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Second event request rejected due to “heated” situation in Gaza

By Chris Adams, September 11 2014 —

A second group has been barred access to campus space due to the “heated” situation in Gaza.

Calgary Hillel, a Jewish student organization, planned to host a speaking event in support of Israel on Sept. 12.

They booked American pastor and Florida state director for Christians United For Israel Scott Thomas, hoping to attract a largely non-Jewish student audience.

After meeting with university administration, they were told either to postpone the event or move it off campus.

University of Calgary administration said they have been following both the situation in Gaza and Calgarians’ response. Citing the potential for violence after a July 18 protest for Gaza, administration deemed the security risk for the event too great.

Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), another student club, also asked to host a forum about the recent conflict in Gaza on campus. Administration denied the request after a risk assessment from Campus Security deemed the event posed a high potential for violence.

Neither members of Hillel nor SPHR took part in the violence on July 18.

Provost and vice-president academic Dru Marshall said the decision was tough, but it came down to a choice between competing values.

“We have freedom of expression on the one hand and, on the other hand, safety and security. I hope we can come to the point where we think both of those can co-exist and we can manage our conversations,” Marshall said. “But for this particular time period during Orientation Week, we thought we should be careful. We did edge on the side of caution.”

Marshall acknowledged the criticism made about limiting free speech. However, she said administration looks at events on a case-by-case basis and that the bans are not permanent.

SPHR president Ala’a Hamdan questioned the U of C’s dedication to free speech after her club’s event was denied access to Craigie Hall.

“When the environment is heated, people are looking for a place to come and learn more about what they can do to help the humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” Hamdan said.

However, Marshall defended the U of C’s commitment to freedom of expression. She said the university wants people to be open-minded about what they hear on campus, but they want people to do that in a secure environment.

Both events were scheduled during the first two weeks of class, SPHR’s during Orientation Week. Marshall said the decision to deny both events access to campus was made in part because of timing.

“I don’t want to tie these events together, so I’m going to be really careful here. But we’ve gone through a very difficult year last year that started with the flood and ended with five students being stabbed,” Marshall said. “In the end, I would say we made a very difficult decision and one that was not taken lightly.”

Addi Berard, president of Calgary Hillel, said that while he’s disappointed the event was cancelled, he trusts the university’s judgment.

“Our number one concern is the safety and security of students on campus. If the U of C feels that this would be something that would compromise the safety and security of students on campus, then I essentially agreed with them,” Berard said.

A committee chaired by members of administration and Campus Security have been meeting since late June to discuss the situation in Gaza and its effect on Calgary and the university. They also met with police to discuss potential security threats.

Marshall said her office received complaints following the protest on July 18. She said people had started to feel unsafe on campus.

“I’ve had students from different groups write in and called to meet with me to say that they’re afraid to be on our campus, which [is] not the environment we want to create at the University of Calgary,” Marshall said.

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