Now rejected twice, they will not be silenced: Niagara’s Palestinian community & supporters fight to be heard by municipal officials
Ed Smith/The Pointer

Now rejected twice, they will not be silenced: Niagara’s Palestinian community & supporters fight to be heard by municipal officials

Residents of Niagara gathered at Regional Headquarters on Thursday night to send a message to Council—a message that regional councillors have so far refused to hear.

The Council chamber was filled to overflow as the regularly scheduled meeting began…it would not stay that way for long.  

A diverse mix of people had gathered to show solidarity with Niagara’s Palestinian population in their ongoing struggle to be heard by local political representatives. The gathering was in direct response to Council’s meeting in late January which resulted in accusations of racism, disgust and shame directed at council members by citizens of Niagara. The meeting also led to calls for Councillor Laura Ip to resign her position as Chair of the Diversity Equity and Inclusion committee and St. Catharines Mayor Mat Siscoe to apologize for his role in “silencing the voices of residents” from the Niagara Region Anti-Racism Association (NRARA).  

As Thursday night’s meeting got underway the 60-plus people seated in the gallery sat quietly. The opening remarks were made by Chair of the Region, Jim Bradley, who quickly handed the floor to Pelham Regional Councillor Diane Huson for the reading of the Indigenous land acknowledgement.  

Upon conclusion of the land acknowledgement a stir began in the audience as first one and then another resident in the gallery stood and walked out. One by one, in a solemn display of public support for the cause being ignored by elected officials, they stood and walked out.  Nobody shouted, nothing was said, they simply left and within 90 seconds the once filled chambers were all but empty.

The group milled outside the exit until a few in the crowd emerged. Everybody moved to the front of the building. Once gathered in the front, candles were distributed and an hour-long vigil was held that included speakers who acknowledged the loss and suffering caused by the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The irony of this peaceful vigil taking place in front of the region’s “Everyone Welcome” sign was hard to ignore after those elected to represent the residents gathered outside refused to hear from them inside the public space built for the people, by the people.

Emma MacLean was there, and she was there a month ago when Council removed a motion brought forward by Councillor Haley Bateman to express support for a ceasefire in Gaza, request the federal government to remove the cap on the number of Palestinians allowed to seek refuge with family in Canada and light the regional headquarters in the colours of the Palestinian flag as they had done for Israel and Ukraine. When asked why she was involved she did not mince words: “We have a moral responsibility to speak out against the atrocities being committed against the Indigenous people of occupied Palestine.”

A resident of St. Catharines, MacLean said, “Council needs to realize the level of commitment we have to this, they can try to silence us, dismiss us, argue it isn’t relevant, but we are their constituents, they are meant to represent us. They may not like it, but that’s what democracy looks like.” She further remarked on the hypocrisy of council members expressing solidarity with “Indigenous people everywhere” while at the same time silencing their Indigenous Palestinian constituents during their time of need. 


Emma MacLean

(Ed Smith/The Pointer)

Susan Howard-Azzeh was also present. She described an emotional rollercoaster that ranged from joy when she is informed of someone’s close family member in Gaza receiving the paperwork required to start the visa process toward safety in Canada, to immense grief when she gets the news that another Palestinian Niagara family has suffered the loss of a loved one who died from hunger and cold while sheltering in a plastic tent, to dismay “when people in power callously, stubbornly dismiss our pain.”

Howard-Azzeh also lives in St. Catharines and she wanted elected officials to know that Palestinian Canadians exist and “cannot be unseen.” She described how she entered the Council chambers beset by a feeling of upset. “This is the place where people I care about were shut down, silenced. I can't comprehend the degree of disconnect of the councillors around the horseshoe from the grieving citizens in the gallery. Councillors were chatting casually, those who know me avoiding eye contact. In contrast, the gallery was sitting tensely, in mourning.”  

She called out what she describes as a “hiding of anti-Palestinian racism behind procedure and jurisdiction, the weaponization of council practices to silence Palestinian residents of Niagara and allies.” She pointed out that the same councillors “immediately stood with Ukraine and Israel”, and wondered why their sense of empathy dissipated for the atrocities happening now.

Reham Ghaboun was there too. Reham’s story is known to the readers of the Pointer.

The St. Catharines resident is a Palestinian Canadian whose extended community and family members in Gaza are enduring unimaginable loss and suffering. She commented how now is the time for her to be with her community and share the pain, not only because she is Palestinian, but because “I am human”. She wants her elected officials to know that “no matter what they do to ignore our voices we are united, people are dying everyday and they are humans, they deserve to live, they might be far in the distance to you, but to us they are family”.

And so they gathered in front of regional headquarters, directly in front of that sign, the sign that says “Everyone welcome”. They talked and they listened to each other, and they questioned why they had been shut out of the system, why their elected officials would not hear from them.  They were seemingly unaware that at that very moment the council meeting was coming face to face with another sort of protest.


Reham Ghaboun and Susan Howard-Azzeh outside Niagara Region headquarters.

