Shouting matches and security challenges greeted a March 22 speech at Toronto’s Ryerson University by conservative pundit Ezra Levant.
The venue for Levant’s talk on conservative politics, Israel, anti-Semitism, campus politics and free speech was moved late in the day from the George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre to a room in the Mattamy Athletic Centre because of “security concerns,” the Ryersonian campus newspaper reported.
Videos posted to Facebook and YouTube show students disrupting Levant’s talk with chants of “no Islamophobia, no white supremacy.”
Levant, founder of Rebel Media, is then shown leaving the podium and confronting the students, yelling “Don’t shout down the Jews.”
Levant and a phalanx of supporters, walked toward the door to the room as he shouted at the demonstrators, who set off alarms and blew whistles in an attempt to drown him out.
One shouted, “You’re a Nazi bastard.”
Levant, in turn, reportedly called the 50 or so protesters “paid anti-Semites” and “professional brown-shirts.”
As well, the president of CESAR, the union for continuing education students, issued a letter to Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi expressing the group’s disappointment in “giving space to a known bigot, Ezra Levant,” the Ryersonian reported.
No one from CESAR returned The CJN’s calls.
In his talk, Levant asked why the liberal press and Jews in the Liberal party aren’t calling out mosques preaching hate against Jews, face-obscuring veils and Sharia law, the Toronto Sun reported.
“I’m not saying this not just as a Jew but someone who loves the west and loves freedom,” Levant was quoted as saying.
One of the announced hosts of the event, Students Supporting Israel, backed out at the last minute, citing threats it had received.
The threats involved “safety issues” and came from students who do not attend Ryerson, SSI president Rebecca Katzman told The CJN the day after the event.
“We pulled out because it wasn’t worth it. We don’t want to harm any individuals,” she said.
In a Facebook post, the group said: “Originally, we signed on to the event on the grounds that it was a talk about Israel. Due to various reasons, and specifically numerous security threats and personally threatening attacks [directed against] many of our executives and members, SSI decided to pull out of the event.
“SSI respects everybody’s safety, and right to express their views. SSI is not politically affiliated with any party, as we brings in various speakers from all sides of the political spectrum, and stand up for freedom of expression and free speech.
“We understand the concern of such an event, and that is why SSI officially pulled out from co-hosting.
“We have full and utmost respect for our friends at Ryerson Campus Conservatives, however we decided we could not be affiliated with this event.”
The group Ryerson Campus Conservatives was left as the only sponsor of the talk.
Robert Walker, national director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada, told The CJN he finds it “certainly distressing to see how free speech is under attack on our university campuses.
“The institutions that are supposed to uphold the standards of freedom of expression are often the very places where this freedom find itself most limited. Moving forward, I hope to observe a greater level of respect and tolerance for differing views so that we can advance the discourse on these crucial topics,” Walker added.
In an email to The CJN, Levant called the demonstrators “fascists” who “didn’t even bother to ask me a question – like two Muslim activists did. They didn’t even heckle me substantively (my speech had quite a few controversial moments, where a heckle would have been on-point and perhaps effective). They just stood up like zombies, trying to shut down the event.”