More than 1,500 Canadian writers and publishers have signed an open letter calling for the charges against anti-war protesters who interrupted the Scotiabank Giller Prize gala to be dropped.
During the ceremony on Monday, protesters shouted slogans and displayed signs accusing Scotiabank of funding “genocide” in Gaza. Scotiabank, which sponsors the literary event, has a 3.56 per cent stake, valued at around $431 million, in Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit Systems. Ltd through its subsidiary 1832 Asset Management L.P. Scotiabank and Elbit Systems Ltd. did not respond to requests for comment prior to publication.
Three people are now facing charges in connection with the protest, according to Toronto police.
“As writers and publishers, we express our support for the protestors who disrupted the Scotiabank Giller Prize gala,” an open letter, which began circulating on Wednesday, reads.
“We stand with the protestors, and we urge that the charges against them be dropped.”
The signatories on the open letter include award-winning writers and poets such as Rupi Kaur, Waubgeshig Rice, Billy-Ray Belcourt and this year’s Governor General Award winner, Anuja Varghese.
Among them are also former Giller Prize winners, such as Omar El Akkad, who won the prize in 2021 for his novel, “What Strange Paradise”, and authors who have been shortlisted for the Giller Prize, such as Noor Naga and Tsering Yangzom Lama.
The open letter noted that signatories were “proud and grateful” to have received nominations, grant funding and awards from literary institutions including the Scotiabank Giller Prize.
But it stated that these literary institutions should “be loud where our governments and news outlets have been silent,” in calling for a ceasefire and pressuring Canada’s government to end its military funding for Israel.
“In the past five weeks, Israel has cut off water, electricity, and communication to Gaza. Over 11,000 Palestinians have been killed, the majority civilians and non-combatants,” the letter stated.
“This week, Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest hospital in Gaza, was bombed until it could no longer be used. Among those who have died are more than 4000 children, many of them infants. This has been the deadliest attack for children in recent times. Many of our government officials and institutions swiftly condemned the October 7th deadly attack on 1200 Israeli civilians and the taking of 220 hostages. We ask that our institutions treat Palestinian civilians with the same concern and humanity.”
A protestor holding a sign saying “SCOTIABANK FUNDS GENOCIDE” is escorted off the stage during the Scotiabank Giller Prize in Toronto, on Monday, Nov. 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Rob Gillies)
The child death toll cited in the open letter align with figures presented by the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry. Global charity Save the Children has called it the deadliest conflict for children in recent times, based on those figures, and a spokesperson for UNICEF, the UN’s children’s agency, made similar comments to The Canadian Press.
The toll on Israel aligns with what has been reported by the Israeli government, which responded to Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 surprise attack with a siege on Gaza, weeks of airstrikes and an eventual ground assault into the enclave, and has said its military action is necessary to wipe out Hamas.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the idea of a ceasefire until all Israeli hostages have been released.
Elbit Systems Ltd. says it has long provided munitions to the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), and in July, it was awarded a contract worth around US$60 million to supply the IDF with thousands of 155mm artillery shells over the period of a year.
In connection with Monday’s protest, Evan Curle (25), Maysam Abu Khreibeh (25) and Fatima Hussain (23), are all facing charges of obstruct, interrupt or interfere with the lawful use, enjoyment or operation of property, as well as the charge of using a forged document.
The initial protest was met with boos from the audience at the Scotiabank Giller Prize gala, and protesters were escorted away by security. But it wasn’t the first time that Scotiabank’s ties to the Israeli defence contractor have been criticized.
Scotiabank came under scrutiny last year when it became the largest foreign shareholder in the publicly traded Israeli defence contractor.
SumOfUs, an advocacy group, launched a 2022 petition campaign calling on Canada’s third-largest bank to divest its stake in the company, which had been accused of manufacturing cluster munitions.
As previously reported by BNN Bloomberg, Elbit Systems Ltd. has been placed on lists of banned investments for a number of firms, and Australia’s Future Fund and Norway’s largest pension fund have excluded it from portfolios over its alleged production of cluster munitions.
At that time, the Israeli company denied producing cluster munitions and Scotiabank told BNN Bloomberg that it backs the company’s position.
“1832 Asset Management does not knowingly invest in companies that directly manufacture cluster munitions,” Scotiabank spokesperson Heather Armstrong said in an October 2022 email.
“Our engagement with the company confirmed that they do not, and we verified this position with a leading global investment research firm that is commonly used by asset managers around the globe.”
With files from the Associated Press and BNN Bloomberg