The Concordia Student Union’s Legal Information Clinic and Advocacy Centre will be presenting a set of recommendations at the Quebec Human Rights and Youth Rights Commission hearings this week, largely related to racial discrimination both within and outside the school community.
In their first-ever appearance at the hearings, the CSU will present seven recommendations, all approved by the CSU executive, reflecting suggestions targeting City Hall, police, institutional managers and university administrations. “The recommendations are essentially a composite of problems that both Advocacy and LIC dealt with over the past few years,” said Walter Tom, the LIC co-ordinator.
“I think the most important thing is the fact that university students are being affected and as such the CSU is standing up for the right of the students,” Tom said. “And that’s something that is very significant because we are the only organization from the university sector.” Neither Concordia’s administration, nor any other university student or administrative group will be presenting to the Commission.
The CSU Advocacy Center deals mainly with issues students have within Concordia, specifically with the enforcement of the Academic Code of Conduct among other problems.
Over 11 per cent of Concordia students are international students and Advocacy Centre co-ordinator Lisa White said that the enforcement of the code is much more dangerous for these students since “the emphasis on plagiarism and citation are not the same worldwide.” She also noted that the university does not take into account a student’s intentions in enforcing the code, and the risks are much greater for the international students since expulsion on a second offense will mean a much higher loss of money and may even influence their immigration status within Canada.
This focus is reiterated in the last two recommendations they will present to the Commission which encourage university administrations to recognize the unique plight of international students and how their backgrounds affect their approach to writing papers, and to implement culturally-sensitive measures to communicate to these students the definition of plagiarism and the Academic Code of Conduct beforehand.
The LIC, on the other hand, focuses on offering legal information to students on problems encountered outside of the Concordia environment, like racial targeting by Montreal police or security guards at private businesses. Their mandate is reflected in recommendations one through five which specifically target increased anti-discrimination and anti-racist training for police and more accountability in general for racial discrimination in the city.
Due to the external nature of the problems they deal with, Tom said the Commission offers them a forum or an outlet in which they can raise awareness about the plight of Concordia students in the city, since they can’t always tackle the problem themselves.
“We can bring them the problems but we’re not in charge of the police,” Tom said. “We don’t have the resources to investigate them.”
The hearing’s large focus on the racial profiling of youth, comprising ages 14 to 25, fit right into the mandate of the Advocacy Centre and LIC in helping Concordia students like Amal Asmar, who was targeted by police at a bus stop on St. Catherine’s Street and Atwater Avenue where she was sitting on a bench on the night of Feb. 4, 2010.
Asmar, a female student of Arab background, was given two citations worth over $1,000 and was violently arrested with what were, in her opinion and the opinion of the LIC, biased conduct and excessive use of force on the part of the officers.
The LIC referred Asmar to the Center for Research-Action Race Relations, a nationally recognized organization specializing in race relations who is also presenting in front of the commission. Increased institutional accountability, deficiencies and delays in the Quebec Human Rights Commission’s handling of complaints and the need for more racial sensitization of municipal officials will be the focus of CRARR’s presentation on June 9.
The City of Montreal has since withdrawn the two citations, but Asmar, who will be in attendance for CRARR’s presentation on Wednesday, has also filed complaints, with the help of the advocacy organization, with the Police Ethics Commissioner and the QHRC.
Both CSU organizations have collaborated with CRARR generally, and on specific files like that of Asmar. CRARR Communications officer Ryan Birks recognized the importance of the CSU’s efforts in presenting in front of the Commission. “The hearings are about racial profiling and obviously a lot of Concordia students have been subject to it,” he said.
White and Tom will be joined by the CSU’s new VP Services Heather Lucas and VP Loyola and Advocacy Hassan Abdullahi.