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By Jen Gerson

Ryerson had no policy barring student groups, debates and panel discussions from the Metro Credit Union Lounge.

The so-called fire hazard that crowds in the lounge posed was just a sham constructed by Marion Creery, director of student services, to keep the Arab student group from holding a controversial forum.

While deplorable, fear that the forum would turn ugly is understandable. Last year, violence over Middle Eastern issues was a serious threat. Riots broke out at Concordia University when former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to speak in 2002.

Jewish and Arab groups clashes at York University turned the campus into a hotbed of debate and censorship. But student groups here have a history of working together, even when they disagree.

The presidents of the Muslim, Arab and Jewish groups on campus have met regularly for the past several years. Last year’s Hillel-sponsored lecture by Irshad Manji, a Muslim activist who spoke of Israel’s diversity, demonstrates how controversial speakers and messages can be heard here without fear of violence.

Of course that safety was shaken when hate graffiti and threats hit Ryerson this summer. Still, Muslim and Jewish factions on campus came together and worked to build harmony. It shows how wrong it was to ban the Palestinian human rights forum last year.

The university lied to students, faculty, RyeSAC and the campus press by claiming a policy existed that forbade gathering in the lounge because of a fire hazard. Administrators never produced the policy, despite repeated requests, and forced RyeSAC to jump through hoops to re-open one of the few public spaces available for groups.

The student council wrote a report suggesting ways to reduce a fire hazard by maintaining traffic flow and distancing displays from pillars. Even the RyeSAC election debates were moved to the top floor of the cafeteria, a location with dismal acoustics. And now the university admits there never was a policy.

Well, thanks for wasting RyeSAC’s time and for censoring a student group without having the balls to admit that’s what you’re doing. The next time the university is too scared-shitless to let a controversial event happen, they should just ban it and be done with it.

The university will take flack, but at least it will retain a shred of credibility.

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