Monday 15th of April 2024

Canadian Literary Solidarity: Over 1,500 Writers Advocate for the Dismissal of Charges Against Giller Prize Gala Protesters

"In a powerful display of literary solidarity, over 1,500 Canadian writers and publishers have united in support, signing an open letter that fervently advocates for the dismissal of charges against anti-war protesters responsible for disrupting the prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize gala. The incident unfolded during Monday's ceremony, as protesters boldly voiced their dissent, accusing Scotiabank of complicity in 'genocide' in Gaza. The financial giant, which sponsors the esteemed literary event, is revealed to hold a 3.56% stake, valued at approximately $431 million, in Israeli arms manufacturer Elbit Systems Ltd., courtesy of its subsidiary, 1832 Asset Management L.P.

Despite numerous requests for comment, both Scotiabank and Elbit Systems Ltd. remained silent ahead of publication. Toronto police have since levied charges against three individuals linked to the protest. The open letter, which began circulating on Wednesday, stands as a resolute declaration from the literary community. "As writers and publishers, we express our support for the protestors who disrupted the Scotiabank Giller Prize gala," the letter declares. "We stand with the protestors, and we urge that the charges against them be dropped."

Among the distinguished signatories are acclaimed writers and poets, including Rupi Kaur, Waubgeshig Rice, Billy-Ray Belcourt, and the recent recipient of the Governor General Award, Anuja Varghese. The roster extends to former Giller Prize laureates, such as Omar El Akkad, honored in 2021 for his novel "What Strange Paradise," and authors previously shortlisted for the Giller Prize, including Noor Naga and Tsering Yangzom Lama.

The open letter acknowledges the pride and gratitude felt by signatories for receiving nominations, grants, and awards from literary institutions like the Scotiabank Giller Prize. However, it also underscores the responsibility of these institutions to transcend their roles, boldly echoing where governments and news outlets have fallen silent. The letter calls for a ceasefire and urges Canada's government to cease its military funding for Israel, citing the dire situation in Gaza where essential services, including water, electricity, and communication, have been severed, resulting in the tragic loss of over 11,000 Palestinian lives—primarily civilians and non-combatants—in the past five weeks."

"In a tragic turn of events, Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest in Gaza, was relentlessly bombed this week, rendering it unusable. The devastating toll includes over 4,000 children, many of them infants, marking this as one of the deadliest attacks on children in recent times. While swift condemnation followed the October 7th attack on 1,200 Israeli civilians and the taking of 220 hostages, the call now echoes for equal concern and humanity towards Palestinian civilians.

The poignant image of a protester at the Scotiabank Giller Prize, holding a sign that reads 'SCOTIABANK FUNDS GENOCIDE,' encapsulates the mounting outcry. The child death toll highlighted in the open letter aligns with figures from the Gaza Health Ministry, run by Hamas. Global charity Save the Children deems this the deadliest conflict for children in recent times, corroborated by UNICEF's similar statements to The Canadian Press.

The toll on Israel mirrors official reports, with the Israeli government responding to Hamas' October 7th attack by imposing a siege on Gaza, followed by weeks of airstrikes and a subsequent ground assault, citing the necessity to eliminate Hamas. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejects a ceasefire until all Israeli hostages are released.

Elbit Systems Ltd., a key player in this narrative, acknowledges its longstanding provision of munitions to the Israel Defence Forces. In July, it secured a significant contract, valued at around US$60 million, to supply the IDF with thousands of 155mm artillery shells over a year.

As for the protesters—Evan Curle (25), Maysam Abu Khreibeh (25), and Fatima Hussain (23)—they now face charges related to obstructing, interrupting, or interfering with the lawful use of property, alongside the charge of using a forged document. The initial protest garnered disapproval from the Scotiabank Giller Prize gala audience, leading to the protesters being escorted away by security. Notably, this isn't the first time Scotiabank's ties to the Israeli defense contractor have been criticized, with scrutiny intensifying last year when the bank became the largest foreign shareholder in the publicly traded Israeli defense contractor."

"In 2022, SumOfUs, an influential advocacy group, initiated a compelling petition campaign urging Canada's third-largest bank to sever ties with Elbit Systems Ltd., a company facing allegations of manufacturing cluster munitions. This move came in response to Elbit Systems Ltd. finding itself on lists of prohibited investments for various firms, with Australia's Future Fund and Norway's largest pension fund already excluding it from their portfolios due to the alleged production of cluster munitions.

As highlighted in previous reports by BNN Bloomberg, the Israeli company vehemently denied involvement in manufacturing cluster munitions. Scotiabank, standing by Elbit's stance, affirmed its support for the company. Heather Armstrong, a spokesperson for Scotiabank, conveyed in an October 2022 email, "1832 Asset Management does not knowingly invest in companies that directly manufacture cluster munitions. 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."

The controversy surrounding Elbit Systems Ltd.'s alleged ties to cluster munition production has not only drawn the attention of advocacy groups like SumOfUs but has also prompted exclusion from investment portfolios by significant global entities. The narrative continues to unfold against the backdrop of ethical considerations, financial decisions, and the broader discourse on responsible investment. This information is sourced from the Associated Press and BNN Bloomberg."

"In conclusion, the controversy surrounding Elbit Systems Ltd. and Scotiabank unfolds within the intricate landscape of ethical investment decisions. SumOfUs, through its 2022 petition campaign, has underscored the gravity of allegations against the Israeli company for manufacturing cluster munitions, prompting calls for Canada's third-largest bank to divest its stake. Notably, Elbit Systems Ltd. has found itself on banned investment lists, with major entities like Australia's Future Fund and Norway's largest pension fund opting to exclude it from their portfolios.

The denial of cluster munition production by Elbit Systems Ltd., backed by Scotiabank's support, adds complexity to the narrative. Scotiabank's assertion that its investment arm, 1832 Asset Management, does not knowingly invest in companies producing cluster munitions was reinforced through engagement with the company and validation from a leading global investment research firm.

As this story continues to evolve, it prompts reflections on the broader discourse surrounding responsible investment, corporate accountability, and the ethical considerations that guide financial decisions. The interplay between advocacy groups, financial institutions, and global entities underscores the ongoing dialogue on how businesses navigate social and environmental responsibilities in the pursuit of financial success. This narrative draws from information provided by the Associated Press and BNN Bloomberg."