Letter: Kingston City Council’s ‘anti-Palestinian racism’

A speaker addresses those gathered to mark the UN World Day of Social Justice on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, outside Kingston City Hall, which event organizers say was supposed to be illuminated to mark the event, but City of Kingston staff cancelled the illumination just hours before the event took place. Photo via Kingston4Palestine.

Editor’s note: The following is a submitted letter to the editor from the local social justice advocates and pro-Palestinian activists ‘Kingston 4 Palestine.’ While Kingstonist has viewed and verified the email communications between the organization and the City regarding the planned illumination of City Hall on February 20, 2024, the views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist. When pressed for reason for the use of the word ‘racism,’ Kingston4Palestine explained that they are using the term ‘anti-Palestinian racism,’ which refers to a concept.

In February, United Nations official Andrew Gilmour stated that Israel’s rate of killing in Gaza was the highest against civilians since the 1994 Rwandan genocide. More than 100,000 Palestinians have been killed or injured as a result of Israel’s onslaught – a number that is nearing Kingston’s entire population of 130,0000. More than 14,000 children have been killed since October and 18,000 have been injured – a mortifying amount considering that the entire Limestone District School Board has an enrolment of 19,000 children. How can this be justified? Looking for acknowledgement of our grief and pain, we reached out to Kingston’s Mayor and City Council as our representatives. What we found was shameful and unacceptable anti-Palestinian racism. 

After months of lobbying the City Council to pass a motion calling for a ceasefire, as many cities in Canada have done, the Council responded by passing a motion that omitted any mention of Palestinians altogether. Rather, City Council addressed “the Israel-Gaza conflict” after a motion proposed by Councillor Gregory Ridge and seconded by Councillor Jimmy Hassan. This motion did not call for a ceasefire, failed to address the catastrophic humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza, and significantly undervalued the loss of over 30,000 innocent Palestinian lives by conveying a false equivalency.

In response to Councillor Ridge and Hassan’s anti-Palestinian motion, we submitted a petition to City Council urging them to express solidarity with Palestinians, but we were met with yet another case of anti-Palestinian racism: the cancellation of our approved illumination of City Hall for the UN World Day of Social Justice

We had submitted this application after asking a city councillor why the City had not demonstrated solidarity with Palestinians, the way it did with Ukraine and Israel by illuminating City Hall previously. The councillor directed us to apply for the illumination of City Hall, noting that such applications are “rarely or never” rejected. Although the application was formally approved, all mentions of Palestine were removed on the grounds of a policy stating that illuminations cannot be approved if “the subject is a world event or natural disaster.” However, a staff member also confirmed that illuminating City Hall for world events can and has been done in the past at the directive of the Mayor and City Council.

Nonetheless, we were encouraged that the City still wanted to recognize the World Day of Social Justice. However, on the evening of the approved illumination, it was cancelled without notice to our coalition, as City Hall “became aware” that this was an opportunity for a solidarity rally for Palestine. Imagine the heartbreak felt by Palestinian-Kingstonians, to realize that our community refused to recognize their suffering by a simple symbolic demonstration of solidarity.

These are just a few examples of the blatant double standards, disregard for Palestinian suffering, and overall anti-Palestinian racism that the mayor and city council have displayed over the past several months. Though they have the ability to stand up for human rights by calling for a ceasefire, the mayor and council continue to ignore the pleas for solidarity all across Kingston.


Editorial note: Following the cancelled illumination of City Hall on the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, which organizers say was meant to mark UN World Day of Social Justice and feature a handful of speakers outside City Hall, Kingstonist reached out to the City of Kingston to find out why that happened. This was done entirely independently and not in relation to the letter above. However, in the interest of complete transparency, it is incumbent upon Kingstonist to publish the response received from the City as to why that cancellation occurred.

It should be noted that, on the evening of Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024, Kingston City Council was meeting in the Council Chambers of City Hall, and that the City Council meeting prior to February 20 on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024, was disrupted by pro-Palestinian protesters (you can read Kingstonist’s coverage of those events from the perspective of councillors here, and from the perspective of protesters here).

On Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024, the City of Kingston provided the following statement to Kingstonist regarding the cancelled illumination:

“The illumination was approved based on the understanding that it was for United Nations’ World Day of Social Justice, but staff later became aware that it was being promoted as an event to promote solidarity with Palestine. The request misrepresented the purpose of and the associated colours for the illumination. The policy does not permit illuminations for spontaneous world events (3.1.7 ii of the Policy) and was cancelled under section 3.1.8 (iii) which allows the City to cancel or refuse requests that do not comply with the Illumination Policy. Due to late timing of staff becoming aware of the above (4:30 p.m. on Tuesday) and the early start time of Council (4:45 p.m.) there was not time to advise the requester of the cancellation.”

Leave a Reply

You cannot copy content from this page, please share the link instead!