York Region education advocate Shameela Shakeel said she faced barriers in her attempt to become the Ontario Liberal Party nominee for Newmarket-Aurora.
The candidate announced Jan. 24 that after a vetting process, the party had disqualified her and would not allow her to remain in the nomination process. She had been due to contest the local party nomination against Dr. Sylvain Roy.
After facing what she called a “smear campaign" and questioning the nomination process, she said she accepts the decision. But she told NewmarketToday that this is part of her lived experience.
“People of colour are faced with more obstacles, barriers, challenges, and hate. That is the sad reality,” Shakeel said. “But I am still hopeful that we as a society can find a way to make changes for the better for our community and children.”
The two prospective nominees have undergone a vetting process at the provincial party level for the past few weeks. While the party cleared Roy — who will now become the Newmarket-Aurora Liberal candidate in the provincial election — they did not pass Shakeel.
Shakeel said she has not been informed as to why she did not qualify.
Ontario Liberal Party senior communications advisor Will Weuher said the party does not disclose details related to the vetting process.
Newmarket-Aurora Provincial Liberal Association president Cathy Gapp said those details are not disclosed to the local riding association either, and the vetting is handled entirely at the provincial level.
“That’s the line of confidentiality one would expect,” she said. “We were excited about having two quality candidates … Dr. Roy is very qualified and he’s going to be a great candidate.”
Shakeel faced some criticism relating to her outspoken condemnation of Israel's treatment of Palestinians, as well as support for Toronto teacher Javier Dávila, who shared a list of resources in a mailout offering Palestinian perspectives that contained links later flagged as antisemitic.
Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation board member Michael Teper messaged the party to question if Shakeel could stand as a candidate given a Tweet she had made supporting Dávila.
Teper said the party did not respond to him, and he cannot comment on the reason for the party's choice. But he said he suspected Shakeel’s social media comments may have had something to do with it.
“Ms. Shakeel chose to dismiss these concerns as a 'smear' instead of acknowledging their validity and publicly distancing herself from Mr. Dávila,” Teper said. “Ms. Shakeel made her choice, and the Ontario Liberal Party has now made its own.”
An ethics investigation in December into a board trustee said that although the majority of the resource links on Palestine that Dávila shared were fine, there were at least three that had antisemitic elements, but that there was a disclaimer that not all of the links had been reviewed and that educators should use their professional judgment. His school board cleared him and allowed him to stay employed last June, and he has received support from advocacy groups for Palestinian rights, including the Independent Jewish Voices of Canada.
Shakeel has defended her views concerning Israel and Palestine and her support for Dávila when he faced scrutiny last May. She has said her support for Palestinian rights should not be conflated with antisemitism and that she has combated racism against people of all kinds in the school system.
She said after speaking with several contacts, she believes this is why she was not allowed to continue running.
"I stand by my words. My empathy for Palestinian people, who are suffering and oppressed, does not make me antisemitic, nor does it make me pro-Hamas or Anti-Israel. I will always stand on the side of human rights for all, in all parts of the world," she said.
NewmarketToday asked the Ontario Liberal Party if the decision related to Shakeel's views on Israel and Palestine, but Wehr maintained that they do not comment on the vetting process.
Shakeel was also critical of the nomination process after she said she was invited by the party to run and was assured there was not another local candidate that she could support instead. Roy is not a resident of the riding.
As part of its nomination process, the Ontario Liberal Party has said it is committed to fielding a diversity of candidates. It has said it will nominate women in half of the 124 ridings as part of an “ask her to run” campaign and require every local association to make specific outreach to prospective candidates in marginalized communities.
Newmarket resident Annalise Rickman is a Liberal Party member who volunteered for the federal campaign. She said she decided to support Shakeel when she learned of her candidacy and is dismayed to see the disqualification.
“They wanted more people of colour to be candidates, and here they had the opportunity to do that, but they chose to disqualify Shameela in favour of a white man,” she said. “I am personally offended a woman of colour has been disqualified, a women of colour who is involved in her community.”
When asked if she has any concern that the decision regarding Shakeel undercuts the party's efforts to support diversity in its nominations, Gapp said she does not.
“I don’t worry about that at all. Just because we are putting an effort forward, just as we should,” Gapp said. “There is a place for everyone in the party. Dr. Roy is a French-speaking person from up north who came to the city to get educated and to develop a practice. I don’t think because he is not a traditional diverse candidate that should outlaw him from running.”
Roy is now uncontested for the nomination. He said he is still awaiting news and the formal party announcement. But he said he will be doing outreach in the meantime.
“It will be important for us to come together as a community to ensure we are singularly focused on winning the riding back in the coming election,” he said. “For me personally, the nomination race is continuing, and I will be spending my time calling our members and getting to learn about issues that matter to them.”
Rickman said she does not think the disqualification would have been related to Shakeel being publicly critical of the nomination process.
“The Liberal Party encourages conversation and this issue is something we should be talking about,” she said.
Meanwhile, Shakeel said she would return to her grassroots advocacy efforts, where she has spent years as co-chair of York Communities for Public Education.
“Many residents have shared with me their hope that they can choose a provincial rep who has a connection to our community that is rich in diversity of people, cultures and religions,” Shakeel said on Twitter. “I will continue to advocate at a grassroots level for the things that matter … I will always care deeply.”