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National Post judges freedom of expression at McGill

Students booted by associate dean for silent protest

Peaceful pro-Israel protesters were expelled from the Law Building on March 17 by Associate Dean at McGill’s Faculty of Law David Lametti for silently campaigning against a photo exhibit meant to evoke sympathy for the violence faced by the Palestinians.

Following the demonstration, a distraught law student sent a letter to National Post commentator Jonathan Kay. The letter sparked claims of human rights violations at the University and a heated debate about the statements posted.

That a group of non-law students peacefully demonstrating in the atrium of the law building alongside a display hosted by the organizers of Palestinian Human Rights Week (PHRW) were kicked out of the building was troubling and a violation of freedom of expression, the letter stated.

“They did not attempt to obscure the visibility of these exhibits,” wrote the first letter writer. “Rather, by standing between them and holding their own posters, they were offering a visual rebuttal to the official faculty-approved message.”

Arieh Bloom, U3 Commerce, and President of Republicans Abroad at McGill, organized the counter demonstration, which was intended to present a balanced and alternative, yet peaceful perspective to the pro-Palestinian display.

“We were kicked out on [the] ground that the demonstration would prevent freedom of dialogue,” Bloom said. “That should have meant that we were doing something egregious and terribly unacceptable.”

Halfway through the planned two-hour demonstration Lametti requested that the 14 undergraduates leave on the basis that they were creating a hostile environment and were not law students, among other offences.

The first letter Kay posted describes one photo as depicting two dead Palestinian children killed in an Israeli Defense Forces operation, with excerpts from the Geneva Convention and short articles deploring the plight of Palestinians hung next to many of the photos.

The display was one of many campus events that contributed to an unbalanced treatment of Gaza, Bloom said. He said that there has been a failure in dialogue and that some groups – he cited those with both Arab and Jewish affiliations – were attacking Israel.

Bloom, who had consulted a lawyer before the counter demonstration, was certain that none of the signs he was showing were hateful. While he described the signs as teaching peace, love and toleration, some did portray violence.

One placard depicted a child dressed in green Hamas gear holding a machine gun. Beside the baby sat the slogan: “Teach love, peace, and toleration – not war.”

The idea, he stressed, was that passersby would see the pictures from both causes and be able to make an informed and balanced judgment.

“It would have taken away all legitimacy of our protest if we were trying to censor. We would have been hypocrites and it was totally against what we stand for,” Bloom said.

Bloom is now seeking amicable remedy with the dean on the account that their right to assemble was violated.

“I don’t think [Associate Dean Lametti] did what he did because of anti-Semitism. I think it was just poor judgment,” said Bloom. “What I most don’t understand is how does a law school – meant to be the paradigm of human rights – how do they not even respect the free rights of students who want to foster dialogue of human rights on campus?

“The contradiction of human rights is appalling.”

The associate dean and organizers of PHRW were unavailable for comment.