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Faculty, staff and students at Toronto's York University walk out of class, on Nov. 28. Liberal MPs have written to the presidents of Canada’s largest universities, asking them to clarify if calling for the genocide of Jews or the elimination of Israel breaches their codes of conduct.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Five Liberal MPs have written to the presidents of Canada’s largest universities, asking them to clarify if calling for the genocide of Jews or the elimination of Israel breaches their codes of conduct and to spell out the steps they are taking to ensure that Jewish students and staff feel safe.

The letter was signed by former public safety minister Marco Mendicino, ex-justice minister David Lametti, Anthony Housefather, Ben Carr and Anna Gainey. Mr. Mendicino and Mr. Lametti were dropped from cabinet in the shuffle earlier this year.

There has been a rift in the Liberal Party over policy related to the war between Israel and Hamas, with some internal opposition over the government’s vote in the United Nations calling for a ceasefire in the conflict.

Mr. Housefather said the responses from the university presidents will be laid before the Commons justice committee next year, which will consider conducting a study on antisemitism focusing on universities. Those who do not respond, he said, “are the likeliest to be called to testify.”

He said the letter is meant to put the 25 universities “on notice that the House of Commons is taking antisemitism seriously and if they have not thought about what steps they are taking to keep their Jewish students, staff and faculty safe on campus, now is the time to do so.”

Matthew Ramsey, UBC’s director of university affairs, said “calling for the genocide of Jewish people, or indeed of any other group, is completely unacceptable” and breaches the Criminal Code.

“Such a call would also breach the UBC Student Code of Conduct and the Discrimination Policy. Such statements run entirely counter to UBC’s values as an institution committed to fostering a respectful, compassionate and inclusive community for all members,” he said.

Toronto’s York University said it has no tolerance for hate. “Threats of harm to others, including calls of genocide, violate university policy and Canadian law. York investigates any offences that may occur following well-established regulations and procedures and responds accordingly” said Yanni Dagonas, a spokesman for the university.

The Conservatives weighed in Thursday on antisemitism: ”No Jewish person should be subjected to harassment simply for their faith or asserting their right to exist,” Conservative deputy leader Melissa Lantsman said. “We’ve asked for months that the government act on the horrific rise in hate.”

There has been an increase in antisemitic and anti-Muslim incidents at Canadian colleges and universities after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel and its ensuing war with the Islamic militant group.

The letter follows testimony earlier this month by the presidents of Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania and MIT before the U.S. Congress who struggled to confirm whether a call for genocide against Jews would violate their universities’ code of conduct.

Harvard president Claudine Gay said it depended on the context, adding that when “speech crosses into conduct, that violates our policies.”

Their responses provoked a backlash in the U.S., and calls for them to step down, including from university alumni and donors who criticized them for failing to stand up for Jewish students.

Elizabeth Magill of the University of Pennsylvania, quit following a backlash to her replies to questions from New York Republican congresswoman Elise Stefanik.

Ms. Gay later apologized and told a Harvard newspaper that she had got caught up in the exchange and failed to properly denounce threats of violence against Jewish students.

The U.S. House of Representatives this week passed a resolution condemning the testimony of the presidents of the elite universities.

The letter from Liberal MPs to Canadian universities said the three U.S. university presidents had embarrassed themselves and their institutions by being unable to confirm that the call for genocide against the Jewish people would violate the code of conduct of their universities.

“They instead advised the committee that it depended on ‘context,’” the letter says. “We do not believe that any context is necessary to confirm that the call to eradicate an identifiable group constitutes harassment, intimidation and incites hatred, and merits the strongest disciplinary measures available to a university.”

The MPs gave the 25 universities a deadline of Jan. 20, 2024, to inform them in writing whether a call for genocide against the Jewish people or the elimination of the state of Israel is a violation of their codes of conduct.

The letter also poses a number of other questions about measures to combat antisemitism on campus, including what additional steps they have taken to protect Jewish students since Oct. 7.

Last month, a group students at Concordia University who were raising awareness about hostages abducted by Hamas during its attack were confronted by a group of people who shoved, harassed and abused them, including using antisemitic slurs. Security and police intervened to protect the students who had set up a table with posters of the hostages.

The letter says the increase in attacks on Jews, including gunshots fired at Jewish schools, has been accompanied by a lack of action by university leadership to protect Jewish students.

Michael Geist, the University of Ottawa’s Canada Research Chair in internet law, said he had spoken to Jewish faculty and students at campuses across Canada now afraid to go into class.

“It is no longer uncommon for Jewish students to receive death threats,” he said.

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