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Lawsuit: Maryland’s anti-BDS law ‘chills’ free speech | Israel News

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Maryland’s ban on contracting with businesses that boycott Israel tramples on the First Amendment rights of a software engineer who advocates for Palestinians, a Muslim civil rights group claims in a lawsuit. 

The Council on American-Islamic Relations’ (CAIR) federal lawsuit, filed on Wednesday, seeks to block the state from enforcing an executive order that Maryland Governor Larry Hogan signed in October 2017.

“Maryland’s ban on contracting with anyone who participates in such boycotts constitutes viewpoint discrimination that chills constitutionally-protected political advocacy in support of Palestine,” the lawsuit states. 

The order requires contractors to certify in writing that they don’t boycott Israel. The group’s suit claims the order has an unconstitutional chilling effect on First Amendment-protected political advocacy supporting the Palestinians.

CAIR says 25 other states have enacted measures similar to Maryland’s, through legislation or executive orders.

CAIR attorney Gadeir Abbas said other federal lawsuits have challenged measures in Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas and Texas.

The group sued Hogan and state Attorney General Brian Frosh on behalf of software engineer Syed Saqib Ali, a former state legislator.

Ali’s lawsuit says the order bars him from bidding for government software program contracts because he supports boycotts of businesses and organisations that “contribute to the oppression of Palestinians”. 

“Speech and advocacy related to the Israel-Palestine conflict is core political speech on a matter of public concern entitled to the highest levels of constitutional protection,” the suit says.

Raquel Coombs, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said the attorney general hadn’t seen the suit and doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

A spokeswoman for Hogan’s office said, “We are confident that our executive order is completely consistent with the First Amendment and will be upheld in court.”

‘End around’ 

Ali, a resident of Gaithersburg, served as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates from 2007 to 2011 and represented Montgomery County as a Democrat.

He accused Hogan, a Republican, of making an “end around” the legislature by signing the executive order after lawmakers repeatedly rejected several anti-BDS bills targeting the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

“This is unacceptable, and Larry Hogan should know that our rights will not be stricken by him,” Ali said at a news conference in Baltimore.

The executive order says a boycott based on religion, national origin or ethnicity is discriminatory. A business boycott of Israel and its territories “is not a commercial decision made for business or economic reasons,” it adds.

“Contracting with business entities that discriminate make the State a passive participant in private-sector commercial discrimination,” the order says.

In December, the Arkansas Times weekly newspaper sued to block a similar measure.

That state law, which took effect in August 2017, requires contractors to reduce their fees by 20 percent if they don’t sign a pledge not to boycott Israel.

Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office argued that boycotting Israel is not activity protected by the First Amendment.

“It is neither speech, nor is it conduct that is inherently expressive, nor associational activity that is afforded constitutional protection,” wrote attorneys representing Rutledge’s office.

In December, CAIR filed a motion on behalf of a Texas speech pathologist who was fired after she refused to sign a statement pledging that she does not and will not boycott Israel or its settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. 

This week, the US Senate blocked a bill aimed at the BDS movement from moving forward due to the partial government shutdown. Politicians have vowed to bring the bill up again when the shutdown ends. 


SOURCE:
Al Jazeera and news agencies

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Ottawa transit commission hopes to prioritize COVID-19 vaccines for OC Transpo workers

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Ottawa’s transit commission is pushing local and provincial health officials to recognize the role OC Transpo operators have played in keeping the city running during the COVID-19 pandemic, hoping to bump train and bus drivers in the vaccination queue amid a recent surge in coronavirus infections affecting transit workers.

More than 100 OC Transpo staff across the entire organization have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic, according to an update at Wednesday morning’s transit commission meeting.

Of those cases, 26 employees are currently recovering from the disease in self-isolation.

OC Transpo has seen a recent jump in COVID-19 cases, with Ottawa city council receiving reports of eight operators testing positive for the virus over a recent eight-day period.

Transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert attempted to find out how many of the total cases are traced to workplace transmission, but OC Transpo boss John Manconi said he’s been advised by medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches that he can’t share that information for privacy reasons.

Transit operators are listed in the second priority group of essential workers as part of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine sequencing plans, but several commissioners speaking Wednesday wanted to get the city’s bus and train drivers bumped higher in the order.

Councillors Riley Brockington and Glen Gower both put forward motions looking to get front-line OC Transpo employees prioritization in vaccine sequencing, but others pointed out that the much-debated public health topic of who gets the vaccine and when is well beyond the scope of the transit commission.

“We are not in a position in transit commission to be decreeing, or making an edict, about what group of essential workers is more at risk than others and should be prioritized. That should be left up to public health experts,” Wright-Gilbert said.

