Arnott sticking to decision to ban keffiyeh in legislature

TORONTO – Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Ted Arnott will not be backing down on his decision to ban wearing the keffiyeh in the legislature.

“It’s been a longstanding tradition and custom that members do not wear attire that makes a political statement,” said Arnott, who is also the MPP for Wellington-Halton Hills, in a phone interview.

That includes T-shirts, buttons, ribbons, or hats with political messaging.

“I contend and submit that right now, people who want to wear the keffiyeh, want to make a political statement on the Middle East,” Arnott said.

A keffiyeh is a black-and-white checkered scarf often worn in Arab countries, but it has come to symbolize solidarity with Palestine and has become a divisive symbol since the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas.

Arnott said he received a letter on April 12 from NDP Leader Marit Styles stating that people should be allowed to wear a keffiyeh in the legislature.

Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner sent a similar message and Premier Doug Ford and Liberal Leader Bonnie Crombie took to social media calling on Arnott to reverse his decision.

He spoke to members on April 15 explaining the rule stands, unless there is unanimous consent from the legislature to reverse the decision.

Stiles then sought to put the question to a vote.

“It was a voice vote, not recorded, but I heard three or four no’s,” Arnott said. “So her request was not granted.”

Arnott has been Speaker since 2018 and the matter of wearing banned attire has come up before.

He said MPPs might ask to wear the jersey of the OHL team in their riding that just won the Memorial Cup, for example.

Or it could be someone wanting to wear a daffodil pin during Cancer Awareness month.

“These are not controversial things, but they must still seek consent and hold a vote,” Arnott explained.

“And it must be unanimous consent.”

Arnott said there has been a lot of criticism directed at him over the keffiyeh ban, but he maintains at this time, given the state of affairs in the Middle East, wearing the keffiyeh in the legislature is making a political statement.

The matter may still come back, he said.

It has happened before when such a vote was voted down in the morning and granted in the afternoon.

“It would not surprise me if it was raised again. It’s just not up to me to raise it,” he said.

Arnott also stated his sympathy for those caught in the war.

“The war in the Middle East is horrible,” he said. 

“There are many Canadians with family in Israel and Gaza. We all hope and pray for the Middle East.”