News Local

BRAUN

Was Ryerson University pressured into cancelling Fatah speech?

By Liz Braun, Toronto Sun

The Canada-India Foundation had booked space at Ryerson University to hear a speech from author, columnist and activist Tarek Fatah, but Ryerson has since pulled the plug on the event. (CRAIG ROBERTSON/TORONTO SUN)

The Canada-India Foundation had booked space at Ryerson University to hear a speech from author, columnist and activist Tarek Fatah, but Ryerson has since pulled the plug on the event. (CRAIG ROBERTSON/TORONTO SUN)

Curiouser and curiouser: That seems to be the state of affairs on some Canadian campuses over issues of free speech.

Executives with the Canada-India Foundation were dismayed to have had an event cancelled by Ryerson University this week, with no explanation given.

The CIF Speaker Series had booked space at Ryerson to hear a speech from Tarek Fatah, the author and columnist controversial for his statements against Islamist extremism. Fatah, who writes for the Toronto Sun, is an award-winning author and activist who founded the Muslim Canadian Congress after the events of 9/11 — both to fight Islamism and to alleviate Islamophobia. He is the host of the Zee News TV talk show Fatah Ka Fatwa’ and is a sought-after speaker in Canada and India.

He is a champion of free speech. He is also a frequent recipient of death threats.

On Aug. 10 his talk, which will be held at a location to be announced, will address “Ghazwa-e-Hind vs. the Ethos of Hindustan.”

Fatah speculates that Ryerson cancelled the CIF event because of pressure from various groups who would protest his speech, such as AntiFa Toronto or the school’s Muslim Students’ Association.

Ryerson’s cancellation was last-minute; a permit to use Ryerson University Campus Premises and Facilities was revoked with no explanation.

When Vipul Jani, executive director of the CIF, asked why the permit was cancelled, he received a response from Voula Cocolakis, executive director of Ryerson University’s Business Services, as follows:

“We certainly understand your frustration, but as per our Rules and Regulations for Permit to Use Ryerson University Campus Premises and Facilities, Ryerson may revoke or cancel the Permit at any time with or without cause.”

Cocolakis did not respond to an e-mail from the Toronto Sun; another e-mail sent to Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi was replied to by Johanna VanderMaas, Manger of Public Affairs, as follows:

“Thank you for your email; I am happy to respond on behalf of the university.

Unfortunately, Ryerson was unable to accommodate the Canada-India Foundation’s room booking request for August 10; we have expressed our apologies to Mr. Jani and CIF. The university is not aware of any concerns or plans to disrupt Mr. Fatah’s keynote address.”

Asked for the actual reason for cancellation, VanderMaas repeated the above, noting it was the university’s official comment.

One could be forgiven for thinking that Ryerson is ducking the question.

Or that the school is currently plagued by bizarre political goings-on — consider Toronto Sun columnist Sue-Ann Levy’s recent expose of the anti-Semitism a student faced in her dealings with Ryerson School of Social Work field coordinator Heather Bain — who is now on leave.

Freedom of speech issues are taking a drubbing on many North American campuses, with scheduled speakers getting cancelled more frequently, often due to threats of violence from groups who present themselves as occupying the high moral ground.