MONTREAL — The Quebec Superior Court has issued an order temporarily blocking a McGill University student society from moving forward with a pro-Palestinian policy approved in a recent referendum.
The order states that the Students' Society of McGill University (SSMU) has agreed not to ratify or implement its Policy Against Genocide in Palestine until the case returns to court in March.
McGill students voted this month 78.7 per cent in favour of the policy, which calls for the school's administration to condemn what it calls a "genocidal bombing campaign" against Gaza and cut ties with "any corporations, institutions or individuals complicit in genocide, settler-colonialism, apartheid, or ethnic cleansing against Palestinians."
The policy was one of a series of measures included in a fall student society referendum that ended Monday, with a 35.1 per cent turnout rate.
An unnamed Jewish student from McGill went to court to challenge the policy, which she described in court documents as "hate literature" that violates the student society's constitution and its antisemitism and equity policies.
The documents say the student requested to remain anonymous because she has received threats on social media for speaking out against the policy. "The atmosphere on McGill campus has become tense and frightening for Jewish students at McGill University," court records say.
"As a Jewish student, plaintiff is frightened for her personal safety and security at McGill University."
The plaintiff wants the policy stopped permanently and is seeking $125,000 in damages. Her lawyer said in a phone interview that the damages claim will be heard at a later date.
The Students' Society of McGill University said in a statement that it consented to suspend the ratification of the policy but plans to fight the attempt to permanently suppress it.
"We have agreed that the ratification of the vote on the policy by the board of directors be suspended pending debate on the plaintiff’s demand for an interlocutory injunction to that effect, which will be vigorously contested by the SSMU," a statement delivered via the group's lawyer says.
Lawyer Rémi Bourget said the student group also plans to contest the plaintiff's request to remain anonymous.
Jewish advocacy group B’nai Brith Canada applauded the court order but called on McGill to do more to stand up for its Jewish students and hold the student union accountable.
"It is sad that a student had to go to the courts for justice on this issue because the university has repeatedly failed to hold its student associations accountable for breaking their own rules," CEO Michael Mostyn said in a statement. "Of course, we welcome the court’s decision to stay the referendum until a final decision can be reached, but McGill does not have to wait until then to do the right thing."
McGill said in a statement that it believes the proposed policy, if adopted, "will sharpen divisions in our community at a time when many students are already distressed."
School administrators also believe enacting the policy would put the student society in breach of its own constitution — which includes acting in the best interests of its members as a whole — and its memorandum of agreement with McGill, the statement said.
"We have written to the president of the SSMU to outline the consequences of adopting the policy," McGill said, without providing further details. The court order comes amid continuing tensions linked to the Israel-Hamas war, which began after militants killed an estimated 1,200 people in Israel on Oct. 7. Israel launched a retaliation campaign that health officials in Gaza say has killed more than 12,700 people.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 22, 2023.
The Canadian Press