Accusations start to fly

Tensions are mounting between the CSU advocacy centre and the office of rights and responsibilities weeks before the hearings of the 11 students charged under the university’s Code of Rights and Responsibilities. The students face suspension or expulsion for their role in the violent protests that stopped a speech by former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

“They’re denying students a fair hearing,” said CSU VP Academic and Advocacy Ralph Lee. Lee said the administration is responsible for numerous attempts to hinder his office’s ability to defend the students.

The hearings were originally set to happen in December during the Muslim holiday Ramadan. During the same time, students would also be studying for their final exams, but the administration has now delayed the hearings until January.

Lee said when the Advocacy Centre received numerous complaints from their clients, he called the office of rights and responsibilities and asked them to delay the hearings until after the exam period and Ramadan. Lee said the administration told him the hearings would take place in the week before exams started, and would therefore not interfere.

Regarding Ramadan, the administration informed Lee they had consulted a specialist, who told them that technically speaking, nothing in the Muslim scriptures forbade undergoing a hearing during Ramadan.

University general counsel Bram Freedman said the administration contacted an advisor they always consult in such cases, in addition to three embassies in the Middle East, who confirmed their courts were open.

Freedman added Lee’s allegations that the hearings would be unfair are completely false.

“This is a very fair process offered under the Code of Rights and Responsibilities, the full purpose of which is to provide the students with a fair hearing and ensure that they will be able to argue their side,” he said.

“This was a no-brainer, but this is the university. This is what I deal with on a daily basis,” Lee said. Rather than contact a Muslim representative for information, the university consulted a Hindu who had failed to consider that Muslim countries usually do not have trials during Ramadan, he added.

“The Muslim Chaplain of Montreal even phoned the university,” said Lee, “I don’t know what he said, but they [the Office of Rights and Responsibilities] ceded eventually.”

In a letter, Samer Elatrash – one of the eleven charged students – sent to The Concordian, he claimed to have “sought recourse to the wider community,” and said the university simply bowed to public pressure [to take action against those involved in the protests] and has no real regard for justice.

Elatrash claimed in the same letter that no Jewish students were being tried, despite evidence that some committed severe offenses. Lee confirmed there are no Jewish students and many Muslim students on the list of accused, though he cannot say how many out of respect for their wishes to remain anonymous.

Other perceived offenses by the office of rights and responsibilities have not been repealed. “It’s a kangaroo court,” said Lee, referring to the hearing panel that will judge the 11 students. “The system is totally set up against us,” Lee said. The panel is selected by the Secretary of the Code of Rights and Responsibilities, Danielle Tessier.

Students from the tribunal pool, from which the hearing panel of three students is selected, received letters from the office of rights and responsibilities asking what their stance was on Middle East issues. Lee said many called the Advocacy Centre to complain that if they did not reply, or held pro-Palestinian views, they were not accepted.

Tessier declined comment on the situation, except to say that it is a “confidential process for students” and their right to privacy must be respected.

Lee added the university is withholding evidence that the students and those advocating on their behalf are legally entitled to see before the hearings.

Lee wrote a letter to The Concordian weeks ago, demanding the university hand over all video footage from Sept. 9, which the administration is using as evidence.

The Office of Rights and Responsibilities handed over a montage that they intend to show during the hearings, while Lee said all involved are entitled to see all the footage used to make it before the hearings start.

Lee said the worst thing he saw students doing on the tape he received was standing on an escalator, but that it might still be hard to get a positive result for the students.

“You need to be like [O.J. Simpson attorney] Johnny Cochrane to win those trials,” said Lee. “We’re going to do our best to win, but a lot of evidence hasn’t been given to us yet.”

He added if students care about justice, they should put pressure on the university to be fair.

“Whatever opinion people have about Sept. 9, what we can all agree on is that people deserve a defense, a fair one.”

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