Noisy protesters pay a price for disrupting students

York University has temporarily suspended four student groups and fined them up to $1,000 each for disrupting classes during two separate political protests last month, wrote the Toronto Star March 6.

On Feb. 12, a protest and counter-protest between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups in Vari Hall was noisy enough – with drumming and amplified yelling – that students and faculty were unable to continue classes, said Richard Fisher, York’s chief marketing officer. “Considering students had been out for 12 weeks (during the labour strike), and some were writing midterm tests,” this kind of disruption was the last thing they needed, Fisher said.

Just one day later, a protest by Tamil students also interrupted classes.

Student groups at York must sign a contract agreeing they won’t “disrupt the academic activity of the University” and three of the groups were warned in advance not to do so.

“We haven’t done this for a year or two – it is unusual,” said Fisher of the sanctions. “If the temperature starts getting high, we turn to the codes and contracts we have with the clubs to try and regulate behaviour.”

The University is also investigating complaints against three individuals that fall under the Student Code of Conduct and take more time to investigate, Fisher said. Those complaints were lodged after a Feb. 11 incident in which protesters were alleged to have aimed anti-Israel and anti-Semitic slurs at a group of students after they left a press conference and sought refuge inside the student Hillel lounge.

“True confidence in the University will not return until strong action is taken against not only individuals who committed these ugly acts but also against organizations that contributed to the current climate of intimidation and harassment on campus,” said student Aaron Rosenberg of Hasbara at York, in a written release.

  • York University has penalized four student organizations for participating in disorderly rallies and also says it is investigating a series of purported hate crimes , wrote the National Post March 6.

The school said yesterday that the participants broke an agreement that they not disrupt classes in the vicinity of Vari Hall, a popular, all-purpose building where students can go to lectures, socialize or protest. “We understand that there will be protests from time to time but these clubs agreed not to disrupt classes,” said Rob Tiffin, vice-president students. “There were drums and bullhorns on both sides.”

Hasbara Fellowship, an Israeli advocacy group, was suspended for 30 days and fined $1,000, the maximum penalty for the infraction. The same penalties apply to Students Against Israeli Apartheid.

On account of its “secondary role”, Hillel@York – another Jewish group on campus – was fined $500, but was not suspended.

Hillel’s president, Daniel Ferman, disagreed with the penalty, saying that his group had never made an agreement with the administration, nor did it use amplification.

Ferman also insisted that York still refuses to acknowledge that safety has become an issue for Jewish students on its campus. “True confidence will not happen until the University recognizes the severity of events in recent weeks. This is only the first acknowledgement and we’re upset it took this long. It didn’t even say that Jewish students were targeted.”

In a recent speech, York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri made his most explicit statement on the controversies. “Intimidation, bullying and discrimination will not be tolerated here,” he told the University Senate on Feb. 26. “We are taking action to protect the rights and the safety of all students and staff.”

The York University Tamil Students’ Association was also penalized for a separate protest in Vari Hall, in which it accused Sri Lanka of committing genocide against the Tamil people. It was suspended for 15 days and fined $500.

Tiffin also said the school is investigating complaints from incidents that involve Jewish and pro-Palestinian groups. Tiffin suggested that outsiders may have been ratcheting recent tensions. “They’re not all students who show up to these events,” he said. “There might be legal options that make it inadvisable for them to come onto the campus.”

  • Universities are supposed to be bastions of free speech but Evan Babins found himself amidst increasing tensions on the York campus when he wore an Israeli Defence Forces T-shirt to class last month, wrote March 5.

The Thornhill resident was stunned last month, leaving his business course, when his teaching assistant ordered him never to wear the shirt in class again. “I couldn’t really talk, I was shocked,” Babins recalled. He made the allegations, in a letter written to the University’s Office of Student Conduct & Dispute Resolution. “How can someone tell me what to wear and not wear to school? Isn’t York University a place where free thought and freedom of speech are allowed?” Babins wrote.

After the incident he contacted Daniel Ferman, a fellow Westmount Collegiate Institute graduate and head of Hillel at York, the Jewish student union. They await a response from the school’s associate dean.

Babins is just one of many local Jewish students left feeling uncomfortable at York University due to anti-Israel sentiments on campus. Last week was “Israel Apartheid Week” on campuses across the world but York was relatively quiet with many students in exam mode.

While the Jewish students might feel singled out, Rob Tiffin, York’s vice-president students, reminded everyone there are multiple points of view. “Both sides would argue they’re concerned about the level of rhetoric and the style of the rhetoric,” Tiffin said.

  • Police are closing in on who placed a late-night hate-filled telephone call to a Thornhill university student last month, wrote the Thornhill Liberal March 5, citing comments by a York Regional Police hate crimes investigator.

Overnight on Feb. 4, the student, who identified himself to police as a person involved in pro-Israeli political social clubs at York University, received a phone call during which he and his family were threatened, Det. Brett Kemp said. He declined to speak about the specifics of what was said during the call, citing the integrity of the investigation. However, he did say the nature of the call was “clearly identifiable as hate” and the student is believed to have been the intended target.

“We have made significant progress in identifying who made the call,” Det. Kemp said. He added police are now in the process of confirming their information.

Innocence Project helped in overturning of Phillion case

Justice and redemption were the big themes yesterday after the Ontario Court of Appeal overturned his conviction for a 42-year-old murder, but Romeo Phillion was busy revelling in the practical implications, wrote the Toronto Star March 6. “I’m happy. I’m no longer a killer. So that’s good,” the diminutive 69-year-old told the Star.

In a 2-1 judgment, Justice Michael Moldaver said there was “overwhelming” evidence a police report that could have affected the verdict was not disclosed to Phillion’s lawyer at his trial, where he was convicted of the Aug. 9, 1967, murder of Leopold Roy in Ottawa.

The Innocence Project, a student initiative at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, and the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted later took up his case.

Universities use all the tricks in the book to lure students

Competition among campuses for the best and the brightest has long been fierce, but this year, as universities confront their grim financial forecasts, the job of attracting enough students to fill lecture halls in September is more critical than ever, wrote The Globe and Mail March 6.

Some schools, especially those in downtown Toronto, have more applicants than they have spaces, but for many outside the country’s largest cities, meeting enrolment targets is a constant concern.

Applications also are down sharply at York University, where a lengthy strike halted classes this year.

York prof’s husband wants to lead Ontario NDP

NDP leadership hopeful Peter Tabuns is the partner of Shawn Kerwin, theatre professor in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, noted  the Toronto Star  and its sister the Hamilton Spectator March 6 in a story about the campaign.

A fund manager who protested too much

Mark Bloom, who was arrested last week in New York for allegedly bilking clients of North Hills Fund, has been in the hedge fund business since 1992, when he joined W.G. Trading Co. There he worked with co-founders Stephen Walsh and Paul Greenwood, a former economics professor at York University (1972-1973), Ohio State University and UCLA. Walsh and Greenwood were also arrested last week in a separate case involving an alleged $553-million fraud at W.G. Trading Co.