Rector Frederick Lowy and the university administration have declared a moratorium on campus for any public events related to the Middle East conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
The temporary ban extends to public speeches, debates, rallies and exhibits. It was announced Sept. 9, in direct response to a massive protest that same afternoon when former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to speak in H-110 of the Hall Building. Netanyahu’s speech was cancelled when police officials felt the throng of violent protestors inside and outside the building threatened security.
“It’s all about cooling down,” explained Dean of Students Donald Boisvert. “The moratorium is meant to ensure a certain measure of peace and tranquility, so that students can go on being students.”
This policy has drawn a substantial amount of negative reaction from student groups, some of whom see the moratorium as an attack on fundamental rights.
CSU President Sabine Friesinger denounced the measure as a violation of free speech and declared that the CSU plans to fight the administration in defence of that right, as well as that of legitimate dissent on campus.
“The university has not been clear in saying what the consequences are for violating the moratorium,” said Friesinger. “So the first thing we’re going to do is test that and eventually organize demonstrations. For now, the CSU is just going to ignore it.”
Friesinger also accused the university of hypocrisy, using the moratorium to silence protestors and advocacy groups whom have been lambasted for silencing Netanyahu. “It’s a complete double standard.”
Basel Al-Ken, president of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), showed equal disdain for the moratorium. “It’s an attack on freedom of speech they [Concordia administration] go for,” said Al-Ken. “They’re not respecting their own rules, so we’re not going to either.”
Boisvert, however, believes the moratorium is both required and justified at this time and serves to assure student safety. “We’re not trying to clamp down on anybody’s free speech. We’re just trying to ensure proper peace,” said Boisvert.
Noah Joseph, co-president of Hillel Concordia, believes the moratorium is unfortunate but not the only antagonist against democracy.
“This wasn’t a peaceful demonstration,” said Joseph, referring to the Sept. 9 rally. “Their [the protestors’] right to free speech infringed on our right to free speech, and now the victims of this are being punished by the university by not being allowed to express our views.”
But whereas certain student groups are concerned with the administration’s apparent misuse of authority, Joseph believes the CSU and others should have more faith. “This is a time for unity, when we should all be working together towards the same end, not fighting with each other.”
Also of concern, along with the question of freedom of speech and its moral implications, are the legality of the ban and whether the administration has any legal right to impose a moratorium.
Montreal lawyer Christina Karadimos said that Article 1 of the Canadian Charter of Human Rights does allow for the infringement of human rights if that breach goes towards safeguarding the well-being of the rest of society.
Karadimos gave the example of a road blockade that is established for safety reasons, but in doing so violates freedom of movement.
“The university can justify the moratorium if they can demonstrate it is meant to further democracy,” said Karadimos.