When Concordia student activist Yves Engler was handcuffed and removedfrom the universitys downtown Montreal campus by police for trespassing last month (that is, for handing out anti-FTAA literature in a busy corridor ofthe university despite a university ban forbidding it), there was incredulity all around.
Even the Asper-owned Montreal Gazette ran an editorial calling for an end to the campus moratorium in place since the confrontation between police and protesters that forced the cancellation of former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahus September 9 address.
Now that the PR nightmare has subsided, the university administration isquietly moving forward with Englers expulsion, bringing a series ofcomplaints against him to the Office of Rights and Responsibilities.
One of the most serious complaints against Engler, who is thevice-president of communications of the Concordia Student Union (CSU), relatesto the discharge of his duties in that office. Engler violated the campus ban by distributing anti-FTAA literature on campus âe" an act he considered part of his job.
In a written complaint, University Security Investigator JacquesLachance claims that distributing this material resulted in creating orthreatening to create, a condition, which unnecessarily endangers orthreatens the health, safety or well-being of another [universitycommunity] member or group of members or threatens the damage ordestruction of property. Lachance is calling for a one-year suspensionfor this violation of the Code of Rights and Responsibilities.
Engler says it is absolutely absurd that peacefully handing outinformation about the FTAA could merit such a charge.
"I agree that people may feel threatened when they learn about the immense power thatthe FTAA gives corporations to endanger peoples health and safety, like underChapter 11 of NAFTA, but dont shoot the messenger. If theadministration is concerned about these threats, they should expel theFTAA.
Engler worries, however, that the administration will successfully avoidcriticism for its heavy-handed approach to the matter by charging him withparticipating in the violent confrontations that occurred at Netanyhusscheduled public engagement.
Engler describes his activities during the protest as those of a medic. The complaints against me allege that I was on the [Hall Building]Mezzanine when the window was broken by protesters and tear gas was firedby police. In fact, there are dozens of witnesses who saw me in the sixthfloor CSU offices in the Hall Building at that time. I was taking peopleinto the office to get out of the gas and breath clean air. The CSUwindows are the only ones on the floor that have not been bolted shut.
Engler does admit that he later descended to the area where the protestwas taking place, but he calls the complaints against him, totalfabrication. Engler is accused of participating in unspecified violentactivities on the Mezzanine and of harassing and assaulting individualsoutside of the Hall Building. He faces a one-year suspension on both counts.
The CSU VP does not face any criminal chargeson these serious accusations.
Engler is critical of the harassment faced by both attendees of theNetanyahu event and the protesters. I condemn the anti-Semitic and theanti-Arab insults that were shouted by both sides. That is something Iwould never participate in. Anybody who knows me, knows that.
Student Union President Sabine Friesinger worries that the universityadministration is using public concern over the events of September 9 tocriminalize all dissent on campus. If they charged Yves only with what heactually did inform people about the FTAA there would be a huge publicoutcry. But if they charge him for that and for some trumped-up chargeshaving to do with September 9, maybe they can get away with it.
The end result, fears Friesinger, is that all dissent will be criminalized. Oncestudents see that the VP Communications of their student union can beexpelled for handing out leaflets, they will think twice about doinganything political.
Of course, that may be precisely the desired result of an administration tired of atradition of protests and activism that has given their university thenickname, Gaza U.
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