Wednesday, September 17, 2003

On the issue of whether outside parties have the right to depose leaders of certain groups (whether those leaders be elected or not), we can argue until we're all blue in our faces. The issue's not getting any clearer.

Last week, an incident at Concordia University bolstered this fact:

Arresting an activist

Concordia is not exactly the most activist-friendly environment. Yet a hotbed of activism it remains.

>by David Bernans
September 12, 2003

On the evening of September 10, a Concordia Student Union Councillor was arrested for attending a meeting of the governing body students elected him to: the CSU Council of Representatives. Apparently,Yves Engler, the long-time student activist (and regular
rabble contributor), was trespassing on the property of Concordia University.

Engler had been suspended from the University for the summer term, but he had received a letter from Rector Frederick Lowy earlier in the day informing him that his suspension had been extended into the fall. When Engler and other Councillors told Concordia Security that he had every right to be in the meeting and he refused to leave the premises, the Montreal Police were called in. Engler was cuffed, forcibly removed by eight officers and put into a police vehicle, only to be released a block away from the Montreal downtown campus.

Carolyn Zwicky-Perez, Chair of the Canadian Federation of Students' Quebec component called the arrest, "a bit draconian. The University had an elected official removed from the meeting he was elected to attend." She also noted that Engler's removal from the meeting may have significantly tipped the balance of votes on Council in favour of the "right wing" bloc of student representatives.

Concordia's campus remains highly politicized one year after the confrontations between anti-Netanyahu protestors and Montreal police that occurred on September 9, 2002. The University has hired the public relations firm Columbia Communications in an effort to shake the "Gaza U" label that has been blamed for a 15 per cent drop in private sector financing. The current CSU executive is also highly focussed on good public relations. The "Evolution not Revolution" slate that won the CSU Presidency and Executive offices on an explicitly non-activist platform last March is at odds with some left-wing members of Council such as Yves Engler.

Engler claims that his arrest is, in fact, part of the University's public relations strategy. "In recent days, Concordia has come under increased pressure to clamp down on activism at North America's most active campus". As evidence Engler points to recent editorials in the Israel Asper-owned
Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, and National Post berating Concordia administrators for their failure to discipline troublemakers. It was the Asper Foundation that sponsored former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's controversial visit to Concordia. Given overt pressure from Asper and important donors, Engler says his heavy-handed ejection from Council, "shouldn't come as a surprise."

More than four months after the Netanyahu fiasco and about an hour after giving a speech to Palestinian solidarity activists, non-student activist Jaggi Singh was arrested for allegations stemming from his participation in the September 9, 2002 anti-Netanyahu protest. While in police custody he was served with papers informing him that he had been banned from Concordia property for a period of five years.

Many students involved in Palestinian Solidarity activism on campus have been rushing to complete old academic assignments because of a sudden change in University grading policies earlier this month. The changes remove discretionary powers of faculty to issue "Incomplete" grades to their students, in effect changing "Incomplete" grades to "Failures". According to anonymous sources, certain Palestinian activists were specifically targeted for failure over the summer, "but when it looked like discrimination complaints might arise, they applied the policy across the board."

Although the University still refuses to hold a public inquiry into institutionalized racism on campus (as it was called upon to do by a General Assembly of the Concordia Student Union last March), the Quebec Human Rights Commission has found enough evidence to warrant an investigation into claims of anti-Arab racism against Chadi Serhal.

Serhal was a continuing education student at Concordia who was denied a hearing before being banned from campus. Although Serhal was enrolled for the fall term, he was denied a hearing because it was claimed that he did not possess student status at the time of the anti-Netanyahu protest. In contrast, fellow protestor Zev Tiefenbach was allowed a hearing despite the fact that he told the University disciplinary panel that he had not been registered for 18 months. Serhal's case is currently in the mediation stage. He is seeking $30,000 in damages.

This is not the first time Yves Engler has been arrested at the request of the University. On October 16, 2002, when Engler was VP Communications on the CSU Executive, he was arrested for distributing anti-FTAA literature in one of Concordia's busiest thoroughfares. His actions violated a ban on free speech imposed by Lowy in the wake of the Netanyahu debacle. Although police never pursued any charges against Engler he was later brought before a University disciplinary panel for his anti-FTAA activities as well as his alleged participation in the September 9 anti-Netanyahu confrontation. It was the latter charge that earned him his current suspension. It remains to be seen if the violation of the terms of his suspension will earn him yet another disciplinary hearing or whether the Rector will simply continue to use his discretionary powers to extend the period of Engler's ostracism indefinitely.

David Bernans is a Quebec-based activist. Although he is currently employed as the Researcher/Archivist of the Concordia Student Union, his views do not necessarily represent those of the CSU.

[Article via Rabble]

There's certainly a lot to think about there.

Canadian Parliamentarians also have a lot to think about today. On the agenda: a debate and vote on Bill C-250, the very bill that was the subject of my most recent letter to the editor and a subsequent blog. Keep your fingers crossed that they'll lay prejudices aside and do the right thing. That's what they're paid to do.

The Globe and Mail featured a brief look at Bill C-250 and its supporters.

The vote is expected to take place around 5:30 p.m. EST. You can expect to hear from me shortly thereafter.

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