'Exclusive' event blocked at U of T
By Laura Katsirdakis
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 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
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
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
“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
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.