Victoria city councillor Susan Kim is facing criticism for signing an open letter that characterized reports of sexual violence during Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack in Israel as an “unverified accusation.”
Kim is one of two politicians in Canada whose names appear on the letter. The other is independent Ontario MPP Sarah Jama, who was removed from the Ontario NDP and censured for her comments on the Israel-Hamas war last month.
An online petition calling on Victoria council to censure Kim, forbid her from wearing a keffiyeh — a checkered scarf that has become a symbol of Palestinian nationalism — in council chambers, and remove her from her board appointments had about 6,100 signatures as of Sunday afternoon. The petition was initiated by former Victoria council candidate Janice Williams.
Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto could not be immediately reached for comment.
Kim said she was flying back to Victoria on Saturday after attending an international forum in Korea and would be available for comments after she landed.
On Saturday, Kim restricted access to her account on X, formerly known as Twitter, to existing followers. In her last public post, she said she “does not tolerate anti-Semitism, genocide, or racism.”
With more than 2,100 listed signees, the open letter — which has drawn international media attention — calls for Canadian political leaders to seek an immediate ceasefire and the opening of humanitarian corridors in Gaza.
It is not apparent who started the document, when it was started, or whether the identity of the people whose names appear on it were verified.
The letter begins with “We, the undersigned, residing in so-called Canada.” The letter criticizes federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, claiming he “repeated the unverified accusation that Palestinians were guilty of sexual violence.”
In addition to demanding an immediate ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict, the letter calls on parliamentarians to both resign and demand Israel “free all Palestinian prisoners” and “lift its siege on Gaza.”
The open letter was endorsed by the University of Alberta Sexual Assault Centre, prompting the university to fire Samantha Pearson, the centre’s director, on Saturday.
U of A president Bill Flanagan said in the notice announcing her firing that the letter which she signed “has raised understandable concerns from members of our community and the public.”
The university’s web page says the centre “provides drop-in crisis intervention support, long-term psychotherapy, and comprehensive anti-sexual violence education to the campus community.”
Colwood Coun. Ian Ward said he considered resigning from the Greater Victoria Public Library board in an act of protest after he found out that Kim, a fellow board member, was a letter signee.
“It’s one thing to advocate for peace and a ceasefire and humanity. It’s another to sort of pin it all on one side, question their credibility, [and] quote literal terrorist demands,” he said of the letter.
“Calling for a ceasefire in my mind, while perhaps naive, is not necessarily malicious,” he said. “Every single politician or individual has the right to express either their support for Israel [or] their support for Palestine.”
Ward said he takes offence to the doubt the letter casts on survivors of sexual violence in Israel.
Ward, who has Jewish family by marriage, said he feels the responsibility to speak up. He wants Kim to resign and issue a public apology.
The next library board meeting will be in December. “We’ll be at opposite ends of the table, that’s for sure,” he said.
Israeli authorities have said they are investigating several cases of sexual assault and rape during Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack that killed an estimated 1,200 people.
On Tuesday, Israel’s national police chief showed a small group of international reporters video testimony of a gang rape occurring on Oct. 7 from an eye witness at a music festival in southern Israel.
The woman in the video, her face blurred, described watching militants gang rape and mutilate another woman before one of them shot her in the head while he was assaulting her.
Israeli officials said it’s been harder to gather evidence and that it’s also challenging to get people to come forward. Police said they had no cases of rape survivors, further complicating the investigation.
Hamas militants — some cheerfully filming themselves undertaking gruesome killings — killed about 1,200 Israelis in the surprise attacks on Oct. 7, including hundreds of civilians in their homes and at an outdoor music festival.
Israel declared war on Hamas and began an airstrike campaign and cut off food, fuel, water and supplies to Gaza, which is home to 2.3 million Palestinians.
Health officials in the territory say more than 11,470 people have been killed, the majority of them women and children, and another 2,700 people are reported missing. Up to two-thirds of the population have been internally displaced.
News of the open letter has been reported on internationally by outlets including the Times of Israel and the Daily Mail in the United Kingdom.
— With files from The Canadian Press and AP