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3 Montreal MPs sign letter to Canadian university presidents calling to protect Jewish students


Five federal politicians, including three from Montreal, have sent a letter to the presidents of every major Canadian university asking them to better protect Jewish students against harassment amid protests and demonstrations related to the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.

The letter, from Montreal MPs Anthony Housefather, former justice minister David Lametti and Anna Gainey, as well as former public safety minister Marco Medicino (Ontario) and Ben Carr (Winnipeg), says American university presidents from Harvard, MIT and the University of Pennsylvania "embarrassed themselves and their institutions" by not being able to call out acts on their campuses as antisemitic.

The United States Congress questioned the presidents on the topic of antisemitism and whether calls for the genocide of Jews violated school conduct policies.

In some instances, the presidents were unable to say whether calling for genocide violated school policies.

Former University of Pennsylvania president Liz Magill resigned amid controversy following her testimony.

She said to call such acts antisemitic would be "context-dependent," adding the next day that such language would be considered harassment or intimidation.

The five Canadian MPs say they want universities north of the border to answer similar questions.

"We do not believe that any context is necessary to confirm that the call to eradicate an identifiable group constitutes harassment, intimidation and incites hatred, and merits the strongest disciplinary measures available to a university," the letter reads.

The letter calls on the Canadian university presidents, including the six major institutions in Quebec (McGill University, Concordia University, Université de Montréal, Université de Sherbrooke, Université de Québec à Montréal, Université Laval), to answer five questions:

  1. Is a call for genocide against the Jewish people, or the elimination of the State of Israel, a violation of your university’s code of conduct?
  2. What additional steps have you taken to protect Jewish students on your campus since Oct. 7?
  3. Will you commit to reviewing your existing code of conduct to ensure proper policies are in place to deal with antisemitism on campus?
  4. Will you commit to ensuring that student associations, school newspapers and groups recognized by the university have proper measures in place to prevent them from becoming hostile environments for Jewish students?
  5. Will you be taking steps to also ensure that your Jewish faculty members and staff feel safe on campus?

The MPs are asking that the presidents answer the questions by Jan. 20 and note what steps are being taken to protect Jewish students.

Focusing on one form of hate, Housefather told CTV News, does not mean he doesn't care about other forms of discrimination.

"Antisemitism and Islamophobia are two distinct horrible types of hate, but they're as different as anti-Black racism and anti-gay sentiments," he said. "There's no reason to lump the two together constantly. They're both bad. They're both wrong. And they both need to be tackled from the appropriate perspective."

The five MPs in question broke ranks with the official Liberal Party line and and said they disagreed with Canada's UN vote for a Gaza ceasefire.

"In my view, any cessation of hostilities requires Hamas to release all hostages and lay down arms and surrender," Housefather wrote on X. "Hamas, a terrorist organization is entirely responsible for starting a war. I disagree with our vote at the UN today."

The letter on Thursday claims that Jewish students across Canada feel unsafe on their campuses and that it "has been accompanied by a lack of action by university leadership to protect Jewish students."

"We have heard from students who say they are being harassed by fellow students, are being subjected to hostile environments in some classrooms and are being forced to walk through protesters on campus who are calling for the elimination of the world's only majority Jewish state," the letter reads.

Housefather added that he has been targeted directly for his views and he is calling on Canadians to work and live together, regardless of their views on the Middle East conflict.

"Whatever our perspective is on the Middle East, it shouldn't be allowed to divide us here in Canada, it shouldn't be something that we allow to ferment hate between different groups in Canada," he said. "My Muslim colleagues and I may have very different perspectives on the events in the Middle East, but we still had a Christmas dinner together last week... We can't let friendships and neighbours be torn apart in Canada because people feel so passionately about the Middle East... My office in Montreal was vandalized two days ago, calling me a Zionist baby killer or whatever. That's just disgusting. And it is antisemitic, it is absolutely antisemitic, and, people need to look at the way they're responding to things, and stop using the events in the Middle East as a pretext for hate here in Canada."

-- With files from The Canadian Press. Top Stories

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