Two protests and a letter campaign followed an early February decision by Carleton University’s Equity Services to ban a poster depicting an Israeli aircraft firing a missile at a Palestinian child holding a teddy bear.
The Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) Carleton chapter – who circulated their organization’s poster to promote Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) – were not informed of the ban until they realized all 100 copies had been taken down, according to Jessica Carpinone, a member of SAIA Carleton and the student who dealt with the administration on the issue.
SAIA quickly emailed Equity Services, demanding an explanation for the ban. Equity Services emailed an official statement, claiming that the poster infringed on Ontario’s Human Rights Code and Carleton’s Human Rights policies. The email also suggested that the posters could incite violence and fear on Carleton’s campus.
“Equity Services made their decision about the International IAW posters without giving SAIA any opportunity to discuss the event it was sponsoring or defend the graphic it depicted,” Carpinone said.
The SAIA later organised a protest, pressuring the administration to lift the ban and challenging their decision.
“We took it upon ourselves to tell students what the administration was up to,” Carpinone said.
About 80 Carleton students protested outside the administration offices, shouting, “Shame on you, lift the ban, stop campus repression.” About 40 others protested at Ottawa University, where the same poster was banned.
On February 12, Carleton’s Interim Provost and Vice-President Feridun Hamdullahpur sent a letter to the university’s community stating that the poster was “received by many as hurtful and discriminatory to some students on campus.” He hoped campus would “remain an entirely respectful one.”
Carpinone felt the letter was threatening since it also stated that students who infringe on Carleton’s Human Rights Policy face expulsion.
“[SAIA isn’t] creating the climate of fear,” Carpinone stated, “If people are offended by the truth, they should be doing something to change the truth.”
Following SAIA’s call for “letters of support,” 200 statements from the Carleton community landed in the Equity Services Office. The university’s president, Roseann O’Reilly Runte, issued a response following the barrage of letters, reiterating that the poster “did not have the necessary approval for posting and could incite infringements of the Ontario Human Rights Code.”
Runte felt the posters did not contain specific enough information on events planned at Carleton – a statement contested by the SAIA – and stressed that they were not banning IAW events. She suggested the SAIA submit alternative posters for approval – as long as they met the Carleton Human Rights Code
The ban had both positive and negative effects on the SAIA Carleton chapter, according to Carpinone, who said that while the conflict drew attention to IAW, it also forced the organization to redirect its efforts away from planning the week’s events.