(Ed Smith/The Pointer)


Inside the Council Chamber, Chair Jim Bradley asked for any additions or changes to the order to the evening’s agenda. With no changes the agenda was adopted and Bradley began the portion of the meeting entitled, “Chair’s Reports, Announcements, Remarks”. No sooner had he announced that February was Black History Month, than one of the remaining members of the gallery called out, “You have blood on your hands.” Bradley replied, “This is not how we conduct meetings.” After a brief respite, with the man silenced, Bradley continued.

Approximately six minutes later after concluding his announcements, the Chair was once again interrupted, with a female member of the audience beseeching, “When are you going to apologize? Shame on all of you”, among other negative sentiments directed at the council members. Throughout the denunciation, Bradley attempted to maintain order and announced, “We welcome you here but audience participation of that nature will not be tolerated.”   

After her removal the meeting moved along to the point of discussion and approval of minutes from the previous meeting.  

Before any questioning of the minutes could occur, Councillor Diana Huson moved a motion:

“[T]hat Council refer the minutes, as well as the video of the meeting to the Integrity Commissioner for review, to develop and deliver a training session in Q2 (second quarter of the year).”

Councillor Huson offered that such a session would provide an opportunity to “clarify, as well as learn from the (January 25th) proceedings.”

The Integrity Commissioner is a mandatory accountability officer appointed by the municipality, who is responsible for applying the rules governing the ethical conduct of members of municipal councils. 

While the Integrity Commissioner can provide educational sessions to Council members, the Municipal Act indicates that such educational information would pertain to Code of Conduct and Conflict of Interest matters, not necessarily meeting procedures. Regardless, Council approved Huson’s motion potentially deferring consideration of the January 25 minutes for months.

Next on the agenda was “correspondence”. Chair Bradley indicated that there were no correspondence items. Councillor Bateman raised a point of order indicating that Council had electronically received a correspondence prior to the meeting from the Niagara Palestine Coalition (NPC) and she wished to address one of the group’s requests.

Councillor Wayne Redekop raised a point of order arguing that no motion had been made at the appropriate time earlier in the meeting to add the correspondence to the agenda. Councillor Bateman detailed that she had made contact with the Clerk’s Office on February 12 and though the Clerk was away, she indicated to staff that she would like to speak to the NPC’s correspondence and was, therefore, expecting it to be listed on the evening’s agenda.  

When Regional Clerk Ann-Marie Norio was asked for clarification, she responded:

“[I]t’s a correspondence to Council, not for the Council agenda, specifically. Just for Council’s awareness.”

Chair Bradley upheld Councillor Redekop’s point of order, and with that, Councillor Bateman was thwarted again from bringing forward the concerns of the crowd of residents gathered outside of Regional Headquarters.  

The Niagara Palestine Coalition and their supporters remain committed, even if their Regional representatives are not giving them a voice, actively trying everything they can to shut down public dialogue. The use of easily manipulated procedural tactics is common, but residents have pointed out the degree of pettiness by mostly white council members, like Redekop, to shut down the voices of visible minority groups, as if it were 1954, not 2024. 

After the earlier Regional Council meeting, the organization held a sold out fundraising dinner to help reunite Niagara families with relatives remaining in Gaza. According to the NPC’s Niagara Gaza Relief Foundation, it costs $6,650 to bring and support each person, extricated from Gaza for six months.  

The organization has been critical of the processes imposed by the federal government to get their family members out of Gaza, in comparison to Ukrainian refugees, but they are pushing for dialogue. St. Catharines M.P. Chris Bittle did make a brief appearance at the fundraiser. In a very short address to the crowd he said he heard their issues and that he would convey their message to Ottawa. It did not resonate with the crowd, and the MP left the event as unceremoniously as he had entered. 

In the words of Emma MacLean: "This is not complicated and should not be considered controversial to Council. People are being killed by the thousands and Regional Council is sending the message that if it is not the blood of white Europeans being shed, there's no reason to be bothered about it. Their behaviour is inexcusable and they have a moral obligation to make this right."



The Niagara Palestine Coalition was founded in the wake of the recent humanitarian crisis in Palestine and has members from diverse backgrounds including Palestinians, Jewish residents, union activists, students and a wide range of other residents across Niagara Region from different faiths and many walks of life. It has organized weekly demonstrations in Niagara on Sundays as well as fundraisers and educational events. Funds raised are to help families in Gaza reunite with family members in Niagara. Donations or enquiries can be directed to: Michelle Zubrinich at [email protected]



Email: [email protected]

Email: [email protected]

At a time when vital public information is needed by everyone, The Pointer has taken down our paywall on all stories to ensure every resident of Brampton, Mississauga and Niagara has access to the facts. For those who are able, we encourage you to consider a subscription. This will help us report on important public interest issues the community needs to know about now more than ever. You can register for a 30-day free trial HERE. Thereafter, The Pointer will charge $10 a month and you can cancel any time right on the website. Thank you

Submit a correction about this story