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Winnipeg MP signs letter calling on university presidents to address antisemitism on campus

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Winnipeg South Centre Member of Parliament Ben Carr has signed onto a letter alongside four other Liberal MPs addressed to the presidents of Canada’s 25 biggest universities, including the universities of Winnipeg and Manitoba.

The letter, shared by Quebec MP Anthony Housefather, questions how the schools are tackling rising antisemitism on campuses and keeping Jewish students and staff safe. It also asks if a call for genocide against the Jewish people or the elimination of the state of Israel is a violation of the university’s code of conduct.

“We felt that it was important to draw attention, particularly in light of what's happening in the United States right now around this conversation, to ask university presidents in an effort to reassure Jewish students, but also the broader community, that they are taking action and that they are listening to those voices that are feeling silenced right now,” said Carr in an interview with CTV News.

Carr pointed to similar questions facing university heads in the U.S. during recent congressional hearings about antisemitism on campuses.

Former University of Pennsylvania President Liz Magill recently resigned amid controversy after telling lawmakers, when asked repeatedly about calls for genocide, that decisions around what would violate a school's conduct policy are "context-dependent."

She clarified the next day that such language would be considered harassment or intimidation.

“We feel it's important for there to be clarity in the Canadian context on the part of university presidents in relation to this question,” Carr said.

Carr said the letter is not asking universities to stop having important conversations about public policy issues, nor asking schools to take any direction.

“Our hope is that university administrations will reflect on these questions and that they will be forthcoming with the public…about what they're doing in order to ensure that a marginalized group of students who are feeling unsafe on their campuses right now are being heard by the administration of those institutions,” he said. “What they decide to do and how they decide to do it is completely up to them.”

The letter states university presidents have until Jan. 20, 2024, to respond to the letter if they choose to do so.

CTV News reached out to University of Manitoba President Michael Benarroch for an interview, but was told he wasn’t available. In a statement, Benarroch said the university has received the letter and will respond.

“To be clear, a call on UM campuses for genocide of Jewish people or of any group of people is unacceptable and would be a violation of our Respectful Work and Learning Environment policy,” the statement reads. “It is also a breach of the Manitoba Human Rights Code and we would engage authorities to investigate as Hate Speech under the Canadian Criminal Code.”

CTV News also reached out to the University of Winnipeg but hasn’t received a response yet.

JEWISH STUDENTS SUPPORT LETTER TO UNIVERSITY PRESIDENTS

Carr said he received a letter from a group of Jewish students voicing their support for the questions sent to university presidents.

In the letter, Hillel Ontario said, “We fully support your call for university presidents to address rising antisemitism on campus and take concrete steps to protect Jewish students.”

Carr said the concerns of Jewish students and community members helped prompt the push from the parliamentary members.

“That is coming directly from the groups of people that have spoken to us, which in turn has prompted us to make the decision that this was an important thing for us to raise,” he said. 

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