region’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Committee. 

The groups also wanted the lighting of Regional headquarters in the colours of the Palestinian flag—a request included as part of Councillor Bateman’s initial motion—to go ahead.   In October, Regional Chair Jim Bradley had ordered the headquarters lit in blue and white after the attacks against Israel.

Councillor Bateman raised the issue of the lighting, and raising of the Palestinian flag at the Corporate Services Committee meeting on February 7.  She asked whether requests from the local Palestinian community had been formally denied.  Regional Clerk Ann-Marie Norio responded that such requests were “not in adherence to the (Region’s) policy.”  Bateman indicated that while she had been informed that the Region had denied the requests, there was no indication on how they ran afoul with the Region’s policy.

Committee Chair, Lincoln Councillor Rob Foster, requested staff to come back with a report on the policy, since the item was being raised under New Business. Councillor Bateman agreed, but when she asked if the Committee could have more insight into staff’s decision to deny the requests, she was met with a terse “no” from the Regional Clerk.

As per the Region’s website, in addition to non-profit or charitable organizations and recognition of dignitary and delegation visits, the displaying and raising of flags may be approved for the recognition of a nation.  The policy goes on to state that the Region will not approve flag raising requests for “nations that are not recognized by the Government of Canada”.

While the Government of Canada does not formally recognize Palestine as a country, on January 20, 2023, Global Affairs Canada released the following on the Canadian policy on key issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

“[C]anada recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination and supports the creation of a sovereign, independent, viable, democratic and territorially contiguous Palestinian state, as part of a comprehensive, just and lasting peace settlement.”

Less than a week after the flag issue at the Corporate Services Committee, the first Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Advisory Committee meeting since the contentious Regional Council decision was scheduled for February 13; however, by the Friday prior to the meeting, the Region’s website indicated the meeting had been cancelled. The next DEI is not scheduled until April 16th.

In September 2020, the Niagara Region and the 12 local municipalities  joined the Coalition of Inclusive Municipalities.  As a signatory, the Niagara Region agreed to adhere to the objectives of the Coalition, which include improving municipal practices to promote social inclusion, establishing policies to eradicate all forms of racism and discrimination and promoting human rights and diversity.

On February 25, 2021, Regional Council ratified the terms of reference for the DEI committee, which had its first meeting in June of that year.  The purposes of the committee include providing suggestions for improving the Region's activities to increase diversity and inclusion, collaborating with community groups to identify opportunities for supporting the needs of diverse residents and to work with community organizations to promote inclusion and reduce discrimination.

In a statement to The Pointer, Councillor Bateman said she viewed her motion in support of Israelis and Palestinians Living in Niagara as a key piece of this DEI work at the region.

“[T]he guiding principles of the DEI work are to seek community expertise and to approach issues with humility, while challenging power imbalances,” she said. 


The January 25th Niagara Region council meeting was filled with residents wishing to speak to a motion related to a ceasefire in Gaza. They were denied when the motion was removed from the agenda.



Reached this week by The Pointer, DEI Committee Chair Councillor Laura Ip said the meeting’s cancellation had nothing to do with the fallout from the Palestine/Israel motion.

“[I]t’s not the Councillors who set the agenda, it is the staff.  There were two reasons for us to cancel this particular meeting: there was a lack of agenda items, in terms of staff not being prepared with some reports the committee had asked for, and our Commissioner Michelle Sergi wanted to be at the meeting and she was going to be away.”

Ip also explained her role as Committee Chair is to preside over the meetings: call for votes, decide who is to speak, maintain order and make sure the agenda is followed.


 Regional Councillor Laura Ip

(Niagara Region)


On the calls for her resignation as Chair, Ip responded:

“I'm not hearing from the committee that they would like me to step down. There have been no requests directly to the chair's office for me to step down.”

Councillor Ip was asked if Councillor Bateman’s motion should have been vetted beforehand at the DEI committee. She said it could have been a possibility “but still likely not”, noting the political nature of these issues make them difficult for committees to address. 

“I think this is where some of the reasoning as to why people are asking for me to step down. Diversity, equity and inclusion issues are inherently political, but it's not the mandate of the DEI advisory committee to make political statements,” she said.

Looking at the Committee’s past minutes, there are examples that bear Councillor Ip out.  In June 2022, then Regional Councillor Mike Britton, seconded by Councillor Bob Gale, had brought forward a motion to Regional Council to go on record in opposition to the Province of Quebec’s Bill 21, which made it illegal for Quebec workers in the public sector to wear religious symbols, and to contribute up to $10,000 toward the legal challenge.  

Britton’s motion was sent to the DEI Committee, by Regional Council, for comment.  The Committee received the motion for information but did not provide any formal recommendation to Council.   

On the Committee's work, Ip concluded that, “we're here to implement the action plan.”

The DEI action plan approved prior to the end of the previous Council term identifies a number of key milestones and 43 action items, including developing a DEI Handbook on how to incorporate a DEI lens in the work of the Region, identifying DEI impacts in Council reports and facilitating Town Hall dialogues with diverse communities on discrimination issues.

When asked if she would liked to have seen the matter handled differently, Ip responded:

“[I] don't think so. Are there things I would have liked to have seen done differently? Absolutely. I think bringing a motion to council without having a seconder or having discussed it with any of your council colleagues, I don't care what the motion is about, that's always a risk,” she said. “I would have liked to have seen the councillor who brought that motion be more collaborative with their colleagues. Twenty-six of us voted in favour of removing it from the agenda. I don't think the 26 people had the exact same reason for removing it from the agenda. I know that even myself and Councillor Siscoe came at it from different places. I tried to explain this to a few people, and some of them are just not willing to hear it.”

Councillor Ip had a number of related posts on her blog and reiterated her previous comments on where she was coming from in seconding the motion, while also cautioning against generalizing how a given community may feel.

“[T]here were people in the community who have families in Palestine, who have friends in Palestine, who were saying to me, Laura, please don't let council debate our trauma.

“We refer to the LGBTQIA+ community. Singular, right? There are multiple communities. We refer to the indigenous community. Singular. There are multiple communities. So to think that all of the people that are directly impacted by this issue all feel the same way about whether or not it should be discussed in regional council chambers, I think is a mistake.”

Others in similar situations have told The Pointer they are disappointed council blocked them from having an opportunity share their story and potentially spark council or community action. 

While wrapping up the interview with The Pointer, she attempted to provide some context to Regional Council’s decision and her feelings on the issues in Gaza: 

“I think what's happened here as well is that it was a procedural matter that's been sort of misconstrued and miscommunicated as my stance in relation to what Israel is doing to Palestine. I think I've been clear on my blog that this is a genocide. I don't think there's any real debate about that. But the people are conflating a procedural matter with what they believe my stance to be.”



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