Arresting an activist

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Concordia is not exactly the most activist-friendly environment. Yet ahotbed of activism it remains.

On the evening of September 10, a Concordia Student Union Councillor wasarrested for attending a meeting of the governing body students electedhim to: the CSU Council of Representatives. Apparently,Yves Engler, thelong-time student activist (and regular rabble contributor), wastrespassing on the property of Concordia University.

Engler had been suspendedfrom the University for the summer term, but he had received a letter fromRector Frederick Lowy earlier in the day informing him that his suspensionhad been extended into the fall. When Engler and other Councillors toldConcordia Security that he had every right to be in the meeting and herefused to leave the premises, the Montreal Police were called in. Englerwas cuffed, forcibly removed by eight officers and put into a police vehicle,only to be released a block away from the Montreal downtown campus.

Carolyn Zwicky-Perez, Chair of the Canadian Federation of Students'Quebec component called the arrest, “a bit draconian. The University hadan elected official removed from the meeting he was elected to attend.”She also noted that Engler's removal from the meetingmay have significantly tipped the balance of votes on Council in favour ofthe “right wing” bloc of student representatives.

Concordia's campus remains highly politicized one year after theconfrontations between anti-Netanyahu protestors and Montreal police thatoccurred on September 9, 2002. The University has hired the public relations firmColumbia Communications in an effort to shake the “Gaza U” label that hasbeen blamed for a 15 per cent drop in private sector financing. The current CSUexecutive is also highly focussed on good public relations. The “Evolution notRevolution” slate that won the CSU Presidency and Executive offices on anexplicitly non-activist platform last March is at odds with some left-wingmembers of Council such as Yves Engler.

Engler claims that his arrest is, in fact, part of the University's public relationsstrategy. “In recent days, Concordia has come under increased pressure toclamp down on activism at North America's most active campus”. As evidenceEngler points to recent editorials in the Israel Asper-owned MontrealGazette, Ottawa Citizen, and National Post berating Concordiaadministrators for their failure to discipline troublemakers. It was theAsper Foundation that sponsored former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's controversial visit toConcordia. Given overt pressure from Asper and important donors, Englersays his heavy-handed ejection from Council, “shouldn't come as asurprise.”

More than four months after the Netanyahu fiasco and about an hour aftergiving a speech to Palestinian solidarity activists, non-student activistJaggi Singh was arrested for allegations stemming from his participationin the September 9, 2002 anti-Netanyahu protest. While in police custodyhe was served with papers informing him that he had been banned fromConcordia property for a period of five years.

Many students involved in Palestinian Solidarity activism on campus havebeen rushing to complete old academic assignments because of a suddenchange in University grading policies earlier this month. The changesremove discretionary powers of faculty to issue “Incomplete” grades totheir students, in effect changing “Incomplete” grades to “Failures”.According to anonymous sources, certain Palestinian activists werespecifically targeted for failure over the summer, “but when it lookedlike discrimination complaints might arise, they applied the policy acrossthe board.”

Although the University still refuses to hold a public inquiry intoinstitutionalized racism on campus (as it was called upon to do by aGeneral Assembly of the Concordia Student Union last March), the QuebecHuman Rights Commission has found enough evidence to warrant aninvestigation into claims of anti-Arab racism against Chadi Serhal.

Serhal was acontinuing education student at Concordia who was denied a hearing beforebeing banned from campus. Although Serhal was enrolled for the fall term,he was denied a hearing because it was claimed that he did not possessstudent status at the time of the anti-Netanyahu protest. In contrast,fellow protestor Zev Tiefenbach was alloweda hearing despite the fact that he told the University disciplinary panelthat he had not been registered for 18 months. Serhal's case is currentlyin the mediation stage. He is seeking $30,000 in damages.

This is not the first time Yves Engler has been arrested at the request ofthe University. On October 16, 2002, when Engler was VP Communications onthe CSU Executive, he was arrested for distributing anti-FTAA literaturein one of Concordia's busiest thoroughfares. His actions violated a ban onfree speech imposed by Lowy in the wake of the Netanyahudebacle. Although police never pursued any charges against Engler he waslater brought before a University disciplinary panel for his anti-FTAAactivities as well as his alleged participation in the September 9anti-Netanyahu confrontation. It was the latter charge that earned him hiscurrent suspension. It remains to be seen if the violation of the terms ofhis suspension will earn him yet another disciplinary hearing or whetherthe Rector will simply continue to use his discretionary powers to extendthe period of Engler's ostracism indefinitely.

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