Bryan Oliver, Communications officer – Communications and Marketing of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, confirmed by email and phone conversation (May 25, 2017) that “the university is investigating an incident that occurred at this year’s event on March 9 ” and that the “investigation is ongoing.”
Oliver noted that the students who were involved in the incident have not been yet identified. He added that “the university posted a statement on its website on March 13 reaffirming its values.” The statement reads among other things the following:
We embrace honesty, inclusivity, and equity in all that we do. We bring our best selves to campus and abroad. Our actions represent our community. Therefore, we authentically engage and strive to inspire others to do so because together we are the face of UOIT…
Because we are a respectful community we engage in constructive and civil dialogue, dissent and discourse. We support freedom of speech and we encourage an inclusive, diverse and safe environment on campus. And, above all, we support an environment in which any topic, issue, or idea can be discussed and expressed openly, free from fear, bullying or other intimidation.
Our commitment to work and study in keeping with our values is a cornerstone to the promotion and protection of our academic freedom, to the free exchange of ideas on all campuses and to the celebration of diversity in its many forms.
On March 13, 2017, B’nai Brith Canada reported that “students attending a multicultural festival at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) in Oshawa covered up an Israeli flag with its Algerian counterpart in order to eliminate any Israeli presence at a school-sponsored event.”
Referring to allegations made by B’nai Brith Canada and quoted by CIJnews, local chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) denied any involvement in this incident in campus and online. In an official statement, SJP also wrote the following: “UOIT administration is carrying out an ongoing witch-hunt in which members of the Arab Students’ Association (ASA) and SJP have been individually summoned in order to identify students who have allegedly breached UOIT’s Student Conduct Policy by participating in the flag action.”
Hammam Farah, a prominent activist with anti-Zionist/ anti-Israel/ pro-Palestinian students organizations including SJP @ UOIT, said in an interview (May 24, 2017) that “Most recently at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology students that were, right now they are undergoing disciplinary process for their activism for Palestine.”
SJP @ UOIT’s statement (March 22, 2017)
We would like to express our deepest concern regarding the events that unfolded on Thursday, March 9 at the Mother Language Festival at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), which have resulted in a variety of racially-motivated attacks on Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), our affiliates, and on individual students.
We emphasize that the act of covering the Israeli flag as a show of political protest at the colonial nature of the Israeli state and its ongoing takeover of Palestinian land and the denial of the right of return for Palestinian refugees is a legitimate exercise of expressive freedom.
We condemn the defamatory and libellous accusations by Israeli-extremist student groups and right-wing media outlets. Once again B’nai Brith Canada, CIJ news, and the Toronto Sun are screaming false accusations of anti-Semitism and spreading defamatory statements about SJP, thereby promoting an environment of fear and hostility on our UOIT campus.
But by far the most disturbing aspect of this particular outbreak of right-wing extremist absurdity has been the conduct of the UOIT administration. Rather than protecting and defending its students’ rights, the UOIT administration is carrying out an ongoing witch-hunt in which members of the Arab Students’ Association (ASA) and SJP have been individually summoned in order to identify students who have allegedly breached UOIT’s Student Conduct Policy by participating in the flag action.
This distressful pursuit has left ASA and SJP members subjects of racism and intimidation by the UOIT administration’s scare tactics, racial profiling, and abuse of power. Such measures taken by the institution are simply another example of the ignorance and intolerance that are often experienced by marginalized student groups in our community, and make the administration complicit in fostering discrimination and hostility on campus.
As a response to the false allegations made against us we would like to clarify that SJP was not a participating club at the International Mother Language Festival at UOIT and that we had no part in the events that unfolded. Any discriminatory comments that were posted on Facebook were not made by members of SJP and are not a representation of our views. SJP is equally opposed to all forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism.
We reiterate our position that Israel is a settler-colonial state that is responsible for the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories and the displacement of more than eight million Palestinians who continue to live in exile, four million of them registered as refugees with the UN.
Israeli state policy is rooted in an ongoing effort to confiscate Palestinian land and to erase the history, culture, and existence of the Palestinian people.
Until Israel is held accountable for its human rights violations, and until freedom, justice, and equality are achieved in Israel/Palestine, the Israeli flag will continue to represent the loss of the Palestinian homeland, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, and the ongoing denial of Palestinian rights. This is a colonial issue, and therefore criticism of a colonial flag by victims of its state’s ongoing colonization is simply a practice of the right to freedom of speech and expression.
We call on the UOIT administration and President Tim Mctiernan to respect and protect our freedom of speech and expression on campus. We demand that UOIT condemn the vicious media attacks we have been subjected to. We demand in the strongest terms that UOIT ceases its ongoing witch hunt against students; we will not tolerate racial profiling and discriminatory investigative processes. And we are disturbed and embarrassed by the administration’s capitulation to far-right extremist groups.
We also urge the UOIT administration to challenge the ongoing exclusion and discrimination that have been directed towards Palestine-solidarity activists on campus.