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli, who also chairs the Ottawa Board of Health, reflected on the board’s four-plus-hour meeting on Monday evening, during which vaccine sequencing and prioritizing essential workers dominated the conversation.

“Vaccine sequencing is obviously a very difficult maze to get through,” he said.

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COVID-19: Ottawa police announce end of 24-7 presence at Ontario-Quebec border

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Less than two days after the Ontario government’s latest COVID-19 restrictions came into effect, calling for non-essential traffic to be stopped at the province’s borders with Quebec and Manitoba, the Ottawa Police Service has announced it is stopping its 24-hour checkpoints.

According to a statement issued by the service Tuesday evening, the around-the-clock border checkpoints were set to end as of 8 p.m. on Tuesday in favour of rotating checkpoints across the city throughout the day until Ontario’s temporary regulations end.

“Since the onset of the border operations, the OPS has been working closely with Ottawa Public Health (OPH) along with local stakeholders and interprovincial stakeholders (the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau, the Ontario Provincial Police etc.) to assess any local public health, traffic and safety impacts. The assessment resulted in today’s operational changes,” the statement said.

“The operational changes announced today are designed to better ensure the health and safety of all, to minimize delays and/or hazards for travellers and to ensure essential workers can get to their places of employment on time.”

The statement also said the police service, while working to comply with the provincial order, was focused on education and enforcement actions that “support improved public health outcomes and respect the concerns of our most marginalized and racialized communities”

Officers said they will be conducting daily assessments on border crossings and that there could be further changes.

In a statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said that the border closures are ultimately subject to the discretion of local police enforcing the regulations.

“Local police services are best positioned to determine the operational deployments necessary to ensure the continued safety of their communities,” the spokesperson said, noting that the order’s regulations still apply to individuals entering the province.

The temporary order restricts Quebec residents from entering Ontario. If prompted, individuals must stop when directed by an enforcement officials and provide their reason for entering the province.

The main exemptions to the restrictions include if the person’s main home is in the province, if they work in Ontario, if they’re transporting goods, if they’re exercising Indigenous or treaty rights, if they need health care or if there’s a basis on compassionate grounds.

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COVID-19 vaccines in Ottawa: Nearly half of all residents in their 60s have at least one dose

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OTTAWA — Ottawa Public Health’s latest COVID-19 vaccination update shows that nearly half of all residents 60 to 69 years old have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a figure that has all but doubled in the past week.

OPH’s COVID-19 vaccination dashboard shows 58,000 residents 60 to 69 have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, accounting for 49.3 per cent of that age group’s population in Ottawa. Last Wednesday, OPH reported 30,000 residents 60 to 69 had had at least one dose, which was 25.4 per cent.

As age demographics get younger, the population grows larger and the coverage by percentage may appear to grow more slowly, even if clinics are vaccinating greater numbers of people. For example, the latest figures show that 83 per cent of people aged 70 to 79 have had at least one dose. By raw population that’s 60,000 people, only slightly higher than half of all people in their 60s.

Vaccinations are open through the Ontario portal to anyone 60 and older and, this week, the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for administration at pharmacies and primary care clinics to anyone in Ontario 40 and older.

OPH reported a new shipment this week of 25,740 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. To date, Ottawa has received 305,130 doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the provincial government.

The number of eligible residents (i.e. 16 and older) with at least one dose of a vaccine is now up to 28 per cent.

Tuesday was Ottawa’s second-busiest day for vaccinations overall, with the OPH reporting 9,729 shots administered. Last Friday saw 9,887 shots administered in a single day.

QUICK STATS

  • Ottawa residents with at least one dose: 248,668
  • Ottawa residents with two doses: 26,722
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with at least one dose: 28 per cent
  • Percent of eligible population (residents 16 and older) with two doses: 3 per cent
  • Percent of total population with at least one dose: 24 per cent
  • Percent of total population with two doses: 3 per cent

VACCINATION COVERAGE BY AGE FOR OTTAWA RESIDENTS WITH AT LEAST ONE DOSE

  • 10-19: 1.6 per cent (1,804 people)
  • 20-29: 8.3 per cent (13,452 people)
  • 30-39: 9.5 per cent (14,999 people)
  • 40-49: 12.9 per cent (17,350 people)
  • 50-59: 28.8 per cent (40,320 people)
  • 60-69: 49.3 per cent (58,627 people)
  • 70-79: 82.9 per cent (62,808 people)
  • 80-89: 87.5 per cent (29,358 people)
  • 90+: 89.2 per cent (7,893 people)
  • Unknown age: 2,057 people 

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