A class action lawsuit has been filed against Toronto’s York University and the York Federation of Students, claiming Jewish students faced decades of antisemitism and some felt forced to hide their heritage while no action was taken to ensure their safety.
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of current students, alumni, and attendees from 1998–2021, says a news release from the law firm Diamond and Diamond, which filed the statement of claim.
According to the release, the plaintiffs said they felt unsafe on campus, silenced, harassed, threatened with physical violence, and even forced to hide their Jewish identity.
The lawsuit says the university and the union failed to address antisemitic incidents, violating its own non-discrimination policies. It also says that staff were provided “insufficient” training on handling harassment.
“Our position is that York University and the Student Union has fostered an environment of hate and anti-Semitism specifically against Jewish students,” managing partner of the firm Sandra Zisckind said in a social media video.
“Our position is that the university and the union knew about all of these actions and it failed to take action. This is not a new thing. Their failure to have taken action in the past and to currently take action has fostered an environment where students do not feel safe to learn in their own institution,” Ms. Zisckind said.
The release also said the university was “legally obligated to demonstrate accountability.”
York University told The Epoch Times they were aware of the lawsuit.
“The University would like to affirm that we unequivocally condemn all forms of discrimination and hate, including antisemitism and Islamophobia,” the emailed statement said.
“York is committed to providing inclusive campus environments where community members feel safe and welcomed without fear of intimidation or harassment.”
The lawsuit says the school has failed to remove an anti-Israel mural on the campus at the entrance to the student centre. The mural, titled “Palestinian Roots,” shows a bulldozer and a tree along with a figure holding rocks and wearing a scarf. The scarf the figure is wearing has a Palestinian flag and a map showing the area of Israel and Palestine without borders.
“Historically and symbolically, rocks have been used to perpetuate violence against Israelis,” the court documents say.
The lawsuit also notes an incident in 2009 where Jewish students were forced to hide in the Hillel student organization office because of an antisemitic protest. It began with a meeting about a teachers’ assistant strike.
“In the hallway of the student center where the meeting was held, students attempting to exit the meeting room were greeted with screams of ‘Zionism equals racism’ and ‘Racists off campus,’” the court documents said.
“During the clash in the hallway, Jewish students were singled out and pursued by a mob of more than 100 students. Approximately 15 to 20 Jewish students escaped upstairs to Hillel’s offices, where the situation worsened.”
Protesters made their way to the Hillel office and banged on the glass doors, the documents said. Campus security arrived shortly after and told the Jewish students to stay inside the office. About an hour later police arrived and gave the students an escort out of the area.
The court documents also say students were forced out of student organizations, were not given a safe space to voice their opinions, were unable to “meaningfully participate” in university cultural events, and had their opinions minimized or dismissed in classroom settings.
“Any behaviour that promotes hate, violence, discrimination, or disrupts the educational environment, as outlined in the ‘Code of Students Rights and Responsibilities,’ indicates a failure in the University’s duty of care and contradicts its foundational values of respect, equity, and civility,” said Darryl Singer, head of class actions at Diamond and Diamond Lawyers.
York Groups Unite Over Israel–Hamas War
The lawsuit comes after several York University student unions issued a letter glorifying the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.
The York Federation of Students, York University Graduate Students Association, and Glendon College Student Union groups said in a statement that they support the Palestinian people and global diaspora “and their ongoing fight against settler-colonialism, apartheid, and genocide.”
The statement, posted on the York Federation of Students Facebook page on Oct. 12, called the Hamas attacks in Israel a “resistance.”
“Recently, in a strong act of resistance, the Palestinian people tore down and crossed the illegitimate border fence erected by the settler-colonial apartheid state of so-called Israel,” the students wrote. “These resistance efforts are a direct response to the ongoing and violent occupation of Palestine.”
The University said it condemned the letter and called on the groups to “clarify” their position and “reaffirm their commitment to non-violence and the safety of all of their members.”
“As students’ unions, we have consistently opposed all forms of colonial violence, and this stance as informed by our membership, will not change,” they said.
“The student movement has always been at the forefront of confronting oppression, and we stand united in our unwavering commitment to equity, justice, and decolonization in the face of York University’s attempt to muzzle our freedom of expression as faculty, students, and staff.”
The groups called York University’s position a threat against autonomy.
“We would like to assert and remind the administration: students’ unions are independent, autonomous, and self-governed organizations. We call on York University to stop their unlawful attack on student union autonomy.”
The student federation represents about 55,000 undergraduate students. According to the university, the federation’s goals are to provide cost-saving services, equitable events, and campaigns for affordable and accessible education.