Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/1/2017 (1225 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The alleged firing of a Winnipeg doctor for criticizing the Israeli government on social media is an attack on free speech, one critic says.
Dr. Hussam Azzam was appointed Chief Medical Officer of the St. Boniface Hospital in November. On the weekend, he announced he'd been sacked for speaking up.
"Removed as St. Boniface Hospital Chief Medical Officer due to criticising Israeli government actions vis-à-vis Palestine & its people @CJPME" Azzam said Jan. 22 on his Twitter account AzzamMD which has since been taken down.
Later that day he tweeted "Shocked & stressed for losing my job just because of who I am, what I represent & exercising my #FreedomOfSpeech in Canada, in 2017 @CJPME."
Hospital officials on Wednesday refused to comment on Azzam's termination or its social media policy for staff.
"This is an HR matter and it is not our policy to comment on personnel matters to respect and protect the privacy of current and former employees," the hospital's communications director Helene Vrignon said in an email Wednesday. "We can confirm Dr. Azzam has left the organization."
"This should send a chill down every Canadian's spine," said Harold Shuster, a member of Independent Jewish Voices in Winnipeg. The group of Jews in Canada describe themselves as being in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. They believe that Canada's Jewish population is not reflected by organizations that claim to represent Canadian Jewish communities.
"This is a real threat to our freedom of speech," Shuster said.
Azzam's Twitter account showed support for hospital fund raisers and shared stories about health care and time with family and it also linked to Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East — whose "mission is to empower decision makers to view all sides with fairness and to promote the equitable and sustainable development of the region" and the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid. The coalition was formed in January 2006 and calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions until "Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people's inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law."
Shuster said he was informed earlier this week of Azzam's firing by Rana Abdullah with the Canadian-Palestinian Association of Manitoba. Abdullah said Wednesday night that she was not prepared to comment.
Azzam did not respond to telephone or social media requests for comment. Reportedly he's received legal advice not to speak to the media. The Palestinian medical doctor has worked as a senior hospital staff member in the province for several years. At one time, he was the Burntwood Regional Health Authority's vice-president of medical services based in Thompson.
He's been outspoken about his activism in the past. In 2014, he was interviewed by the Free Press at a rally for Gaza outside the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. "It's important to show solidarity with what's going on," said Azzam, who gave his name but not his profession. "People are starting to realize the horrifying things that are happening back in Palestine. Nobody likes war, but the loss of lives – it's just sad. The problem is that most people don't understand the reality of what's going on there. It's unfortunate, but someone needs to tell the real story," Azzam said.
Employers censoring people like Azzam should concern everyone, said Shuster.
"Your place of employment should not dictate whether or not you can express your freedom of speech," said Shuster. "If, all of a sudden, we can't exercise those fundamental freedoms, you should be concerned."
Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.
Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.
To those who have made donations, thank you.
To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.
The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.
After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.
If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.
We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.
Updated on Thursday, January 26, 2017 at 10:31 AM CST: Corrects typos