Volume 96, Issue 14
Friday, September 20, 2002

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Banning of "free speech" at Concordia U?

By Emmett Macfarlane
Gazette Staff

Concordia University's Board of Governors have introduced a controversial "cooling-off" plan to deal with Israeli-Palestinian issues, effectively banning all public meetings, speeches and information distribution on its campus regarding the Middle East conflict.

The university made the move on Wednesday in response to the Sept. 9 riot which resulted in the cancellation of a scheduled appearance by Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister of Israel.

Concordia's administration outlined a number of penalties for students who contradict its new mandate, which include fines and possible expulsion.

Student groups at Concordia expressed anger over the decision. "We're obviously against any moratorium like this," said Concordia Students' Union VP-finance Sameer Zuberi.

"We had a public debate in conjunction with administration [following the riot]," Zuberi said, adding the Board's unilateral action on Wednesday included two other controversial motions. "The second motion was a motion banning [club] tables altogether," he said.

Chris Mota, co-ordinator of media relations at Concordia, confirmed that club tables will not be allowed in the lobby or mezzanine of the Concordia Hall Building. Club tables not related to the Israeli-Palestinian situation will be permitted in other areas, Mota added.

According to Zuberi, the Board's final motion bypassed normal procedures for university disciplinary action by granting the Rector extraordinary powers. "I really find it problematic that the power of expelling a student is in the hands of one individual," he said.

Any student facing sanctions for breaking the administration's imposed ban will be able to request a review, according to the resolution.

Basel Al-kan, president of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, the group who organized the Netanyahu protest, said the rules go against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. "We're going to fight for our rights," he said.

"They always talk about freedom of speech and now they [deny it]," Al-kan stated, adding even Jewish students had come to his table prior to its removal on Wednesday to say they were against the moratorium.

Zuberi said the CSU plans to make students aware of the situation and to mobilize them in support of free speech.

Mota denied the Board's decision goes against free speech. "It addresses it in a civil manner and appropriate locations," she said. The "cooling-off" period will be reviewed no later than Dec. 15, Mota added.

Peter Mercer, Western's VP-administration, said Concordia is in a difficult situation. "Any time the free exchange of information is chilled, it strikes at the core of university," he said.

"I believe that at Western we would be extremely vigilant to avoid what happened to Mr. Netanyahu, or to any speaker for that matter," Mercer said.

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2002 THE GAZETTE