Saima Jamal, Calgary activist, shocked after YMCA rescinds peace award

A Calgary activist says she wants answers after the YMCA rescinded a peace award.

Saima Jamal organized pro-Palestinian rallies over the summer, 1 of which turned violent

Saima Jamal says she wants an explanation after the YMCA rescinded an award it had told her she would receive. (CBC)

A Calgary activist says she wants answers after the YMCA rescinded an award.

Saima Jamal was notified several weeks ago that she had won one of the Calgary YMCA's Peace Medals, which honour people who work to advance peace in their communities and the world.

Jamal, who formerly worked at the University of Calgary's Consortium for Peace Studies, organized several pro-Palestinian rallies in downtown Calgary this summer — one of which turned violent after several pro-Israeli supporters showed up at the demonstration.

She says she is shocked at the decision and wants to know why the YMCA reversed its decision.

"That displays complete lack of respect for my work," she said. "I feel, to tell you the truth, lost. How can someone do this to me, an institution as respectable as the Y?"

Jamal says she feels bullied and discriminated against by the YMCA.

However, a representative from the Calgary Jewish Federation says they approached the YMCA with their concerns about Jamal when they found out it wanted to give her the award.

Calgary Jewish Federation raised concerns

Jeffrey Smith is chair of the community relations committee for the federation and says they were worried about how people would interpret the decision to give the award to Jamal.

"We believe that giving a peace award to Ms. Jamal would send the wrong message because that rally turned violent and because the general tone of the rally was, I would say, the demonization of the state of Israel, vilification of Israel — not a tone of peace, not asking for reconciliation," he said.

Smith wouldn't say whether the federation would have had the same concerns about Jamal receiving the award if the rally had not turned violent.

The YMCA is scheduled to meet with Jamal on Monday, Nov. 17, to explain its decision.

"Earlier this week, after careful and fulsome consideration, YMCA Calgary made the decision not to award a 2014 Peace Medal in the Community Peace Initiatives [in the] individual category," said YMCA spokesperson Ken Lima-Coelho in a statement Friday.

He said the YMCA would not make further comment about the decision until after the meeting with Jamal.