Nova Scotia

Rally supports Halifax activist stripped of human rights award

Roughly 30 people protested Monday in front of the offices of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission in Halifax after it stripped Muslim activist Rana Zaman of an award over comments it says were "contrary to the principles of the award."

Human rights commission says comments made by Rana Zaman were 'contrary to the principles of the awards'

Rana Zaman and her supporters protest outside the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission on Dec. 23, 2019. Zaman's award from the commission was rescinded last week over comments she made. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

Roughly 30 people protested Monday in front of the offices of the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission in Halifax after it stripped Muslim activist Rana Zaman of an award.

On Dec. 10, the commission announced Zaman was the winner in the individual award category "in recognition of her extraordinary advocacy efforts in bringing together diverse communities in Halifax."

But last Friday, the commission rescinded the award.

The commission said its decision followed a strong public response.

"This decision was based solely on the integrity of the human rights award," said spokesperson Jeff Overmars. 

"The decision was made after public statements made by Ms. Zaman that were directly contrary to the principles of the awards came to our attention. This is unfortunate, but should not diminish the good work Ms. Zaman has done and continues to do in her community."

Zaman says she's 'perplexed' by decision

At Monday's protest, Zaman said she was "perplexed" by the decision.

"I've built a lifetime of building solidarity and keeping my door open and building bridges, and being available to address any concerns, so I'm really surprised," Zaman said in a tearful statement. 

Zaman lost a federal NDP nomination in June after statements on her Twitter feed came to light comparing the actions of Israel against Palestinians to the actions of Nazi Germany during the Holocaust, including comparing the Gaza Strip to the concentration camp Auschwitz.

The Atlantic Jewish Council agreed with the commission's decision and characterized Zaman's words as "hateful overstatements."

A crowd of about 30 people gathered for the Monday protest. (Mark Crosby/CBC)

"Criticism of the government of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country, including Canada, is an important component of democratic discourse. That is not anti-Semitic. But comparing Israelis to Nazis is absurd," the council said in a statement.

The council said Zaman continues to "demonize Israelis, Jews, and all supporters of Israel on a deliberately-flawed interpretation of the extremely complex situation on the ground in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza."

Zaman said she thought a previous apology to the Atlantic Jewish Council had settled the matter.

"In my heart, I thought the Atlantic Jewish Council had forgiven me, and that award was a sign of that," she said.

'Give me the opportunity to ask for your forgiveness'

"If I have unintentionally harmed you, give me the opportunity to ask for your forgiveness and to make amends because I'll be the first person to take blame and ownership because I've spent my life [trying] to improve the lives of others and building relationships between all the different communities, so why would I deliberately, intentionally hurt an entire people?"

The council called her previous apology "hollow." It said it would be open to meeting with her in the future as they're open to speak with anyone who "demonstrates they are willing to engage in good faith."

Overmars said the commission is open to continue speaking with Zaman, but would not say if reinstating her award is possible.

Words are 'crude,' but not anti-Semitic, says supporter

Larry Haiven is a professor emeritus at St. Mary's University who helped organize the sidewalk protest on Spring Garden Road.

He's also part of the Independent Jewish Voices of Canada, an 11-year-old national organization that Haiven said has thousands of members.

"Criticism of Israel is simply not anti-Semitic, in and of itself," said Haiven, who is Jewish.

"Just to know Rana is to know that she bears no ill will to any group ... This is just a cocked-up character assassination.

"Comparing the State of Israel to Nazi Germany is unnecessary, it's crude, but it's not anti-Semitic in and of itself. But the Atlantic Jewish Council, and others who want to defend Israel at all costs, use the smear of anti-Semitism to shut people up."

About the Author

Jack Julian

Reporter

Jack Julian joined CBC Nova Scotia as an arts reporter in 1997. His news career began on the morning of Sept. 3, 1998 following the crash of Swissair 111. He is now a data journalist in Halifax, and you can reach him at (902) 456-9180, by email at jack.julian@cbc.ca or follow him on Twitter @jackjulian