University Presidents Defend Efforts To Combat Antisemitism On Campus | CBC News


The presidents of four Canadian universities defended their institutions’ efforts to combat antisemitism on their campuses Monday after months of claims that Jewish students have suffered from threats and discrimination.

Canada needs a better legal definition of hate crime to help enforcement, says Toronto deputy police chief

Peter Zimonjic · CBC News

· Posted: May 27, 2024 5:53 PM EDT | Last Updated: May 28

A woman walks between the tents in the pro-Palestinian encampment set up at the University of Toronto campus in Toronto on Sunday, May 26, 2024. The University has reported 38 incidents of suspected antisemitism and hate offences to the Toronto Police Service since the encampment began. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)The presidents of four Canadian universities defended their institutions’ efforts to combat antisemitism on their campuses Monday after months of claims that Jewish students have suffered from threats and discrimination.

“Sadly, the lived experience of some members of our community has been tarnished by real and perceived acts of contempt, intolerance and hate,”  Graham Carr, president and vice-chancellor of Concordia University, told a committee of MPs.

“Yes, tensions exist at Concordia but there has also been a remarkable calm. This does not mean that all is well,” Carr added. “That’s why our commitment to combating antisemitism and all forms of hate is ongoing.”

Carr said an event on campus in November which saw an argument between two groups of students with opposing views on the war in Gaza turn violent gave his university “a black eye.”

“That incident … raised legitimate questions about how we both uphold our values and ensure a safe environment for everyone,” he said.

Carr cited a second campus incident in March which saw Jewish students in the Hillel Concordia club room targeted by pro-Palestinian protesters. No students have been expelled or suspended over either incident, but three people have been banned from campus, he said.

Carr told MPs that in April the university launched a task force on racism and identity-based violence that will deliver “actionable recommendations” in the near future. 

Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman pressed Carr to explain why no one has been expelled or suspended in connection with these events. She accused university officials of “abdicating their responsibility for keeping Jewish students safe on campus.”

“I find that the testimony here today that says that we’re working on it and everything is going to be fine is frankly divorced from reality,” she said.

UofT students suspended, expelledThe presidents of McGill University, the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia each told MPs that their institutions have seen a rising number of incidents of antisemitism since the eruption of war in the Middle East. 

About 1,200 people were killed in the Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel on Oct. 7 and about 250 people were taken hostage, according to Israeli figures. More than 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed during Israel’s military response since then, health officials in the territory say.

University of Toronto president Meric Gertler told MPs that he’s disappointed to admit that “antisemitism has been a growing presence recently in our university.” He said the institution has been working to improve the situation.  

“We have indeed had violations of our code of conduct which have resulted in suspension and on occasion expulsion and … some of these have been related to recent actions and the protests around the conflict in the Middle East,” he said Monday.

WATCH: U of T president questioned about antisemitism, handling of pro-Palestinian encampment 

U of T president faces questions about antisemitism, handling of pro-Palestinian encampmentUniversity of Toronto president Meric Gertler was asked Monday by Conservative MP Melissa Lantsman if any students involved in the pro-Palestinian encampment at the downtown campus have been suspended or expelled.

Pressed to explain what has been done to crack down on antisemitic signs and slogans around the protest encampment on the university’s campus, Gertler told the committee that 38 incidents have been reported to police.

Gertler said none of the students associated with the encampment — a protest the university is trying to end with a court injunction — have been suspended or expelled from the institution over incidents reported to police. 

Asked to explain why, Gertler said the encampment is only a few weeks old and a process now underway may result in further disciplinary action. 

McGill’s president and vice-chancellor Deep Saini told MPs that in recent months the university has seen protest behaviour that has “repeatedly crossed the line,” prompting McGill to seek court injunctions and ask for police assistance.  

An encampment at McGill University launched by students on April 27 is demanding that the institution divest from companies with ties to Israel.

Two provisional injunction requests have so far been rejected by the Quebec Superior Court. The university will return to court to again ask that the encampment be dismantled this summer.

Saini said McGill now has a Jewish student liaison officer and specialized support services for Jewish students, and recently launched a new online portal to anonymously report harassment and intimidation.  

“We are actively reviewing our internal mechanisms to provide avenues and support for our students and colleagues, including members of the Jewish and other targeted communities,” he said. 

WATCH | MPs told antisemitism on rise at some university campuses: 

University presidents defend efforts to combat antisemitism on campusFour university presidents told MPs on Parliament Hill they remain committed to battling antisemitism at their schools, days after shots were fired at a Jewish school in Toronto over the weekend.

University of British Columbia president Benoit-Antoine Bacon said his institution reviews all reported incidents of discrimination and forwards them to the RCMP.

Bacon said that in the last year on campus, security has been enhanced and institution officials have engaged with Jewish student groups to help collate reports of antisemitism. 

Better definition of hate crime needed: Toronto policeToronto Police Service Deputy Chief Robert Johnson also appeared at committee Monday. He told MPs that his officers are frustrated by the lack of clarity on constitutes a hate crime.

“Adopting a standardized definition of hate crime and conducting community consultations to better understand the definition and controversial slogans is recommended,” Johnson told MPs. 

Mark Sandler, an independent lawyer, told the committee that people are often not prosecuted because there is a lack of understanding of what constitutes an act of antisemitism.

“I think ignorance here is the bigger problem when it comes to prosecutions and police,” he said. 

Sandler said having a national antisemitism strategy, and explaining how police should act in given situations, would help combat hate crimes against Jewish Canadians.

Johnson also told MPs that police officers should get better cultural sensitivity training to help them “with the foundational knowledge about the practice of religion, such as Judaism and Islam.”

The deputy chief also made three other recommendations to the committee studying antisemitism:

Parliament should consider banning certain flags or symbols associated with hate groups. The requirement that the Attorney General of Canada give consent before officers can lay hate crime charges should be removed. The list of banned groups funding terrorism and hate should be updated to reflect the new groups that have emerged since the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks. ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Zimonjic is a senior writer for CBC News. He has worked as a reporter and columnist in London, England, for the Daily Mail, Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph and in Canada for Sun Media and the Ottawa Citizen. He is the author of Into The Darkness: An Account of 7/7, published by Random House.

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