By Jen Gerson
The Canadian Arab Federation and the Canadian Jewish Congress agree on something: They denounce the hate graffiti, flyers and threats found on campus this summer.
The hate crimes attracted the attention of the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and Al Jazeera. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty even issued a statement condemning the acts.
“The language in the flyers is very overt, very calculated to cause distress,” said Det. James Hogan of the Toronto Police’s Hate Crimes Unit. “[They’re] aiming for causing alarm and outrage.”
Hogan said he hasn’t seen anything comparable at any other university campus. In fact, he hasn’t even seen anything this overt originate in Canada.
The trouble began on June 23 when the Star of David and the words “Die Muslim Die” were found spray-painted on the walls of Ryerson’s Multifaith Centre. The room is used as a prayer space by Muslims on campus.
Near the end of July, a group calling itself “FBC Ridaz” took responsibility for the graffiti in one of two threatening flyers posted in Jorgenson Hall.
The flyers read: “While this may be considered a hate crime or a despicable act, it is not. We are just getting back at the Muslim faggots that vandalised Jewish property and wrote anti-Semitic graffiti. We assure the Muslim students at Ryerson University that we will continue to send messages and that this incident is only the first of many … No Muslim student will be safe and that security isn’t going to stop us.”
At the same time, another group, self-titled the “Full Blooded Israelis Brigades” posted flyers exclaiming: “The Islamic infidels have no belonging in Toronto and in the world at all. Islam is a disease that has made its way into the world and it must be eradicated … we ask that whenever you spot a Muslim … that you beat them and cause harm to them. Kill these Islamic infidels.” The note signed off: “God is Great!”
Ryerson security photographed and removed the graffiti and called the Toronto Hate Crimes Unit to investigate. Then, three weeks ago, Ahmed Arshi, the president of the Muslim Student Association at Ryerson, checked his mailbox in the RyeSAC office and found a note saying, “Your president is next.” “Whoever did this is an unintelligent person who doesn’t deserve to be a university student,” said Arshi who hopes the culprit, if a registered student, is expelled and made an example of.
Ryerson’s administration has promised to do just that. In an informational meeting held on campus on Aug. 17, Ryerson President Claude Lajeunesse vowed that the hate-mongers “will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.” At the same meeting, Assistant Director of the Centre for Environmental Health, Safety and Security, Julia Lewis said that security is being “vigilant and aggressive” and “will be ruthless in [their] investigation.”
Security will be interviewing people on campus, going through surveillance tapes and offering safety counselling and self-defence training. While a detailed comment on the investigation has not been offered, Lawrence Robinson, manager of safety and security, said that leads are being followed, but he doesn’t feel increased security patrols on campus are the best way to address the graffiti and threats.
“Patrols are very good at some things, but they can be random, hit and miss,” said Robinson. Arshi plans to be careful on campus but is more focused on helping the other members of his group.
He’s particularly concerned for new Muslims entering Ryerson and female Muslims who, he fears, may feel targeted because they wear a scarf or hijab to cover their hair.
“I’m going to be cautious, but I’m not going to be hiding,” said Arshi.
Andre Goh, educational equity advisor for the office of discrimination and harassment, said that graffiti is not a rare occurrence on campus.
“What differentiates this is the threats – the almost personalized threats,” Goh said. “My fear is that if we don’t give it serious attention, if something terrible were to happen, that would be unfortunate.”
The last major slew of anti-Semitic graffiti on campus happened in January of 2002. Four men’s bathrooms in Kerr Hall South were vandalised with the statements: “Die Jews,” “Islam will take over Canada,” and “support Israel’s existence if you want to die.”
A squashed bug was put in the stall next to the statement, “this was a Jew.”
In 2001, a sukkah, an outdoor covering used during a Jewish holiday, was destroyed and defaced with the statement: “Israel, how many kids U kill?”
Anti-Palestinian propaganda appeared on campus last year when Upstart Activist, a group created to “advance the centrality of Zionism … in the lives of North American Jewish Students,” according to the group’s website, placed posters on campus that showed a picture of a Palestinian with a bomb strapped to his head with the statement: “Do you want this in your neighbourhood?”
Another poster featured Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and asked: “Would you buy a used car from him?”
However, the recent graffiti is the first example of calculated threats towards a racial group at Ryerson.
Many at Ryerson are surprised at the spate of graffiti, noting that race relations at the university have been relatively peaceful compared to other campuses.
“[If you compare] Ryerson to U of T and York, the difference is here, the student groups actually want to work together,” said Goh.
In response to the crimes, a multifaith day has been set at Ryerson for Sept. 15. Also, many student groups have come together to create a banner featuring an anti-racism message that will be displayed in the new student centre for its scheduled opening in January.
More graffiti has been discovered on campus since the threatening letter sent to Arshi was found.
While Hogan said it’s important to shine a light on the hate on campus, it’s also important for students not to overreact.
“In many cases people are looking for that reaction,” said Hogan. “Hillel has had a great relationship with many of the Muslim groups on campus,” said Jonathan Vandersluis, vice president of Hillel, Ryerson’s Jewish group.
“It won’t get ruined by someone’s attempt to pull us apart … we’ll all be working together throughout the semester and the year.”
Bernie Farber, the Ontario executive director of the Canadian Jewish Congress, said that if there’s a silver lining to these hate crimes, it’s that now many Arab and Jewish Groups on and off campus are working together.
“My belief is that this was somebody on the outside trying to spread hatred and distrust. It’s done the opposite. It’s brought our organizations closer together to condemn this sort of action,” said Farber. “Yes there’s differences between us, but there’s one thing in common — we say no to racism,” said Arshi.
|It was not the intention of The Eyeopener or it’s editors to perpetrate hate by re-publishing some of the content of the racist flyers and graffiti. We believe that it is in the best interest of the students of Ryerson that these issues be dealt with in an honest and transparent manner. When even one person on campus has been threatened, everyone’s safety and security has been threatened and it is this paper’s responsibility to make the community aware of that threat. Any comments can be addressed in a letter to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org|