By Anastasia Blosser and Gabriela Silva Ponte
Full disclosure: Rye Eye Incorporated, which is The Eyeopener’s federally registered not-for-profit organization, is mentioned in the claim.
Diamond and Diamond law firm has initiated a class action lawsuit against Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) and the Toronto Metropolitan Students’ Union (TMSU) for allegedly fostering an antisemitic environment on campus.
The law firm is asking the school to pay a total of $15 million in damages, according to the statement of claim sent to The Eyeopener by Diamond and Diamond managing partner Sandra Zisckind.
This comes after a similar lawsuit was launched against York University at the end of October, according to a Diamond and Diamond press release.
The University of British Columbia and Queen’s University have been named in the lawsuit alongside TMU, according to another Diamond and Diamond press release.
The statement of claim accused TMU and its students’ union of breaching their duty of care by allegedly fostering an unsafe environment “rife with anti-Semitic and Anti-Israel sentiments targeting Jewish students,” the statement reads.
It cites sections seven and 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Section seven of the Charter states, “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”
Section 15 of the Charter states, “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”
Its subsection states it “does not preclude any law, program or activity that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of disadvantaged individuals or groups including those that are disadvantaged because of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”
According to Diamond and Diamond’s statement of claim, the law firm is acting on behalf of Jewish students who attended TMU from 1998 to now.
In its statement of claim, the law firm said it’s representing Jewish students currently enrolled at TMU, Jewish students enrolled at TMU in the past two years and Jewish students who attended the school between 1998 and 2021.
The six plaintiffs are unnamed in the statement of claim. The law firm said they chose to keep the plaintiffs anonymous to protect their personal and professional lives.
“The students approached us about the antisemitism that they were experiencing on campus. They asked us to do something about it, specifically after our York University class-action,” Zisckind said in an interview with The Eye. “They said they had some more events take place at TMU and they were asking us to help them as well with what was going on and [that] they did not feel safe on campus.”
Zisckind also said the students are not looking for money from the defendants but rather for the employment of policies and guidelines that address antisemitic behaviour on campus.
“To be clear, the students aren’t in this for the money. In fact, any money that would be received would be donated to education about awareness and antisemitism,” Zisckind said. “The idea is to effect change and for the university to uphold their policies. They have policies and codes of conduct in place that they are not upholding for some reason, specifically when it comes to antisemitic acts.”
The statement of claim lays out several alleged recent incidents on TMU’s campus as examples of the presumed antisemitic behaviour.
The statement of claim makes note of a statement released by some students at the TMU Lincoln Alexander School of Law in October expressing solidarity with Palestine and condemning the State of Israel.
“TMU has not disciplined the students involved in the drafting of the letter or those who signed it,” the statement of claim reads.
The statement of claim also mentioned pro-Palestine rallies and events on campus where Jewish students were allegedly harassed for trying to raise awareness about the events in Israel. It further alleged that TMU staff and administration did not intervene or condemn the actions.
The statement of claim alleges that several professors at TMU have “repeatedly called on and pressured students” to participate in pro-Palestine protests.
“As a result, many Jewish students feel unsafe to attend their classes or participate in class discussions, which has put them at a significant academic disadvantage. Some students have reached out to the TMU administration to express their concern over those incidents; however, TMU has yet to respond to these students,” the statement of claim reads.
The statement of claim alleges that student organizations and representative groups, including the TMSU, have used student funds to “fund anti-Israel events.”
“Jewish students have openly called for these funds to be directed away from these events and toward campaigns against anti-Semitism; however, no such action has been taken,” it reads.
The statement of claim then goes on to detail events from previous years.
It alleges the TMSU voted in 2014 to join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, as previously reported by The Eye. According to the claim, the movement “has openly propagated anti-Semitic views.”
The statement of claim alleges that this prohibits the students’ union from “having ties with companies that do business in Israel.”
The statement of claim states Jewish students have repeatedly raised concerns about hate-motivated activities, such as antisemitic graffiti that was found in a TMU bathroom in 2015, as previously reported by The Eye.
The statement of claim goes on to detail the attempted vote on a resolution in 2016 that would bring a Holocaust Education Week to the university.
“Jewish students at the meeting to vote on the resolution were openly mocked by their non-Jewish peers,” the statement of claim alleges.
As previously reported by The Eye, some students at this event staged a walkout which caused the meeting to lose its quorum and the resolution to not be put to a vote. A quorum is the minimum number of attendees the TMSU must have before proceeding with a meeting, such as the Semi-Annual General Meeting.
“Inflammatory statements and displays of anti-Israel propaganda create escalated tensions on the TMU campus and result in Jewish students feeling targeted on campus by their peers as a result of an international conflict occurring off campus,” the statement of claim reads.
The Eye reached out to the school for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication. This article will be updated with their response.
The Eye has also reached out to the TMSU for comment and will update the article when their response comes in.
The statement of claim alleges that Jewish students have not been able to share their concerns, participate in student spaces or openly display religious symbols out of concern for their safety.
The statement further alleges that students have faced “continued and persistent attacks” for their identity, been asked to leave discussions on Middle Eastern politics and have had their opinions dismissed in class.
“This is not a lawsuit that is a usual lawsuit that we do because people are seeking financial compensation. These students just want to attend school like everyone else and be able to go there without being harassed and they have a right to do it. The university should be taking a stance against this. If this was any other ethnic group or any other minority there would be an uproar and an outcry,” Zisckind said. “But somehow because it’s Jewish students on campus, nobody seems to be doing what they need to do and upholding the laws and procedures they have in place and they need to be accountable for that and accountable for what they are doing.”
“The next steps [are] that TMU will have to appoint counsel to defend. Then we will get our certification motion and then the court will decide whether or not there is a proper clause to be certified under the law,” Zisckind said.