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Giller Prize to stick with Scotiabank as sponsor, despite mounting calls to drop it

A protester films herself as she interrupts the Scotiabank Giller Prize in Toronto, on Monday, Nov. 13, 2023. The Scotiabank Giller Prize won't drop its lead sponsor, despite mounting pressure from some high-profile members of the literary community. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO — The Scotiabank Giller Prize won't drop its lead sponsor, the organization's executive director announced as pressure mounted from some high-profile members of the literary community.

The Giller Foundation's board discussed the calls to cut ties with Scotiabank over its investment in an Israeli arms manufacturer at a meeting last week, but they ultimately decided to stick with the bank, Elana Rabinovitch said in an emailed statement.

"While we respect all viewpoints that have been shared, we are confident in the integrity of Scotiabank and in our partnership," she wrote. "And while we appreciate the range of views that have been shared, the foundation is not a political tool."

She said other writers — whom she did not name — privately voiced their support for Scotiabank's funding.

"For almost 20 years, support from Scotiabank has enabled us to significantly elevate Canadian authors and their works, both at home and around the world," she wrote.

"We have seen firsthand the positive impact our partnership has had on Giller Prize winners, nominees, and the future generations of writers inspired by the work of the foundation."

The group calling on the Giller Foundation to cut ties with Scotiabank — and all sponsors "directly invested in Israel's occupation of Palestine" — include past winner Omar El Akkad and shortlisted writers Noor Naga, Shani Mootoo and Thea Lim.

Those other sponsors and partners include bookselling behemoth Indigo, whose controlling shareholders Gerald Schwartz and Heather Reisman founded the HESEG foundation, which offers scholarships to people from outside Israel who join the Israeli Defense Forces.

Other high-profile writers with eligible books have pulled their names from consideration for the Giller, including Catherine Hernandez and Farzana Doctor.

It's unclear whether publishers had submitted their books for consideration to begin with, but both are regularly part of the CanLit awards conversation.

Scotiabank did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The debate over Scotiabank's Giller sponsorship began in earnest at last year's ceremony, when protesters hopped on stage carrying signs that read "Scotiabank Funds Genocide."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 11, 2024.

Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press

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