This article was originally published on May 26, 2017 in the Toronto Sun.
Earlier this week, the Toronto Sun published an op-ed entitled, “NDP MP Niki Ashton has made her priorities clear.” While I disagree with virtually everything the op-ed sought to assert, I do agree with the title, as indeed, it is clear that the rights of the oppressed are the priority in Ms. Ashton’s distinguished political career.
Since she won her seat in Parliament in 2008, Ms. Ashton has been a champion for a broad variety of social issues. She has spoken out repeatedly for the rights of women, and how women suffer wage discrimination and other systemic obstacles in Canada. She has also long been a proponent of LGBTQ rights, supporting same-sex marriage and other social rights for such groups since the beginning of her political career.
Ashton’s support for Indigenous rights in Canada is legendary. She has fought to end poverty among Canada’s Indigenous peoples, and has long demanded action for missing and murdered Indigenous women. She herself speaks Cree, an Indigenous language common in her riding.
Given her concern for social justice, it is therefore only natural for her to speak out for the rights of all indigenous peoples – including those in Palestine. For indeed, the challenges faced by Palestinians today are little different than those faced historically by Canada’s indigenous peoples: military occupation; cultural dispossession; discriminatory educational policies; expulsion from traditional lands; etc.
As such, the attack on Ashton in the Toronto Sun by Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada was both saddening and upsetting. Mostyn, it seems, forgets the noble human rights origins of his organization and resorts to tribalism and smears in an attempt to discredit Ashton.
Sadly, according to Mostyn’s reasoning, the Israel-Palestine conflict must always be a zero sum game. For Mostyn, the Palestinians’ commemoration of an event which saw 700,000 of them become refugees can only be construed as an act denigrating Israel. Likewise, for Mostyn, suggesting that political prisoners be allowed family visits and other human rights is no different than promoting terrorism.
Fortunately, Ashton represents a new breed of Canadian leader. One which recognizes the human rights of all peoples, regardless of whether they belong to the wealthy elite, or to the poor, the outcast, or the dispossessed. Ashton’s path is not an easy one, because it forces people to rethink their assumptions. At one time, most Canadians assumed that residential schools were good for Indigenous peoples; but by 2008, Canada’s prime minister had apologized public for them. A generation ago, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder; but by 2005, Canada had legalized same sex marriage. Hats off to Ashton and the others who lead us down these uncomfortable but necessary paths.
B'nai Brith Canada aspires to be a human rights organization - something Mostyn seems to have forgotten. But fighting for human rights means standing up for the oppressed, not the oppressor. It means, in fact, adopting the very same principles that Ashton has prioritized in her remarkable political career.