Three student unions are doubling down on their statement of solidarity with Palestine, despite York University’s remedial action warnings.
In their latest joint statement of student autonomy released on Oct. 24, the York Federation of Students (YFS), York University Graduate Students’ Association (YUGSA), and the Glendon College Students’ Union (GCSU) called York’s decision an “attack on student autonomy” and an “infringement on the democratic and independent existence of autonomous organizations.”
According to York, because the unions did not comply with the remedial actions, a “formal process will continue to unfold” as outlined in the regulation regarding student organizations.
“The integrity of the formal process is important, and the University is not able to provide further comment during the confidential proceedings,” says York University.
A student organization is subject to an 11-step process if they do not comply with the regulation. One aspect of the process involves a Student Community & Leadership Development representative conducting a hearing and confidential consultations.
The regulation was implemented on Jan. 1, 2023. York suspects the student unions’ statement breached the regulation’s diversity and equity principles. Additionally, York suspects the unions failed to operate in an open, accessible, and non-discriminatory manner.
The student unions argue otherwise. They are demanding the university to “stop their unlawful attack on student voices and repeal the Regulation Regarding Student Organizations.” YFS President Ashley D’Souza calls York’s recent move “the latest example of the university’s attempts to stifle student voices.”
“[The regulation] goes against our democratic rights as an organization, our governing documents, and it totally disregards our autonomy. We’re calling on the university to repeal that regulation because ultimately it just undermines the work that we do,” adds D’Souza.
On Oct. 20, York stated that should the unions fail to apologize, remove their executive teams, and rescind their statement, they may face serious consequences — including the possible withdrawal of their recognition. The unions also had the option of proving that no breach had occurred.
The university gave the unions until Oct. 25 to either implement the remedial actions or prove no breach occurred — that deadline has since passed.
In response to York’s dealings with the unions, D’Souza says, “The university did not give us the time to go through all those processes, and instead hit us with their emails about being in breach of the regulation. This is far beyond the jurisdiction to impede our processes in the way that we operate.”
“We are definitely not going to be complying with the university’s initial threats. And honestly, the reason being is that we stand firm in our solidarity for Palestine,” he adds.
The statement of solidarity with Palestine made by the three unions said: “In a strong act of resistance, the Palestinian people tore down and crossed the illegitimate border fence erected by the settler-colonial apartheid state of so-called Israel.”
“These events serve as a reminder that resistance against colonial violence is justified and necessary. This is “decolonization” and “land-back” actualized as we continue to see the Palestinian people stand firm in their resistance against their oppressors,” the statement read.
The Union Solidarity Front held a protest outside Vari Hall on Oct. 25 and launched an online petition against the university’s demands for remediation. YFS also protested the decisions made by the York administration on Oct. 27.
The unions claim their initial statement of solidarity with Palestine has been “intentionally distorted by the media, members of the provincial government, and the York University administration, claiming that it promotes violence and discrimination.”
“The conflation of our support for Palestinian self-determination as condoning violence is deeply disturbing and rooted in racism,” the unions add.
York University saw the statement of solidarity as harmful: “The University has made it clear that freedom of speech is not absolute, acts of violence or hateful language will not be tolerated … The statement has been widely interpreted as a justification for attacking civilians and a call to violence.”
Others have spoken out against the solidarity statement. A petition with over 2,000 signatures as of Nov. 1 calls on the unions to rescind their statement. Hillel, a Jewish student group, said the unions’ statement contains “blatantly prejudiced remarks.”
In the wake of all these concerns, the unions have said, “Our membership is large and diverse, and we stand firmly against all forms of oppression and discrimination, including all forms of Islamophobia, Antisemitism and racism.”
— With Files From Harshita Choudhary