University targets Palestine solidarity activists

By Brad Langerud  

Palestine solidarity activists in Nanaimo are at the center of what is another case of targeted harassment at a Canadian university.

The incident occurred on March 7 at the library at Vancouver Island University (VIU) where a crowd of around 25 people had gathered for a meeting. Four members of the VIU Muslim Women Club (MWC) – a student organization whose members organize and lead Palestine solidarity marches and rallies in Nanaimo – were studying nearby when they were approached by a member of the VIU staff. The staff member told the women he needed to search a shopping bag they had with them and proceeded to look inside without their consent.

“He said there was a concern reported with the bag and there was a crowd of people. He then walked away,” said the MWC, whose members later approached the staff member and requested to speak to him in the presence of the security manager. They asked on what basis he had the right to search their property, and requested a written explanation including who had reported the concern.

The staff member refused to answer their questions, and instead moved the conversation to a private location where he told them that their request for a written explanation could not be fulfilled immediately as the head of human resources was on leave.

The MWC says the university casually dismissed the issue as an employee-student conflict, not a violation of the students’ right to privacy, and let it fester for days before compelling the club to make a public statement. In its statement, MWC explains how the university has ignored requests from Palestine solidarity activists to take preventative measures to protect them from violence and harassment. Videos of their interaction with the staff member have been made available on social media and emailed to supporters.

These transgressions by VIU staff are an example of similar efforts across Canada to stifle dissent and silence the outrage at the atrocities committed by the Israeli government since October 7. Last month, BC NDP MLA Selina Robinson was forced to step down as Minister of Post-Secondary Education after she made racist comments about Palestine, describing the territory as “a crappy piece of land with nothing on it” before the state of Israel was established.

This isn’t the only time Robinson’s actions have been called into question. In January she intervened to pressure Langara College in Vancouver into terminating English instructor Natalie Knight, who had recently been suspended over comments in support of Gaza which she had made outside of working hours. In a statement issued on February 5, the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC (FPSE) called Robinson’s actions an abuse of power.

Langara College denies that the Minister had anything to do with Knight’s termination, but the FPSE countered this by saying:

“By Ms. Robinson’s own admission, she met with Langara College leadership to raise concerns about our member. We are also aware that the Ministry was in possession of sensitive information from our member’s personnel file, namely the fact that she had been issued a letter of expectation. Furthermore, the Ministry seemed to have advance knowledge of the rationale for the termination the day before it occurred. The details to which the Ministry was privy could have come only from Langara College.”

These continuing civil rights violations and abuses of power in universities and workplaces are evidence of a widespread campaign to demonize and silence voices in solidarity with Palestine and to signal support for the apartheid state of Israel.

Coverage of Robinson’s resignation by the Canadian media made sure to offset her blunder with a report of alleged vandalism of her constituency office and a statement from BC Premier David Eby labeling this incident as hate speech. No proof of vandalism has been provided except a fleeting video of the scene, in which the claimed “spray painted graffiti” looks more like sidewalk chalk. The most “extreme” message in the video reads “Free Palestine.”

VIU’s actions are part of a wider current in Canadian institutions of denigrating the right of peaceful protest, specifically those taking to the streets and public spaces calling for a permanent ceasefire and an end to Israeli aggression. These transgressions are a snapshot of Zionist influence and propaganda in the West and are a shameful display of Canadian complicity in the massacre that has claimed the lives of over 30,000 Palestinians since October.

[Photo of MWC protest at VIU: CHLY]

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