Ottawa mayor Mark Sutcliffe addressing an audience.
Ottawa mayor Mark Sutcliffe addressing an audience. Credit: Mark Sutcliffe / X Credit: Mark Sutcliffe / X

In Burnaby, BC, the city’s nine council members gathered on November 7 to unanimously support a motion calling for an immediate ceasefire in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. A letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, written by Burnaby mayor Mike Hurley, will call on Ottawa to advocate for an end to the current violence, an increased flow of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip and the release of all hostages.

On November 10, Toronto mayor Olivia Chow also issued a statement in support of a ceasefire. Her words are not the result of a City of Toronto motion and do not represent the city’s other councilors.

Thirty-seven days after the beginning of Israel’s indiscriminate aerial bombing campaign on Gaza, the City of Burnaby remains the first and only municipality in Canada to demand the federal government take action against the murder of innocent Palestinian civilians. There have been 790 scholars and practitioners of international law, conflict studies and genocide studies who have warned of the possible crime of genocide being perpetrated by Israel.

To remain silent as the relentless violence against Palestinians continues is a choice. This is the choice that Ottawa mayor Mark Sutcliffe and City of Ottawa councilors make every hour they don’t add their voices to the mounting pressure on Trudeau to call for an immediate ceasefire. And this choice makes my city, like many others, complicit in Israel’s deplorable violations of international law. 

Since October 7 and at the time of writing, Israel’s ground invasion and airstrikes have killed over 11,100 Palestinians, more than 4,600 of whom were children. In fact, Israeli forces kill one Palestinian child every 10 minutes

Over the last month, Israel has dropped more than 25,000 tonnes of explosives on the 2.3 million people who live in the densely populated Gaza Strip — equivalent to two nuclear bombs of the kind dropped on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945. The airstrikes have destroyed or damaged more than half of the homes in Gaza, displacing over 1.4 million people. Other targets include schools, refugee camps, hospitals, homes and ambulances. Israel’s military siege has also cut off Gaza’s access to electricity, water, food and fuel, putting its entire population in even greater danger. 

In Gaza, Israel is forcing families to abandon their homes and land, places where they’ve lived for generations. Children who survive bombings and make it to collapsing hospitals are undergoing amputations without anesthesia. Civilians are exposed to airburst 155mm artillery projectiles containing white phosphorus, a substance that ignites when exposed to atmospheric oxygen and, upon contact with humans, can burn down to the bone and cause respiratory damage and organ failure. 

These atrocities, along with the Israeli government’s use of dehumanizing and violent language to describe Palestinians, are why Israeli Holocaust scholar Raz Segal has called the brutal attack on Gaza “a textbook case of genocide.” Genocide cannot be what Ottawans stand for.

Deaths resulting from Israel’s 76 years of violent oppression of the Palestinian people could have been prevented if members of the international community hadn’t resisted the Palestinian struggle for justice and liberation. And Palestinian civilians who’ve been killed since October 7 could have been saved by a ceasefire and access to immediate humanitarian aid. We cannot continue to tolerate Israel’s horrific killings and ethnic cleansing. 

Hurley’s message to Ottawa comes from across the country, more than 4,000 kilometers away, yet my city’s councilors, who work mere minutes from the Prime Minister’s office, have yet to publicly acknowledge the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Gaza and the war crimes committed by one of our nation’s closest “allies.” 

Municipal governments are not exempt from advocacy on global crises. Like their constituents, city leaders have the power to affect change on a national level.

Ottawa residents are privileged to have such close proximity to Canada’s leadership. Our calls for justice can be heard up and down Wellington St. We can take up space on Parliament Hill until our federal politicians pay attention. The capital’s government must leverage this proximity to amplify its residents’ opposition to genocide. 

Sutcliffe could hand-deliver this message to the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council if he so chooses. And he, like the other municipal leaders across Canada, opts for silence instead. 

As mayor, Sutcliffe’s role is to represent the city’s diverse needs and interests. Yet the people of Ottawa don’t unequivocally support complicity in genocide. Many of us are vehemently against apartheid, occupation, and Canada’s longstanding participation in the heinous violence against Palestinians. Many, like me, firmly believe in ending Israeli apartheid and the occupation of Palestine. And we are not alone.

The reality is that the majority of Canadians support a ceasefire. And we need our elected officials to hear us at all levels of government.

Ottawa’s city council must build upon the precedent set by Burnaby and show the rest of the country that its capital believes in the value of Palestinian lives. That we oppose genocide and demand Trudeau call for an immediate ceasefire — and, hopefully, inspire other municipalities to do the same.

Shelby Talbot

Shelby Talbot is an independent journalist and social justice advocate. She rejects the false dichotomy between journalism and activism, believing that integrity, accuracy, and honesty are possible without...