As most people could have predicted, Concordia’s three-month moratorium, described by Rector Lowy as a “cooling-off period,” hasn’t cooled off either side of the debate over Middle East affairs. Instead, it raised a whole new set of concerns about the limits of free speech.
Since last year’s controversy over the student handbook, the mainstream media has continued to avidly follow campus politics. The moratorium is no exception. The campus is wallpapered with photocopies of Sue Montgomery’s opinion piece on the moratorium. As the title, “Concordia just asking for trouble,” suggests, Montgomery blames the administration for inviting Netanyahu to speak and suggests that imposing the moratorium further aggravates an already tense situation.
Despite the popularity of that opinion, however, a letter to the Gazette by Darlene Halfyard, a receiver at the Concordia Libraries, advised Montgomery not to accuse the administration of banning free speech so readily, suggesting instead that Concordia was trying to stimulate free debate by allowing Netanyahu to speak.
Furthermore, not everyone outside Concordia shares Montgomery’s opinions. In an editorial published in the Gazette on Sept. 11, the author asserts that the violent tactics used to prevent Netanyahu from speaking undermined the rights of those who had come to hear him. Not entirely antagonistic to the idea of a moratorium, the author stated that “[the] University should use this cooling-off period, which we hope will be brief, to secure free speech on campus.”
B’nai Brith Canada supports the moratorium, but claims in a press release issued on Sept. 13 that it “fails to prevent violence,” against Jewish students. The organization also “denounced the university administration for a ‘laissez faire’ attitude to student associations ‘who were allowed to do – and publish – almost whatever they wanted,'” according to the Gazette on Sept. 21. As Jewish.com reports, B’Nai Brith’s national legal counsel Steve Slimovitch said that “under the guise of freedom of expression,” Concordia has created an environment ideal for violence with its “permissive attitude toward hateful speech.” As Slimovitch stated, “There’s a limit to how far your right of expression can be extended.”
While the CSU in coalition with various student groups are pushing for an end to the moratorium, they may not enjoy much popular support outside Concordia. Izzy Asper, who owns CanWest Global Communications, which controls many of Canada’s largest newspapers and Global Television, was a major sponsor of Netanyahu’s Canadian speaking tour. Comparing the protestors on Sept. 9 to Nazis, Asper urged Prime Minister Chretien to eliminate the “militant zealotry” that led to the cancellation of Netanyahu’s speech.