November 25, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 48  

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NEWS

'Exclusive' event blocked at U of T

By Laura Katsirdakis
Gazette Staff

How far is too far when it comes to freedom of speech? How free should groups be able to express their beliefs? These questions become more complicated when the issue occurs at a university.

“A recognized student club, Al-Awda, requested the use of a room on campus to hold a public conference Nov. 22 and 23 — it came to the University [of Toronto’s] attention that, in order to attend the conference, all participants were required to agree to a Basis of Unity,” said Susan Bloch-Nevitte, director of public affairs at U of T.

The Basis of Unity, according to a statement issued by U of T administration, read as follows:

1. We support the Palestinian right of return. It is non-negotiable.

2. A two state solution is not a viable option for the Palestinian people.

3. Israel is a racist apartheid state.

4. Our activism is imbued with an anti-colonial feminist practice.

5. We support the right of the Palestinian people to resist Israeli and
colonialism by any means of their choosing. [sic]

6. Actions that we organize at this conference will be developed under the framework of respecting a diversity of tactics.

The university’s administration became aware of this through e-mails sent expressing concern, Bloch-Nevitte explained. An ultimatum was then issued to Al-Awda on Friday Nov. 21.

“The University was prepared to continue Al-Awda’s booking of space if the group agreed to remove the requirement for participants to sign the Basis of Unity — if the group had been willing to allow freedom of expression consistent with the University’s Statement of Freedom of Speech,” U of T’s statement read.

“People are entitled to have their own views — we do have a problem when people tell others what to think [as a prerequisite for participating in something],” Bloch-Nevitte said.

“This is a very serious infringement on the rights of students at U of T — they are trying to stamp out all efforts of Palestinian groups on campus to organize,” said Hussam Ayyad, president of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights at Western. “Al-Awda means the right of return; the group is based on the idea of the Palestinian right of return.”

Ayyad denied that participants were required to agree to the Basis of Unity to participate in the conference, citing contact from Al-Awda as evidence. “Let’s assume [for the sake of argument] that this was true — nevertheless, it is still their right to practice what they believe in.”

Al-Awda could not be reached for comment.

“[At Western,] clubs cannot be exclusionary to any one regardless of faith or culture — any events need to be in line with the club’s mandate as stated by their own constitution,” explained Adrienne Kennedy, VP-campus issues for Western’s University Students’ Council.

“[Western also] has a programming review committee that audits clubs to ensure that their programming falls in line with their mandate,” said Matt Huether, USC VP-student affairs, adding the incident would likely have been handled similarly had it occurred at Western.

 

 

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