SAFS Statement on Anti-Free Speech Riot at Concordia University

September 2002

September 12, 2002

According to numerous media reports, on Monday, September 9, 2002, pro Palestinian supporters resorted to violence - physically blocking the movement of people, throwing chairs, and breaking windows to prevent Benjamin Netanyahu, the former Prime Minister of Israel, from giving a speech at Concordia University in Montreal.

The Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship condemns these violent actions by hooligans that forced the cancellation of the speech. The mob's behavior prevented not just one speech from being heard, but also assaulted important freedoms that Canadians take for granted, those of free speech and freedom of assembly. These rights are not luxuries, but are fundamental to our democracy. And without them the Academy cannot exist. The pursuit of truth is not possible without reasoned debate of opposing positions. All of us have a stake in preserving these freedoms.

Thus we call on our political and civic leaders, and especially our university presidents, to condemn such reprehensible and destructive behaviors and assert that these freedoms will be forcefully defended in the future. We strongly support the right of dissenting groups to protest in a peaceful manner that does not curtail other people's free speech. But that is not what happened at Concordia. Accordingly, we expect that those individuals found to be responsible for abusing free speech rights and for engaging in violence against persons and property will be appropriately dealt with according to law and Concordia University's policies. Finally, we ask Concordia University to end its moratorium on "the use of university space for events related to the Middle East conflict" as quickly as possible. Although it is understandable that the senior leadership would feel that a cooling off period might be useful, a prolonged moratorium will send the message that free speech at Concordia University can be hijacked by thugs. Such an impression must never be given in a free society.