‘Really significant error’: Selina Robinson to step down as minister of advanced education, remain in caucus


B.C. Premier David Eby announced Selina Robinson will step down as the minister of advanced education and future skills following the outcry from her comments calling historic Palestine a “crappy piece of land.”

She will remain in the NDP caucus.

Eby says the decision for her to step down was made after Robinson participated in discussions with various community groups over the weekend.

“She has made a significant number of phone calls participated, in a number of meetings, as have I, with leadership particularly from the Muslim community, but not exclusively, also First Nations leadership,” Eby said in the news conference on Monday.

“And what has become apparent is the scope of the work that needs to be done by Selina, the depth of the hurt that she has caused to many British Columbians and as a result, we reached the conclusion together that she needed to step back from cabinet so she could focus on that work.”

Associate professor of communication and culture at Royal Roads University, David Black, says the premier was backed into a corner.

“Given that this is always a political decision ultimately, the political temperature simply got too hot, it got too uncomfortable, and he asked her to resign,” said Black.

Eby says Robinson’s comments created more division in the province.

“The core of my concern about her comments is that they increase division in our province at a time when we all need to be pulling together,” Eby said. “When our government’s goal and hope for all British Columbians is that we come together in a very divided time.”

Eby says the change wasn’t made immediately when the comments came to light because he took time to determine what the appropriate steps were.

“She screwed up, she made a really significant error, and so we need to address the harm that was caused by that,” Eby said.

“And I think it’s important when harm is caused, that you reach out to the community that has been hurt, you identify how you can make it better and then you start on that work. Take some time and I think that the time was necessary for us to avoid the situation of doing things that you think are going to make things better, but actually make things worse. And so that’s what we’ve been doing over the last few days. And that is what brings us to today’s difficult decision that we made.”

In a statement, Robinson said she remains committed to serving her constituents for the remainder of her term.

“There have been many discussions over the weekend with the Premier and many caucus colleagues, and together we decided it’s best for me to step aside as Minister of Post Secondary Education and Future Skills. This decision does not excuse my harmful comments, nor does it absolve me of the work I am committed to doing,” the statement says.

“While I had previously decided not to run again in the next election I remain committed to my constituents for the remainder of my term.”

The next provincial election is scheduled to take place on Oct. 19, 2024.

Brenda Bailey will take over Robinson’s role until a permanent replacement can be implemented. Bailey is also the minister of jobs, economic development and innovation.

Eby says the National Council of Canadian Muslims was one of the groups he and Robinson engaged with ahead of this decision.

“Ms. Robinson has made a string of deeply offensive and ignorant remarks about Palestinian history, culture, and civilization. Including referring to historical Palestine as a ‘crappy piece of land,'” NCCM said on Twitter.

“This kind of dehumanization of #Palestinians must not be tolerated. Dehumanization of any kind must be held accountable.”

Robinsons’s comments were towards pre-1948 Palestine, before it was settled by Israel.

“It’s a gross inaccuracy. She talks about ‘a crappy piece of land’ with a few thousand people, when in fact, the population in 1947 was 2 million,” Martin Bunton, a UVic history professor who specialized in modern Middle Eastern history, told CHEK News on Feb. 2.

Robinson says her comments categorizing historical Palestine as a ‘crappy piece of land…with nothing on it’ were in reference to the limited natural resources at the time. She initially made the comments that ultimately led to her removal from cabinet during a panel discussion hosted by B’nai Brith on Jan. 30.

“We have a whole generation, and we know from the data, that it’s 18-to-34-year-olds that have no idea about the Holocaust, they don’t even think it happened,” Robinson said in the panel discussion.

“They don’t even understand that Israel was offered to the Jews who were misplaced, displaced. So they have no connection to how it started.”

“They don’t understand that it was a crappy piece of land with nothing on it, there were, you know, several hundred thousand people, but other than that it didn’t produce an economy, it couldn’t grow things, it didn’t have anything on it, and that it was the folks who were displaced that came and the people who had been living there for generations, and together they worked hard and they had their own battles, right? We know the history.”

On Feb. 1, Robinson issued an apology on Twitter, which was not well-received by critics.

In her second apology, issued Monday morning, she says the comments she made caused harm in the Palestinian and Muslim community.

“My words were inappropriate, wrong, and I now understand how they have contributed to Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism,” the apology says.

“During a time of crisis when many innocent people are being killed, including Palestinians and Jews with family in British Columbia, those in positions of power have a responsibility to bring people together. My comments, however, did the opposite and contributed to further division.”

Additionally, she says her comments caused harm in the Indigenous communities, due to additional comments she made during the panel discussion.

“I will say, here in British Columbia, where we’re very focused on reconciliation, if there was a conflict between the Tsleil-Waututh and the Squamish nations over a piece of land, would we weigh in, regular people? And the answer is no, it’s between these nations, the Indigenous nations,” Robinson said during the panel discussion.

Robinson also apologized for these comments.

“I know that my comments have additionally caused pain, including among Indigenous communities, for perpetuating harmful narratives of colonialism. The experiences of First Nations people are not mine to manipulate. That was wrong and I am deeply sorry,” Robinson said in the statement Monday morning.

“I am grateful to each person who has expressed to me their feelings of pain, anger, sorrow and outrage. All of it is valid.”

Robinson says she will take part in anti-Islamophobia training “to more deeply understand the concerns that have been expressed to me.”

“I am committed to making amends, learning from the pain I have caused and doing whatever I can to rebuild relationships,” the statement says.

“I am sorry. I will do better.”


Watch the full news conference here:

Laura Brougham

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