Canadian authors petition for Giller award to withdraw charges against supporters of Palestinian cause.
Over 1,800 authors and publishers have endorsed an open statement showing solidarity with the pro-Palestinian demonstrators who interrupted the presentation of a prestigious Canadian literary prize last week.
One of the people who signed is Sarah Bernstein, a Canadian writer who received the Scotiabank Giller prize worth C$100,000 (£58,000).
During the Giller Prize event, protestors disrupted the proceedings by storming the stage with signs stating “Scotiabank supports genocide”. Another protestor called out that Scotiabank holds a $500 million stake in Elbit Systems and that the company is involved in supplying the Israeli military’s actions against the Palestinian population.
During the event, there was a second interruption while the winner was being announced. As they called Bernstein’s name, a protester pretending to be a photographer started shouting. The organisers had to repeat the announcement.
According to the letter, the protestors were met with disapproval from the audience, forcibly taken away, and held by the authorities for three hours after the event concluded. The letter urges for the charges against them to be dismissed.
Bernstein stated that she was not informed about the incident at the Giller ceremony until after it occurred. She participated in the event through a one-way video connection. She expressed her support for the right to protest and expressed hope that the charges against the protesters would be dismissed. She also mentioned that she stands with other Canadian writers in calling for a prompt end to the conflict in Gaza. Her novel, Study for Obedience, won the prize and is also a finalist for this year’s Booker prize, which was announced on Sunday.
The letter urges literary institutions to speak out and take action where governments and news outlets have failed to do so. This includes calling for a ceasefire, condemning the collective punishment of Palestinians and war crimes committed by the Israeli government, pressuring the Canadian government to stop its military funding and diplomatic support for Israel, advocating for the release of all hostages (including Israeli hostages and the 5,000 Palestinian civilians, including 170 children, who are being held in Israeli prisons), and urging Israel to end its 75-year occupation of Palestine.
Along with Bernstein, other signatories include Noor Naga, co-winner of this year’s Arab American book award for her novel If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English. “Activists do not disrupt peace; they disrupt the silence of complicity,” Naga wrote in a post on X. “They do not disrupt order; they identify the disorder. We owe these activists our awareness, our aliveness. They did what we celebrate literature for doing: wake us up”.
Elbit Systems is a company based in Israel that produces weapons and has faced backlash from activists for supplying them to the Israeli military. According to a report by American investigative news outlet, The Intercept, Scotiabank has a stake of approximately $500 million in the company, making it the biggest foreign investor.