Many Muslim and Arab students on campuses across the country are afraid right now - there is a feeling on many university grounds that voicing concern for the innocent people of Palestine will somehow be viewed as being sympathetic to terrorism.

Below is a brief guide on how to call for support for innocent people in Gaza and call for an end to the attacks on Palestinians there while ensuring that all students on campus—regardless of ethnic or religious background (especially Muslims)— feel safe. 

To aid you in that, we have created a general guidance that Muslim students can rely on when talking to professors, administrations, or fellow students.

NOTE: This guidance constitutes suggested messages to empower you in advocating for yourself. It does not constitute legal advice. It is a general statement that you should amend according to your specific situation. 

Do I have Charter rights as a university student to free speech?

This is a highly complex question. The Alberta Court of Appeal has suggested that universities could be bound, in certain circumstances, to the Charter depending on whether they are engaging in “government action.” Generally speaking, that means that universities may be affected for state purposes when they regulate speech on campus. However, the Alberta Court of Appeal was clear in finding that in upholding the right to free speech, the university is within its rights to limit expression; for example, expression that is “violent, obscene, freedom suppressing or intimidating in its nature.”

If you feel that your Charter rights are being impacted, please reach out to our legal team. We remind students, in general, that while you have the right to free speech and to stand in solidarity with the suffering of the Palestinian people, you also have responsibilities to your colleagues, professors, and friends. That means that you should be focused on being collegial, clear, and professional in relation not only to what you say but how you say it.

My professor/classmate has said that the people of Palestine deserve to die. How should I respond?

First of all, you don’t have to respond. This is a sensitive time for students, and you may feel more isolated or afraid to respond immediately. That’s okay. We understand that as a Muslim or Arab student on campus, you may feel like everyone is judging you already. So, we understand if you don’t want to respond back to a professor or a classmate, especially in public.

If you do, here are some general things to think about.

  • I believe that everyone has the right to live with freedom, freely, in peace, safety and security, including Palestinians. 
  • Attacks on innocent civilians - including those committed against Israeli citizens are unacceptable. There is no justification for those acts. 
  • Due to the current situation in the Middle East and Islamophobic reactions across the country, many of our students are feeling unsafe on campus. 
  • Many of our leaders are calling for a ceasefire in a bipartisan fashion. We should be standing for peace right now, not more war.
  • (If asked about the history of Gaza): Palestinians, especially those in Gaza, have not been able to live freely since the siege was laid on Gaza by Israel in 2007. Nothing enters or exits Gaza except through Israel’s approval. Their food, electricity and water are all controlled by Israel. This makes life for those inside Gaza impossible. It also makes future prospects for a just peace much, much harder. 

For more questions about specific cases, please reach out to our Education team.

My university has put out a message suggesting that standing in solidarity with innocent civilians in Palestine or against the backlash at home is wrong. How should I respond? 

  1. Firstly, we recommend empathy. Many people are in pain, and many wrongly believe, given an enormous amount of misinformation out there, that those who stand for the right of Palestinian civilians not to be killed are somehow sympathising with human rights atrocities committed against innocent Israeli civilians. Try to meet with administrators to explain your perspective.
  2. Here are some things you can tell them to make sure they understand what’s happening.
  • There has been an enormous backlash against Muslims and Arabs in Canada, fuelled by the ongoing tragedy overseas.
  • A six-year-old Muslim child was murdered in Chicago by his landlord, who attacked the child and his mother due to Islamophobic sentiment and anger at the situation abroad. 
  • In Canada, we have seen both verbal and physical assaults and harassment against those supporting Palestine. We can’t fail to take into consideration the immense suffering of the people inside Gaza, who continue to endure attacks by Israeli forces. The death toll in Gaza for the past few days is in the thousands, with many more injured. Over 1,000 children have died. No civilian deserves this, and it is disappointing for our students to see the administration completely ignore this reality. 
  • Muslims and Palestinians have been isolated and made to feel that their support for the safety and well-being of civilians, and especially children, in Gaza and Palestine, are somehow indicative of pro-terrorist sentiments. Such a conflation is Islamophobic and reminiscent of the terrifying anti-Muslim sentiment in the days after 9/11. 
  • I believe that the best way to make everyone feel safe and heard is by ensuring open dialogue. No student should feel excluded simply due to wearing a keffiyeh or displaying the Palestinian flag to show solidarity against human rights abuses in the region. 
  • We / I call on the leadership, faculty, administrators, and staff to ensure a welcoming and safe environment for all students at [University name]. I urge [University name] to be more thoughtful in its response to the crisis to ensure a safe and welcoming environment for all students, faculty, and staff.

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