Prominent members of British Columbia’s Jewish community and others believe Susan Kim, a city councillor in Victoria, should show more accountability for attaching her name to an open letter which doubted reports of sexual violence carried out by Hamas on Oct. 7.
The letter titled ‘Stand with Palestine: Call on Political Leaders to End Their Complicity in Genocide,’ specifically criticized NDP leader Jagmeet Singh for “repeating the unverified accusation that Palestinians were guilty of sexual violence” during the Hamas attacks.
Kim was one of two Canadian politicians who signed the letter. Sarah Jama, an MPP from Hamilton, Ont., was the other. In October, Jama was censured by the Ontario legislature and removed from the NDP caucus.
Jama has since taken her name off the letter and Kim said this week she would seek to do the same.
In a Nov. 23 social media post, her second statement on the matter this week, Kim said that she regrets “not being more careful in understanding the impact of the letter on the community members I represent.”
“I signed this letter in a moment of immense grief and a felt urgency to call for an end to violence and support the people of Gaza,” Kim wrote. “In the process, I failed to critically assess the impact this would have on community members directly affected—including Jewish and Palestinian community members—experiencing loss and grieving loved ones.”
Kim added that she was going to continue to connect with all of those impacted by the conflict to better understand perspectives that are not her own.
Despite Kim’s statements and her request to have her name removed from the letter, Nico Slobinsky, director of the Pacific Region for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, she has not fully acknowledged the issue.
“Councillor Kim still needs to apologize to sexual assault victims and specially to Jewish women here and in Israel,” he said.
Coral Grant, the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Victoria and Vancouver Island (JFVVI), told The CJN that while the organization appreciated Ms. Kim’s second attempt at an apology, it is still deeply troubled by the lack of apology to Jewish women and girls and to all victims of sexual assault.
“Canada is no place for victim-blaming. As a Jewish woman and a victim of past sexual violence, I am deeply troubled by the fact Ms. Kim would choose to ignore or question the rape and torture of Israeli women and girls on Oct. 7 before she put her name on a repugnant and shameful letter,” Grant said.
Throughout the week, many in the province have called on Kim to resign.
Kevin Falcon, the leader of the BC United Party, the province’s official opposition, wrote on X on Nov. 20, “denying the sexual violence experienced by victims of the Oct. 7 terrorist attack by Hamas is appalling. This is unacceptable behaviour from an elected official here in B.C. Councillor Kim should resign.” He also urged B.C.’s Premier David Eby to join him in calling on Kim to step down.
Sharon Fitch, president of JFVVI, wrote in a Nov. 21 letter to Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto, requesting that Kim be removed from all council positions, “If these victims of rape and mutilation were not Jews, would Councillor Kim believe them unconditionally? If they were Muslims? If they were Indigenous (to Canada)? If Councillor Kim had made these statements about Muslims or Indigenous people, she would have been forced to resign from Victoria Council.”
In a statement on Nov. 20 which addressed calls for her to step down, Kim said she would continue to serve out the rest of her term.
Shortly after the news of the letter broke on Nov. 18, a petition was started by Janice Williams, a council candidate in 2022 calling on Kim to resign. To date, it has received over 10,000 signatures.
A first-term councillor elected in 2022, Kim ran on a platform of taking aim at the housing and cost-of-living crises in the city, environment and climate change, and building a healthy community with a functioning healthcare system.
While on city council, Kim sits on the City of Victoria Youth Council, the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority Board, the Greater Victoria Public Library Board, the Regional Water Supply Commission and the Victoria Citizen’s Assembly Council Committee.
On Nov. 18, Samantha Pearson was fired from her position as the director of the University of Alberta’s Sexual Assault Centre in Edmonton for signing the letter.
“The University of Alberta stands firmly and unequivocally against discrimination and hatred on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity, national origin, and other protected categories. We recognize the historical and ongoing harms of antisemitism and commit to doing all we can as a university to advance a world free of prejudice and discrimination,” said Bill Flanigan, the university’s president and vice-chancellor.