Tristin Hopper, National Post
In what B’nai Brith called a “precedent setting move,” the University of Manitoba Students Union voted Thursday to strip the group Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) of official club status.
The motion bars SAIA from receiving student union funding or using activity space in student-union controlled buildings.
The motion was adopted despite an opinion by the student union’s lawyer, who argued that it could leave the union open to litigation.
“However, council disagreed with the advice provided by our legal counsel and voted by 19 to 15 to support the resolution,” said Bilan Arte, president of the students union.
SAIA, a group with campus branches across Canada, annually organizes Israeli Apartheid Week, a weeklong series of events calling for economic, diplomatic and even academic sanctions against the Jewish state.
The two-page resolution justified the delisting of SAIA under the terms of the Manitoba Human Rights Code, claiming that the group was guilty of “discrimination” and “harassment.”
The document also claimed that certain student union members “being Zionists, experience fear for their safety during ‘Israeli Apartheid Week.’”
The student union’s legal opinion countered that “the actions of SAIA were well within the grounds of legally protected and acceptable political discourse” and the motion could put the students union “at a significant risk of committing a breach of [their] legal obligations,” said Ms. Arte.
It added that, to be legally defensible, the motion would need to come with specific allegations against SAIA members.
Thus far, no other branch of SAIA has been stripped of club status by a student group. Indeed, Israeli Apartheid Week is annually endorsed by groups such as the York University student’s union.
Nevertheless, the measure has been leveled against anti-abortion groups in the past. In 2009, the group University of Calgary Campus Pro-Life was stripped of club status in a move that the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) complained was a violation of the group’s free speech rights.
JCCF’s 2012 report on the state of free speech on campus noted that there was pressure on the University of Manitoba to restrict Israeli Apartheid Week, but that the university had resisted cancellation or censorship efforts.
“For several years, pressure from Jewish groups including B’nai Brith has been put on the University to ban … ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ (IAW), but the University has refused demands to cancel or censor this annual event,” wrote the report, adding that the university’s president even went so far as to provide security at IAW events to ensure that they ran smoothly.
On Friday, in a statement titled “first victory in Canada,” B’nai Brith applauded the motion as win for the democratic process.
“What started as a week of events of harassment and discrimination has turned into events throughout the year that have created poisoned environments for pro-Israel and democracy loving students,” said B’nai Brith CEO Frank Dimant.