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CUPE to host BDS event with speaker linked to terrorism

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CUPE Local 3902 members picket in 2015. (OFL Communications Department/CC BY 2.0)

An event that was scheduled to take place at the University of Toronto on Sept. 10 that included a speaker who was ordered deported from Canada for his ties to a terrorist organization was moved to a different location “to avoid further obstructions,” according to the Graduate Students’ Union’s BDS committee.

The talk will instead take place at the office of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3902, which is the body that represents contract academic staff at U of T, at 6:30 p.m. The speaker in question, Issam Al Yamani, was ordered deported from Canada in 2005 for his ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, although the order has yet to be carried out.

The description for the event, which is called “Worker Solidarity, Israeli Economic Apartheid & the Struggle for Justice in Palestine,” says Al Yamani is a “Palestinian activist/trade unionist on the Palestinian workers’ movement.”

A 2018 Global News investigation noted that “a 2014 Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) report alleged (Al Yamani) was a ‘danger to the security of Canada’ who formerly led a terrorist cell that conducted a bombing,” and that the CBSA believed a speech of his from 2014 was intended to incite violence.

Issam Al Yamani in 2014. (YouTube Screenshot)

“We reject the unsubstantiated claims of terrorism against our esteemed panelist, Mr. Issam Al Yamani,” representatives of the U of T chapter of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) – which sponsored the event, along with Students Against Israeli Apartheid, Divest UofT and CUPE 3902 Racialised Workers’ Caucus – wrote in an email to The CJN.

“The truth remains that Issam has never been charged or convicted of breaking the law, and twice the Federal Court found the government could not prove their claims against him. Issam Al Yamani is being unjustly and unfairly penalized for exercising pro-Palestinian views at a 2014 rally that any Canadian would be legally allowed to express.…

“It is Issam’s right to the freedom of expression that appears to be the reason for his deportation. Baseless accusations of terrorism are routinely used to criminalize Palestinian, Arab and Muslim people and their anti-imperialist resistance.”

Yet Noah Shack of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs argued that, “It is shocking that CUPE Local 3902 would host an event featuring someone facing deportation for his involvement in terrorism. If the speaker had been a white supremacist or a homophobe, Local 3902 would not have given him a platform. Why are Jews fair game?”

According to a Sept. 9 press release from the organizers of the event, as recently as a day before the event, they planned for it to take place at the Charbonnel Lounge at the University of St. Michael’s College, which is part of U of T. But Laurie Morris, St. Michael’s director of communications, said the event was never officially booked in that space.

St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto. (Sikander Iqbal/CC BY-SA 4.0)

“We got a request late last week. We asked for more information and they weren’t forthcoming. Nothing was confirmed, and a contract was never signed,” she wrote in an email to The CJN. Morris did not specify whether the organizers of the event provided additional information once it was requested.

Ilan Orzy, director of advocacy and issues management for Hillel Ontario, reached out to the school’s administration when he first found out about the event over the Labour Day weekend.

“Late last night, we were informed that the event in question will no longer be held on campus,” he said in an email to The CJN on Sept. 10. “This happened after many conversations between Hillel and the U of T administration, where we expressed our deep concerns. We thank the administration for taking our concerns seriously and acting appropriately. Those who support terrorism here and abroad have no place on campus.”

Elizabeth Church, the director of stakeholder relations at U of T, confirmed that the event was not taking place on either the U of T or St. Michael’s campus.

“The groups hosting this event are autonomous organizations and act independently from the University of Toronto in their day-to-day operations. All such autonomous organizations express their own views, not the views of the university,” Church told The CJN.

U of T did not respond to questions about whether the event would have been permitted to proceed with Al Yamani on the lineup.

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