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Simcoe County 4 Palestine ‘very pleased’ controversial film will play in Bradford

Town's library announced last week it had reversed its cancellation of a showing of the film ‘200 Meters’; 'They’ve shown that they are willing to learn and that their principals are important,' organizer of pro-Palestinian group says

Bradford residents will have the chance to come together and tackle some turbulent issues early next month.

Simcoe County 4 Palestine marked a victory after the Bradford West Gwillimbury Public Library announced last week that it had reversed its cancellation of a showing of the film 200 Meters after the groups petition from March in favour of the rescheduling topped out at 1,199 supporters.

The film is now scheduled for two showings — at 1:15 and 3:15 p.m. — on Sunday June 2, in the Zima Room at the library at 425 Holland St. W.

Michael Speers, an organizer with the group said they are “very pleased” with the decision.

“It appears the library took the overwhelming criticism very seriously and worked to rectify their earlier decision that was, obviously, misguided and wrong,” he said via email. “By not only reversing the decision, but also committing to working with community members, I think they’ve shown that they are willing to learn and that their principals are important.”

The film is a fictional drama about a Palestinian man named Mustafa living in a Palestinian village in the West Bank, whose wife and children live apart from him just 200 metres away, but separated by the Israeli barrier wall. After Mustafa’s son is taken to hospital and Mustafa is unable to cross through a checkpoint to see him, the father makes the decision to hire a smuggler to bring him across, which transforms the 200-m distance to his son into a 200-kilometre journey.

Simcoe County 4 Palestine has been trying to shine a light on the “ongoing genocide in Gaza,” according to Speers, who emphasized the importance of showing the film to facilitate learning and discussion.

“These moments are key to building community, and this particular moment is important for allowing Palestinian voices to be heard,” he said. “The initial decision to cancel the showing was — intentional or not — an act of anti-Palestinian racism. But it’s never too late to recognize errors, and this is a good example of that.”

Speers hopes those who see the film will gain a better understanding of the conditions under which Palestinians live, the struggles they endure, the impacts of being separated by check points and barriers, and the decisions they must make as a result.

In a press release supplied by Nina Cunniff, acting library chief executive officer, the library said their decision to reverse the cancellation was made “after careful consideration” to fulfil an “ethical responsibility” and following “a professional opinion” from the Centre for Free Expression at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson).

The centre is a non-partisan organization that works in collaboration with academic and civil society organizations across Canada and internationally.

“This is our obligation as a public library that upholds the values of free expression and prioritizes a community-led approach to our programming and vision,” the library said in the unsigned release.

Tackling polarizing issues

James Turk, director for the Centre for Free Expression, also reached out to BradfordToday to share his concerns after he said he received a copy of an email from Mayor James Leduc, outlining his concerns about the rescheduling.

Turk said he wasn’t comfortable sharing the mayor’s email because he was under the impression it was for internal use and hadn’t originally been intended for him to read.

Leduc confirmed that he had sent an email to the library board and Cunniff the day before the public announcement to express concerns over safety, in light of the pro-Palestinian protest encampments at universities in countries across the world and here in Canada.

Since late April, encampments have been reported at the universities of Calgary, Windsor, Manitoba, McMaster, Toronto, Ottawa, British Columbia, Alberta and more, but perhaps the most well-known is the encampment at McGill University in Montreal.

Noting the ongoing international conflict between Israel and Palestine and the rising tensions in Canada, the mayor explained that even though the town had not received any specifics threats, he had concerns the screening could “draw unneeded attention” to Bradford.

“I absolutely want everyone to have a voice. I want to talk about all the issues and I want to make sure people can speak freely here. I just didn’t think this was the time or place for this to happen,” he said.

Turk disagrees with that last part.

“It was actually entirely appropriate given the library’s own policies and traditions and given the importance of public discourse in democratic society where we solve problems, not by limiting consideration of material but by sharing it,” he said.

While Turk understands the desire to avoid offending people by opening up conversation on polarizing topics, he doubts there is any film, book or other media about the issues in the Middle East that wouldn’t be welcomed by some and rejected by others, and suggests the only way to overcome that polarization is through sharing in other people’s perspectives.

“In a democracy there are unending issues that are divisive in the community, and the best approach we’ve learned — from hard experience over time — is to confront them, discuss them, debate them and work it through,” he said, paraphrasing a sentiment from Justice Beverley McLachlin in the 2001 Supreme Court of Canada case R v Sharpe.

Still, Turk cautioned that there are limits to expressive freedom in most societies including Canada, where defamation, harassment and violence are prohibited, calling to mind the expression: “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.”

At cross purposes

Further complicating conversations of any issues relating to Israel is conflicting claims over the definition of the term “anti-Semitism,” according to Turk, who said he has seen pro-Israeli lobby groups in Canada and other countries pushing for criticism of the government of Israel to be considered anti-Semitism.

“That’s a very dangerous road to go down, that you equate Judaism and the actions of the government of Israel, as if Jews collectively are responsible for the actions of the government,” he said, noting that many Israelis are currently protesting their own government.

That disagreement over the term's meaning may have played a role in the original backlash to the screening.

The library had originally planned to show the film on March 17, but publicly announced the cancellation on March 11 “out of an abundance of caution for the safety of participants and all library patrons,” following a petition from the recently-formed resident group Jewish Bradford Association.

Launched March 8, that petition gained 359 supporters before declaring their “victory” in having the screening nixed.

The group claimed in their petition that showing the film “may inadvertently incite anti-Semitic sentiments,” and following the cancellation, a representative identifying themselves only as Marianna reached out to BradfordToday to say that showing the film would “provoke violence,” “sow division,” and “stoke the fires of hatred.”

Those comments were made despite the film actually having won the Human Rights Jury Prize at the 2021 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, according to the Atlanta Jewish Times.

When BradfordToday contacted the group for their response to the library’s reversal of the cancellation, they declined to comment.

Issues remain

Despite being pleased with the film’s rescheduling, Speers acknowledged it’s a small victory in the context of the ongoing situation facing Palestinians.

“As happy as we are that the movie is going to be shown, it doesn’t change the fact that nearly 40,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza over the past seven months,” he said. “And it doesn’t change the fact that millions of Palestinians are living under an apartheid system — a system that is highlighted in this film.”

As of May 15, the Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza estimated that 35,233 Palestinian had been killed and 79,141 injured as a result of heightened hostilities with Israel which began in October; however, the United Nations (UN) cautioned that those numbers have not been independently verified.

Israel officially declared war on Hamas on Oct. 8 and initiated strikes on Gaza following Hamas militants’ attack on Israel Oct. 7 that killed an estimated 1,300 people, including a number of Canadians attending the Re’im Music Festival in the Re’im kibbutz about five kilometres from the border with Gaza.

In response, Israel has launched attacks from the air, land and sea across much of the Gaza Strip, with the UN reporting that as of May 15, 285 square kilometres, or about 78 per cent of the Gaza Strip, have been placed under evacuation orders by the Israeli military, as they continue military operations inside Gaza.

For more information about the screening, visit

More details on Simcoe County 4 Palestine can be found on its Facebook page or by emailing [email protected].

Further information on the Centre for Free Expression is at

The centre also hosts a database of works which have been challenged in Canadian libraries which can be found at this link.

Jewish Bradford Association has not provided public contact information.

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Michael Owen

About the Author: Michael Owen

Michael Owen has worked in news since 2009 and most recently joined Village Media in 2023 as a general assignment reporter for BradfordToday
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