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McGill University's campus on Nov. 14, 2017, in Montreal.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Undergraduate students at McGill University voted in favour of a “policy against genocide in Palestine” this week despite warnings from administrators that it could violate the agreement that allows the students’ society to collect funds from its members.

The policy, approved by a referendum but not yet formally adopted, calls on the university to condemn Israel’s bombing campaign on Gaza and break ties with any people or corporations connected to what it describes as genocide, ethnic cleansing, or apartheid against Palestinians.

It passed with 78-per-cent support on voter turnout of roughly 35 per cent.

However, a Quebec court issued an order Tuesday that will delay a final vote on the policy’s adoption until after a challenge brought by a Jewish student is heard in March. The policy can’t be formally adopted until it is passed by the board of directors of the students’ society.

In 2022, a referendum question on Palestine solidarity was also passed by a student vote but the board concluded it did not conform with the students’ society constitution, so did not adopt it.

The temporary order issued by the court does not address the merits of the case. The legal action was brought by a McGill student with the support of B’nai Brith. B’nai Brith has described the policy as discriminatory and referred to the situation for Jewish students on the McGill campus as “toxic.”

“We are happy to bring whatever pressure we can to bear on McGill to put an end to the unruly behaviour of its students’ society,” said Henry Topas, B’nai Brith regional director for Quebec.

The McGill administration said that the proposed policy “stands to further sharpen divisions in our community and render more vulnerable all students, including those who are Jewish, Muslim, and/or Arab, at a time when many are already distressed.”

The university said it believes the policy violates the students’ society’s own constitution, which requires that it facilitate interaction between students from all communities and act in the best interests of members as a whole. If it were to be adopted, the administration says, it would violate the memorandum of agreement between the university and the students’ society, the mechanism by which the student fees that fund the society’s activity are collected and disbursed.

The war in the Middle East continues to divide Canadian campuses, with many of the controversies focused on statements issued on social media.

Lawsuit accuses Concordia, student union of failing to address antisemitism on campus

Jim Turk, director of the Centre for Free Expression at Toronto Metropolitan University, said that discussion of the war is fraught in society and on campus. There is little room for nuance and students tend to be more willing to make blunt statements on hotly contested issues, he said.

“Society has the greatest difficulty in recognizing the importance of freedom of expression in the midst of conflict,” Prof. Turk said. “It’s certainly disconcerting, if not antithetical to the purpose of the university, to try to disallow political speech simply because you disagree with it.”

At the University of Ottawa, Yipeng Ge, a fourth-year resident in public health and preventative medicine, was suspended for social-media posts related to the war that were supportive of the Palestinian cause, according to a petition circulated at

In a statement, University of Ottawa spokesman Jesse Robichaud said the university received complaints about an alleged breach of professional standards by a medical resident. The matter has been referred to a committee on professionalism and the resident will continue to be paid as the process unfolds, Mr. Robichaud said.

The petition calling for Dr. Ge’s reinstatement, which states that his right to free expression has been violated, has more than 75,000 signatures. Dr. Ge said he would not comment at this time out of respect for the university’s process.

At the University of Alberta, the head of the sexual-assault centre lost her job after signing an open letter that called on Canadian politicians to demand a ceasefire and criticized NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh for repeating what it called “unverified” claims that Israeli victims had been sexually assaulted.

University of Alberta president Bill Flanagan said the use of the university sexual-assault centre’s name in signing the document was “unauthorized and improper.”

“The University of Alberta stands firmly and unequivocally against discrimination and hatred on the basis of religion, race, ethnicity, national origin, and other protected categories,” Mr. Flanagan said.

In an open letter to OCAD University this week, a group of Jewish students called on the administration to address what they called festering antisemitism. They cited the example of a poster with antisemitic images discovered at the school, a matter that has been referred to police.

And at the University of Toronto, more than 550 Jewish physicians in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine signed a letter saying they “watch with dismay the selective opprobrium targeting Israel by some of their colleagues.” The letter states that the physicians stand firm with Jewish faculty and students who “live in fear” in the Faculty of Medicine.

B’nai Brith has said that it has received reports from students in Montreal afraid for their safety and fearful to express support for Israel. It referred in particular to an incident at Concordia University earlier this month that resulted in an altercation between student groups. Three students were injured, the group said.

In the wake of that incident, Concordia president Graham Carr reiterated the university’s stand against antisemitism. In a note to campus, Dr. Carr said two people who are not students, faculty or staff at the university had been banned after the incidents. He called for a “cooling off period” to allow everyone to focus on academic success.

“There’s no perfect message that I, or anyone else, could deliver on this topic. That said, I’m confident we can agree that a line has been crossed in our city and on our campus, that there’s no place for hatred or violence in our midst, and that we must do our utmost to protect the sanctity of the university as a home for the collegial pursuit of knowledge and understanding,” Dr. Carr wrote.

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