Andrea Kaiser says she simply wanted people advocating for Israeli and Palestinian victims of the ongoing war between Israel and the terrorist group Hamas to be heard.
That’s why Niagara-on-the-Lake’s regional councillor joined St. Catharines regional councillor Haley Bateman in voting against a motion, put forward by St. Catharines Mayor Mat Siscoe, to remove Bateman’s motion that called on the region to, among other things, show support for victims on both sides of the conflict.
The motion also urged the region, via the United Nations Security Council, to call for a ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid to be brought into Gaza and that the federal government should remove a cap on the number of Palestinians seeking refuge with extended family in Canada.
It also wanted regional headquarters be lit in the colours of the Palestinian flag and that council affirm the motion not be used to foster racism or antisemitism but rather to “show solidarity and compassion for those who are living in Israel and Palestine.”
Siscoe’s bid to remove Bateman’s motion from the agenda passed 26-2 with just Kaiser and Bateman voting against it.
Dealing with this kind of motion isn’t new for the region.
In 2022, it passed a motion expressing support for Ukraine in its war with Russia, which included lighting the regional headquarters in blue and yellow, the colours of the Ukrainian flag.
Kaiser said she wasn’t sure how she would have voted had the Bateman motion come to the floor for a vote.
What she did know is that she wanted it to be discussed.
“For me, that’s part of my process in terms of determining how I’m going to vote,” she said.
“Do I know exactly how I was going to vote that night? No, I don’t. But again, I didn’t really have the opportunity to hear the delegates, nor other perspectives from other councillors.”
In total, 18 delegations were on hand at the Jan. 25 meeting waiting to speak, but when the motion was removed from the agenda, they no longer had that opportunity.
For her part, Bateman remains frustrated that her motion was dumped from the agenda.
“I’m bothered by the narrative around it,” Bateman said. “Now, I’m bothered by councillor Siscoe saying that it’s going to cause divisiveness. It’s not.”
Siscoe, however, disagreed.
“Whether council approved the motion or voted against the motion, it was going to divide the community,” he said.
Prior to the meeting, Siscoe said he consulted with the clerk’s office to find out what his options were as he felt the motion did not fall within council’s purview.
“There’s no call to action here that lines up with the regional council’s mandate,” Siscoe said. There’s no part to it that we have any power over.”
As for having passed a similar motion in support of Ukraine, Siscoe said that should not have happened.
“When it comes to international geopolitics, those motions shouldn’t be coming to the council chamber,” he said.
Bateman said residents who came to speak at the meeting but lost that opportunity when it was removed from the agenda are now being labelled as protesters after they gathered outside regional headquarters in Thorold and said their piece.
“I’m bothered by the narrative around the residents from Niagara, who showed up to that council meeting, to meet councillors and to talk to them about their experiences,” she said.
Regional chair Jim Bradley, meanwhile, said council has made its decision and the matter should be considered closed.
“I believe that council simply viewed this item as outside our jurisdiction and I would be cautious of trying to read any additional meaning into their decision,” Bradley said in an email to The Lake Report.
He acknowledged some were disappointed by council’s decision but there was little chance of a motion unrelated to council’s mandate being discussed.
“I would encourage all members of regional council to be cautious of setting unrealistic expectations with members of the public regarding agenda items that are unlikely to be discussed,” Bradley said.
The group Niagara Palestine Coalition issued a statement, saying it was “extremely disappointed” by the action taken by regional council but also praised the efforts of Bateman and Kaiser.
It also thanked Bateman for bringing the motion forward and Kaiser for voting against the motion that Siscoe and Coun. Laura Ip brought forward.
Furthermore, the group felt council’s actions are indicative of a double standard, as council showed support for Ukraine in the wake of the Russian invasion, as well as support for Israel after the attacks by Hamas last October.
That attack claimed the lives of 1,200 Israelis and resulted in the kidnapping of more than 200 people.
Since then, the Gaza Health Ministry has reported that more than 26,000 people have died in Gaza during Israel’s war on the Palestinian territory.
“It is shameful that this council only shows empathy for people that look like its own members,” the coalition’s statement reads. “There is clearly a blatant disregard for the more than 25,000 people that have been killed and for the residents of Niagara, many of whom have personal loved ones killed or trapped inside Gaza.”
Kaiser, meanwhile, said she wasn’t about to try to determine why her fellow councillors voted the way they did.
“At the end of the day, I respect my colleagues’ opinions and perspectives,” she said.