Marc Garneau Israel-Canada talk will be rescheduled
On Jan. 12, Member of Parliament for the Liberal Party Marc Garneau was scheduled to speak to university students on the subject of Canada-Israel relations. The event was to be presented as a co-sponsorship by both the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) and the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research (CIJR). The morning of the event, CIJR received a call from the Montreal Police saying that there was a threat of violent protest from a demonstration estimated to comprise of at least 60 individuals.
These threats were very real and can be corroborated by several officers. It was indeed a cause for concern, considering that the police saw the need to call CIJR in the first place. The National Chairman of CIJR, Jack Kincler, therefore decided to postpone the event due to concerns over whether the building could be secured as well as to ensure the safety of attendees.
This comes at a very dangerous and sensitive time. The right to freedom of speech as well as religion recently came under attack with the horrific massacres that took place in France earlier this month. Twelve people were murdered in an attack against the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo. Known for its strongly secularist, anti-religious and left-wing views, the paper was targeted for its satirical cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. A French police officer was killed shortly afterwards. Two days later, another gunman entered a kosher food supermarket in east Paris and murdered four Jewish hostages.
Because of Quebec’s close cultural and national relationship with France, these attacks have resonated strongly with us. This is especially true with regard to the Jewish community, since so many have family and friends in France. This event was meant to be an opportunity to present a forum for Marc Garneau, a respected and accomplished Member of Parliament, to present his views concerning Canada-Israel relations and interact with students. It would not have been postponed had there not been a real concern over the safety of attendees. The fact that university students could be in danger for simply attending an event and meeting with their representative of government is an egregious violation of their civil liberties.
On Jan. 20, a similar situation arose at the University of York. Luke Akehurst, a Labour Party activist, was scheduled to speak about the Israel-Palestine conflict. That lecture was cancelled, due to fears of security risks. This only serves to highlight the seriousness of the situation we face and how even the mere mention of subjects pertaining to the State of Israel are under attack on campuses by those who oppose its existence. Proper security precautions must be made in order to ensure the right of free assembly for all people, especially in the wake of these massacres.
“We will not be intimidated. [The supressing of] freedom of speech must be opposed on and off campus,” says Director of CIJR, Dr. Frederick Krantz. It must be stressed that this event has not and will not be cancelled. To do so would be to give in to the whims of weak-minded fundamentalists, whose sense of self can be easily compromised by different opinions and something as trivial as cartoons. To value freedom in the form of expression and religion and not surrender to terror is the best way to send out a clear message that such thuggish tactics are not acceptable in civilized discourse.
As of now, another venue is in the process of being finalized and MP Marc Garneau has announced a willingness to reschedule. The event has been rescheduled to take place next month, at a location where the security of all participants can be ensured. One thing is certain: while this turn of events has been unfortunate and threats of violence should not be considered legitimate forms of expression, this is anything but a victory for bullies who seek to silence discussion on Israel.
Bradley Martin is a Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) Fellow and student at Concordia University.