A ruling made in Quebec Superior Court last Friday put the brakes on a scheduled lecture that would have defied the moratorium on events related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on campus.
The ten-day injunction granted to the university on Nov. 15 prevented NDP MPs Svend Robinson, Libby Davies and social activist Judy Rebick from delivering a CSU-organized lecture titled ‘Peace and Justice in the Middle East’ on the ninth floor of the Hall Building the same day.
“I think the university is obviously pleased with the decision of the courts and is particularly pleased the courts ruled that the moratorium was an appropriate response to the events of Sept. 9,” said Concordia Assistant Secretary-General and General Counsel Bram Freedman.
Superior Court Justice Jean Guibeault based his ruling on the premise that the threat of violence was “real, even probable” in light of the Sept. 9 riots when protesters halted a speech by former Israeli PM (and now foreign minister) Benjamin Netanyahu.
During the hearing in a packed courtroom, Robinson demanded the request for the injunction be quashed. “They have provided not a shred of evidence this [violence] will happen,” he said. “Difference of opinion is the lifeblood of democracy that these people [the university] are trying to shut down and that is shameful.”
Concordia lawyer Christine Baudouin said the moratorium has thus far been successful in cooling down the situation on campus, and should the “injunction be refused there would be an irreparable prejudice” and the university would be back at square one.
Laughter broke out when CSU lawyer Giuseppe Sciorantino said, “If the CSU invited Mr. [Yasser] Arafat or Saddam Hussein, I can see where there would have been a problem … but Svend Robinson?”
Robinson, Davies and Rebick have all recently returned from trips to the Middle East and are outspoken critics of the Israeli governments’ treatment of the Palestinian population there.
Baudouin rebutted that whether it was “Netanyahu, bin Laden or the Flying Nun,” that the university has the last say on who will be invited to speak on campus.
Not only that, but it is their right to do so in a case like this, in the interest of ensuring a safe environment for students.
Outside the courtroom, Robinson denounced the verdict and said that while Concordia may have its own bylaws and policies, that they do not override civil rights as stipulated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“We’ll respect the court’s decision even though its wrong in law and an assault on freedom of speech in Canada,” Robinson said, before adding: “We intend to fight this in the Supreme Court of Canada.”
In his verdict however, Guibeault said it was not a question of stifling civil liberties, but of acting responsibly to prevent another outburst on campus, where tensions and emotions about the Middle East conflict still run high.
“Freedom of speech is not absolute,” he said. “One can not execute freedom of expression at any price.”
Before facing the throng of media camped outside the courtroom, members of the CSU executive, Robinson, Davies and Rebick decided the talk would be held in a location not under university jurisdiction: on de Maisonneuve Blvd. in front of the Hall Building.
“This is a terrible decision, there wasn’t any evidence there would be a riot. It implied that murder would occur on campus because an MP would be speaking. We will respect their decision, so we will be holding our discussion in the street: where the charter is respected,” said CSU VP Internal Kealia Curtis.
It was a sentiment echoed simultaneously by Davies in front of the television cameras: “This is a travesty of justice and it can not be allowed to stand,” she said. “We will not be silenced.”
Despite the injunction which legally upholds the moratorium until at least Nov. 25, British journalist Robert Fisk, an outspoken proponent for Palestinian human rights, held a lecture about his experience as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East last Sunday.
“I think the difference is Mr. Fisk’s announced topic of speech didn’t contravene the moratorium,” said Freeman, before adding that the topic selected by Robinson, Davies and Rebick “was a clear and direct provocation in defiance of the moratorium.”