What was intended to be a discussion concerning the Middle East turned into a free speech rally last Friday, when the university was granted a court injunction barring the Concordia Student Union (CSU) from holding public events concerning Middle East politics on campus.
The injunction, obtained in Quebec Superior Court early that afternoon, forced the talk by NDP MPs Svend Robinson, Libby Davies and activist Judy Rebick outside onto de Maisonneuve Blvd.
“We have been forced outside by the administration because you wanted to express freedom of speech. We are here to let you know we will not be silenced,” said Robinson, who together with Davies and Rebick was to speak of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Middle East.
The trio had announced the previous week that they would hold a talk, sponsored by the CSU, about their recent trips to Israel and the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank. The talk was meant to deliberately defy a moratorium imposed by the university’s Board of Governors (BoG) on all public events concerning the Middle East conflict on campus.
In a statement released two days earlier, the administration threatened to take legal action to keep the three from speaking. In his decisions on Friday, Quebec Superior Court Justice Jean Guibeault said that the threat of violence was too high to allow them to speak at Concordia.
The decision reached those intent on hearing the threesome speak at around 1:30 p.m., only half an hour before the talk was scheduled to start, when the CSU began placing posters announcing that the event had been moved to just outside the Hall Building.
A crowd of over 200 quickly assembled around two tables arranged into a make-shift stage from which the three, along with student Laila Mouamar, denounced the administration and the judge for bowing to pressure from the BoG.
Mouamar, the first to speak, admonished the BoG for sinking so low in their stand against independent thought, freedom of speech, and their silencing of students.
Robinson followed, receiving periodic loud ovations from the crowd and at times was interrupted by chants of “Free, free Palestine!”
Robinson vowed to stick with the CSU all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada to challenge the ban, that he said contravenes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“They [the BoG] may have won the battle in court [today], but we will win the battle in the Supreme Court,” he said.
Davies attacked the BoG for representing the conservative views of the several business executives who sit on it.
“We will not allow our universities to become places where corporate agendas take over,” she said.
She praised the CSU for their efforts to tear down the moratorium and challenge the university at all costs.
Rebick, the loudest and most forceful of the three speakers, echoed Davies’ sentiment.
“We will not be silenced, corporations will not run our universities or intimidate us,” she said to loud applause.
The three also made reference to the possible war on Iraq, which they decried as an unjust war against a defenceless people.
“Canada will not be part of your war,” Robinson said in response to the United States’ desire to wage war on Iraq. “There has been too much suffering and pain and we ask our government to stand up and speak against the occupied territories,” he added in reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The crowd, made up primarily of students, were receptive to the speakers’ message.
“I wish these people were always here, because the university is throwing all their values out the window,” said Rob Green, a former CSU president.
Concerns of the rally turning violent went unfounded as the peaceful crowd dispersed without incident at around 3:30 p.m.