December 10, 2023

York University and the York Federation of Students have been named as defendants in a $15 million class-action lawsuit initiated by Toronto law firm Diamond and Diamond on behalf of “current students, recent alumni, and attendees from 1998-2021.”

In a press release announcing the lawsuit, the firm said the plaintiffs “have been made to feel unsafe on campus, silenced, forced to hide their Jewish identity, been harassed, and even threatened with physical violence.”

“The defendants are alleged to have shown negligence, specifically in failing to address anti-Semitic incidents, violating York’s non-discrimination policies, and providing insufficient staff training on handling harassment.”

The release quotes Diamond and Diamond managing partner, Sandra Zisckind, as saying: “York University has not upheld its commitment to its own guidelines and policies, particularly those vital for ensuring student safety. Owning the campus space in question, they are legally obligated to demonstrate accountability.”

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According to the release, the Plaintiffs allege “a consistent pattern of behaviour, referencing incidents from as early as 2009.” And the plaintiffs are therefore looking for “immediate action to ensure their safety and prevent future incidents.”

The lawsuit is one aspect of the fallout that has ensued from a public statement issued by the York Federation of Students, (originally co-signed by York University Graduate Student’s Association and Glendon College Student Union) on Oct. 12, calling the recent Hamas attacks on Israel “justified and necessary.”

That statement went on to say: “… 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.”

In response, the university said in its own statement on Oct. 20 that it tried repeatedly to engage with the union to raise concerns about the statement, which had caused “concerns, outrage and fear” on its Toronto campus.

Further, the university said it was beginning a process that could lead to it withdrawing its recognition of the student union. The process began with a letter setting out the university’s position that the student union had breached its responsibilities.

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The university demanded the union retract the statement and issue a new one confirming opposition to antisemitism, while acknowledging the harm their original post caused. The university also said the student union executives would have to resign.

Alternatively, York University said the union would have to prove they didn’t breach any regulations when they shared the post.

The union was given until Oct. 25 at 5 p.m. to take the steps demanded by the university or declare they had not broken any rules. The deadline came and went on Wednesday with no word from the union.

A rally of a few hundred people supporting the union was held on campus late Tuesday.

In a statement issued thereafter by the university, media relations officer Yanni Dagona said the institution will proceed with the previously outlined process, however, he added, “…the University is not able to provide further comment during the confidential proceedings. York is committed to providing inclusive campus environments where community members feel safe and welcomed without fear of intimidation or harassment.”

Meanwhile, the law firm encouraged possible plaintiffs — those who believe they have experienced antisemitism at York University — to contact Diamond and Diamond.

The class-action has yet to be certified in court.

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