Statement by the President of Victoria University regarding The Strand cartoon

Feb 20/06

A cartoon published last week in the Victoria University student paper The Strand raised concerns among a wide range of student groups, many of whom found its depiction of Muhammad and Jesus religiously offensive. Victoria University and the University of Toronto are deeply aware that the student-editors' decision to publish this cartoon in an independent newspaper upset many members of the University community. Victoria University issued the following statement:

The Strand is a student newspaper funded by and reporting to Victoria College student government, not Victoria University or the University of Toronto. It has editorial freedom. Vic and U of T support the freedoms of expression and debate within the laws of the country. We decry expressions of hatred and intolerance, and endeavour to inculcate the virtue of civil and respectful debate.

The editorial in this issue of the Strand provokes and invites discussion, not intolerance. The editorial was accompanied by a cartoon that some might see, on one level, as a satirical but positive statement on inter-faith tolerance, but that others, on another level, might view as disturbing or even deeply offensive. These levels each have their own legitimacy, and it is precisely in their interaction that informed and respectful debate must take place.

The Strand editors and staff have faced criticism from others, including their peers, for their decision to publish the cartoon. They will determine how best to handle these criticisms, and to exercise freedom with appropriate responsibility. For its part, the administrationís initial assessment is that the editorial cartoon, however offensive to some members of our community, could not be characterized as a violation of the Human Rights Code, the Criminal Code, or the applicable University policies at Vic or U of T.

Victoria University and the University of Toronto will continue to uphold the freedoms of the academy, including the freedom of expression. Equally important is our continued resolve to advance mutual understanding and respect among people of differing commitments, and to balance freedom with responsibility.

P.W. Gooch
Victoria University in the
University of Toronto

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