A Jewish advocacy group has called on the University of British Columbia to prevent a controversial figure from speaking at a conference devoted to Palestinian issues, saying Leila Khaled's past should preclude her from having any public platform in Canada.
Ms. Khaled, known for her role in hijackings in 1969 and 1970, is scheduled to speak – via Skype – on May 4 at a conference to be held on the UBC campus from Friday through Sunday.
According to B'nai Brith, Ms. Khaled is a terrorist whose views should not be aired in Canada, especially at a time of heightened concern about young people being wooed to radical groups and causes.
"From our perspective at B'nai Brith, we believe this has nothing to do with free speech," B'nai Brith spokesman Michael Mostyn said on Tuesday. "At a time when we've just seen a terrorist tragedy in Boston, and arrests here in Canada due to a bombing plot … which has all been speculated to be a product of homegrown radicalization – why would we [allow] a public institution in Canada to bring in a convicted terrorist to speak to students?"
UBC, for its part, points out that while the conference is being held on campus, it has been organized by a student group and is not affiliated with the university – and that free expression is a core tenet at the school.
"A university is an open community and there are all sorts of groups that think, believe and state their opinions differently," UBC public affairs director Lucie McNeill said. "You expect different schools of thought to contend on a campus."
The university expects events on campus to be managed in a way that prevents any group or person from being targeted or threatened, Ms. McNeill added.
The conference – called Liberation and Return: Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North America – is hosted by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, a club affiliated with the Alma Mater Society of UBC.
Omar Shaban, an SPHR director who helped organize the event, said Ms. Khaled had been listed on the conference website for about a month. "When we host a speaker, we keep in mind that that speaker might be offensive to certain people and we try to recognize that concern," he said, adding that previous events have been held without incident.
Earlier this month, in a decision praised by B'nai Brith, the University of Manitoba Students' Union went against legal advice and stripped Students Against Israel Apartheid of its status as a student club.
Other Canadian student groups, including York University's undergraduate association, the York Federation of Students, have backed a "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions" campaign against Israel.