Professor Faisal Bhabha, a highly-respected academic at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, has received death threats but the university president has so far refused to publicly condemn it.
Canadians of all backgrounds have sent letters and emails to York University President Rhonda Lenton asking that she take a clear and categorical stand against the death threats.
So far, she has failed to do so.
One wonders what prevents her from condemning death threats against a professor at her university?
Would she have taken the same stand were the death threats directed against say, a professor of the Jewish faith?
Professor Bhabha is a long-time advocate for human rights.
He has been in the forefront of combating racism, and has advocated access to justice for all.
He is one of the few Muslim academics and experts on international human rights law in Canada.
Why would a respected human rights lawyer receive death threats and who would be behind it?
While law enforcement agencies have been notified, there is deathly silence from his own university as well as politicians of all stripes.
What is Professor Bhabha’s sin?
His travails started when he participated in an academic panel discussion organized by the Ryerson University Centre for Free Expression.
Held on June 10, 2020, it was co-sponsored by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
The topic for discussion was: “Fighting Anti-Semitism or Silencing Critics of Israel: What’s Behind the Push for Governments to Adopt the IHRA Definition of Anti-Semitism?”
IHRA stands for International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.
Other panelists were Bernie Farber, former CEO of the Mosaic Institute, the Canadian Jewish Congress, and the Paloma Foundation; Richard Marceau, vice president, External Affairs and General Counsel, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA); and Dr. Sheryl Nestel, Independent Jewish Voices (IJV).
The program was moderated by Bernie Lucht, executive producer of CBC Radio’s Ideas program from 1984-2012. Currently, he is Senior Fellow at Massey College, University of Toronto.
Both Professor Bhabha and Dr Nestel who is Jewish, argued against the adoption of IHRA definition, calling it too broad that would have a chilling effect on free speech.
IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism is being pushed through various institutions and legislative bodies in Canada.
While some municipalities have adopted the definition, others like Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal have rejected it, calling it too broad that would curtail free speech especially by prohibiting criticism of Israeli policies.
Regrettably, the Canadian parliament also jumped into the fray and signed on to it.
Legal experts are of the opinion that it runs counter to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and would certainly be challenged in court, if adopted.
In the Ontario provincial assembly, the IHRA definition has been presented as a private member’s bill and is currently at committee stage after going through two readings.
It is called Bill-168.
Inside sources say that Ontario premier Doug Ford has given assurances to the Centre for Israel Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the pro-Israel group that has been pushing the bill, to pass it.
If true, this would be a gross a violation of Ontarians’ fundamental rights and a dangerous step.
Professor Bhabha participated in discussion around this issue and spoke against adoption of IHRA definition.
He was immediately accused by B’nai Brith, a pro-Israel group that calls itself a human rights organization, of anti-Semitism.
In a June 23 letter to York University president Rhonda Lenton, B’nai Brith demanded that Professor Bhabha be prohibited from teaching any “human rights” course at Osgoode Hall Law School.
Professor Bhabha has categorically and publicly denied B’nai Brith’s allegations, insisting that his words cannot be distorted to support the group’s assertion.
Distinguished academics at Osgoode such as Professor Emeritus Jamie Cameron have argued that critics “unfairly singled two statements out and decontextualized those comments from their setting in vehement exchanges between panelists”.
Professor Bhabha has filed a grievance complaint.
In it he describes how he has received “voluminous discriminatory abuse and harassment and threats of violence, both through correspondence and social media.”
What steps the Police Hate Crimes unit has taken is unknown but the fact that the university would not publicly condemn such threats against one of its professors sets a dangerous precedence.
Such threats are not only a danger to academic freedom but also to the fundamental rights of every Canadian.
Unfortunately, Canada is being turned into a Gestapo-like state where criticism of Israel is being stifled.
Israel is not above criticism; in fact, its treatment of Palestinians is atrocious.
Even the International Criminal Court (ICC) has called for an investigation into whether Israel committed war crimes during its war on Gaza in 2014.
Fair-minded Canadians should be deeply troubled by the death threats against Professor Bhabha.