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Victoria councillor listed among signatories of open letter that cast doubt on Hamas sexual violence

A Victoria city councillor is one of two Canadian politicians whose names appear on a controversial open letter that resulted in the firing of a University of Alberta employee Saturday.

Though it appears to be weeks old, the letter received new attention Friday for its characterization of the brutal attack by Hamas that sparked Israel's invasion of the Gaza Strip last month. 

Militants killed 1,200 people – most of them civilians – in a co-ordinated surprise attack on Oct. 7. Some of the victims were tortured before they were killed, and Israeli authorities say they are investigating several cases of sexual assault and rape amid the attack. Hamas also took more than 200 hostages.

The letter – which is directed at the group of Canadian MPs that urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to call for a ceasefire late last month – criticizes NDP leader Jagmeet Singh for repeating what it calls "the unverified accusation that Palestinians were guilty of sexual violence."

On Friday, the Jewish Federation of Edmonton called out one of the letter's non-politician signatories – Sarah Pearson, then the director of the University of Alberta Sexual Assault Centre – on social media.

"Shouldn’t a sexual assault centre believe all victims, and not just the non-Jewish ones?" the organization wrote, referencing the "unverified accusation" claim.

On Saturday, the university issued a statement confirming that Pearson had been fired.

"The recent improper and unauthorized use of the name of the University of Alberta’s Sexual Assault Centre in endorsing an open letter has raised understandable concerns from members of our community and the public," said Bill Flanagan, president and vice-chancellor of the university, in the statement.

"Effective immediately, the director of the centre is no longer employed by the university. The university has appointed a new interim director of the Sexual Assault Centre."

CALLS TO CENSURE VICTORIA COUNCILLOR

While the letter has thousands of individual signatories, only two are listed under the heading "Politicians." They are Ontario MPP Sarah Jama and Victoria Coun. Susan Kim.

Jama was kicked out of Ontario's NDP caucus and censured by the governing Progressive Conservatives last month in an ongoing saga that began with remarks she made shortly after the Oct. 7 attacks condemning Israel's treatment of Palestinians, but not mentioning Hamas. 

In response to the letter, an online petition was launched Saturday calling on Victoria city council to censure Kim and remove her from any board positions. By Sunday afternoon, the petition had received more than 6,500 signatures.

“Imagine being a Jewish member of our community and having to rely on Ms. Kim as an elected representative,” it reads. “Would you feel as though she’d represent your interest, equally to the interests of others in our community? Would you be able to trust Ms. Kim?”

The councillor’s social media accounts have been made private. CTV News reached out to Kim for comment Saturday but has not heard back. This story will be updated if a response is received.

The letter criticizes MPs for not going far enough in their support for the Palestinian people, and suggests they should resign rather than continue to be part of a federal government that – in the language of the letter – is "facilitating Israeli-led genocide."

"All of you are complicit in Israel's killing of over 5,000 Palestinians in Gaza thus far," the letter reads, suggesting it was drafted and published weeks ago, though there is no date on it.

It's unclear who authored the letter, or whether the signatories were verified.

As of Saturday, Palestinian health authorities said 11,500 Palestinians have been killed since the latest war began, with another 2,700 reportedly missing. The count does not differentiate between civilians and combatants; Israel says it has killed thousands of militants.

While U.S. authorities have cast doubt on the Palestinian Health Ministry's casualty figures, given that the ministry's Gaza office is run by Hamas, the UN and other international agencies have found the totals to be reliable during previous conflicts. The Associated Press has more information on how the Gaza death toll is gathered.

The letter concludes by urging MPs "to call on Israel to free all Palestinian prisoners, lift its siege on Gaza, and end its illegal occupation."

"You must contribute to sensible political and social discourse as elected officials," it reads. "We urge you to stand on the right side of history where you will be redeemed: Resign with integrity and dignity."

With files from The Associated Press

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