48 Statement on events organized by Arab Students Collective

PDAD&C#48  2004-2005


To: Principals, Deans, Academic Directors & Chairs
From: David Farrar, Deputy Provost and Vice-Provost, Students
Date: January 19, 2005
Re: Statement on events organized by Arab Students’ Collective


Concerns have been raised by some members of the community about an upcoming series of events to be held on campus by the Arab Students’ Collective under the title Israeli Apartheid Week. Those opposed to the content of these events have urged the University to force the Arab Students’ Collective to cancel its activities. We will not. To do so would violate the University’s fundamental commitment to freedom of speech.

The Arab Students' Collective is an independent campus group, recognized in compliance with the university’s Policy on the Recognition of Campus Groups, which provides a general framework for the recognition of informal campus organizations. Specifically, the policy provides that:

“In its relation with these organizations, the University is guided by a commitment to the right of University members to communicate and to discuss and explore all ideas, to organize groups for any lawful purpose, to distribute on campus, in a reasonable way, published material provided that it is not unlawful, to hold meetings, to debate and to engage in peaceful demonstrations, and to freedom from discrimination on the basis of sex, race or religion.

“Under the terms of this policy the University will not attempt to censor, control or interfere with any group on the basis of its philosophy, beliefs, interests or opinions expressed unless and until these lead to activities which are illegal or which infringe the rights and freedoms already mentioned. By the same token, recognition as a ‘campus group’ by the University implies neither endorsement of a particular group’s beliefs or philosophy, nor the assumption of legal liability for the group’s activities.”

The very fact that the Arab Students’ Collective and other campus groups exist speaks to a central value of the University of Toronto. As an academic community, we have a fundamental commitment to the principles of freedom of inquiry, freedom of speech and freedom of association. In this context, campus groups avail themselves of campus facilities for activities.

As the University’s Statement on Freedom of Speech provides:

“…the essential purpose of the University is to engage in the pursuit of truth, the advancement of learning and the dissemination of knowledge. To achieve this purpose, all members of the University must have as a prerequisite freedom of speech and expression, which means the right to examine, question, investigate, speculate, and comment on any issue without reference to prescribed doctrine, as well as the right to criticize the University and society at large…The existence of an institution where unorthodox ideas, alternative modes of thinking and living, and radical prescriptions for social ills can be debated contributes immensely to social and political change and the advancement of human rights both inside and outside the University.

“Often this debate may generate controversy and disputes among members of the University and the wider community. In such cases, the University’s primary obligation is to protect the free speech of all involved. The University must allow the fullest range of debate. It should not limit that debate by preordaining conclusions, or punishing or inhibiting the reasonable exercise of free speech.”

With respect to the events planned by the Arab Students’ Collective, the University has no reason to believe that the activities will exceed the boundaries for free speech as articulated in the Statement on Freedom of Speech. The U of T upholds the fundamental principles of open dialogue and tolerance within its community. The ability to question, examine and comment on issues of the day, even when such commentary may be repugnant to some, is central to the mission of the University. Having said that, all University activity is subject to the laws of Canada, and behaviour or speech that constitutes hatred or incitement to hatred against any group will be dealt with quickly and appropriately.

By participating in a wide range of activities and discussions during their time here, students and other members of our community learn to navigate the intellectual, political, social and cultural diversity that characterizes vibrant university life. Vigorous debate, especially concerning human rights and other global issues, provides an opportunity to seek solutions without violence. We must protect that opportunity, for the University and for the larger community.

In addition to controversy over the content of the events planned by the Arab Students’ Collective, there has also been a misconception that the events are sponsored by the Institute for Women’s Studies and Gender Studies (IWSGS). In fact, the institute is not a sponsor but circulated information about the events on its public listserv, which regularly relays notices of public events on campus or elsewhere in the community. The university concurs with a statement released by the institute’s director, Shahrzad Mojab, which notes that the fact that public event information is relayed to subscribers via this listserv does not constitute sponsorship or endorsement of the events.

Further, the fact that the University creates an environment where a recognized student group can express a view on a controversial subject does not mean that the University itself has expressed any view whatsoever.