(AJNews) – In a recent landmark ruling – the first of its kind in Canada – a University of Toronto panel has ordered the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) to immediately cease using compulsory student fees to promote the BDS movement.
The claim, brought forward by U of T graduate student Chaim Katz and supported by B’nai Brith Canada, challenged whether a student society at the university could “embark on a campaign of economic and academic warfare against people of a certain nationality, and forcibly conscript its members to the campaign by way of their membership fees?”
Chaim, originally from Calgary, was a student at both Halpern Akiva Academy and Calgary Jewish Academy; he is a Camp BB-Riback alumnus (both as a camper and staff) and was a Torah Reader at both House of Jacob and Beth Tzedec Congregations.
The ruling, made by the Complaint and Resolution Council for Student Societies (CRCSS), a panel composed of students, found that the UTGSU’s BDS Caucus had violated the school’s Anti-Discrimination Policy by engaging in discrimination based on nationality. During their investigation, the CRCSS panel found that the BDS Caucus Policy was not consistent with “open, accessible and democratic principles” and failed to meet the university’s “commitment to freedom of speech and expression.”
The CRCSS then issued five recommendations to the UTGSU, including revising its bylaws to prevent boycotts based on nationality, making the BDS Caucus student fee refundable, and revising its Anti-Discrimination Policy to align with the Ontario Human Rights Code.
If the UTGSU does not outline how it will implement the recommendations by March 1, and fully implement them within one year, the University’s Vice-President and Provost may withhold the student union’s compulsory fees.
The ruling comes as the culmination of five years of dogged activism by Katz, and assisted by B’nai Brith Canada, against the UTGSU’s BDS policy and antisemitism on campus.
In 2016, the Judicial Board of the Students’ Society of McGill University similarly ruled that BDS was discriminatory and that the student union could not legally endorse it. That challenge was spearheaded by Edmonton student Zev Macklin. The U of T ruling marks the first time that a Canadian university has ordered a student union not to promote BDS.
“This is a massive victory for Jewish students at the University of Toronto and across Canada,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada. “B’nai Brith will continue its fight against antisemitism at U of T in all of its forms, until Jewish students and faculty are safe from every form of discrimination.”
“Today is the day that I hoped would come for more than five years,” said Chaim Katz, the Calgary born and raised student behind the complaint. “I thank B’nai Brith for its constant and unwavering support. The students and community members I have had the privilege to work with were instrumental in reaching this day. I expect the University to implement this ruling without delay.”
The UTGSU is the only student union in Canada that forces all members – even Jewish and Israeli students – to fund a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Caucus that uses student fees to attack the Jewish State. Over the past year and a half, two of its executives have resigned over allegations of antisemitic conduct.
“This is a critically important win in the fight against the growing scourge of antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment on university campuses that, time and time again, has contributed to a toxic environment for members of the Jewish community, including students and professors,” said Michael Levitt, President and CEO of FSWC.
“Congratulations to U of T graduate student Chaim Katz and B’nai Brith Canada for spearheading this grassroots effort, and to all our ally Jewish community organizations who along with FSWC have long been engaged in the battle against antisemitism at U of T and university campuses across the country.”
Alberta Jewish News extends a Yasher Koach to Chaim Katz for his persistent positive activism in seeing this claim through to resolution.