Almost exactly ten years ago we first championed the case of Bela Kosoian. A law student then and mother of two, she was manhandled by a transit cop at the Laval Montmorency metro stop because she did not have her hand on the handrail of an escalator as suggested by pictograms. She refused the cop’s demand for identification and she was then put into plastic handcuffs and kept in a sealed room. She was then given fines. Fo Niemi of CRARR took up her case. She sued the transit authority and the transit cop personally but her case was rejected by Quebec Superior Court and the Quebec Court of Appeals.
But last week, ten years later, the Supreme Court of Canada gave her victory. It had agreed to hear her case in November 2018. The court ordered The Société de transport de Montréal, which operates the Metro, and the officer who stopped her to pay $20,000 in damages. The order of the court was that each was responsible for half the sum. Maybe this will heal some of the wound that led Bela to say — not unjustly — a decade ago that, “Stalin may be dead, but Stalinism lives on.”
The Court also wrote the following powerful words that should apply to all our interactions with authority: “Kosoian was entitled to refuse to obey an unlawful order and therefore committed no fault. A well‑informed person whose rights are infringed must be able to respond — within reason — without being held civilly liable. In a free and democratic society, no one should accept — or expect to be subjected to — unjustified state intrusions. Interference with freedom of movement, just like invasion of privacy, must not be trivialized.”
Congratulations to Bela and to Fo. Justice was satisfied, though very late.
But there was another case last week of justice compromised, again. For the second time in two years a Jewish student member of the McGill Students Society executive is being pushed to resign because of religion and political views. Last year it was Noah Lew. His “crime” was simply being a Jew.Three students were voted off of the SSMU Board simply for being Jewish or being connected to pro-Israel organizations. Now it is Jordyn Wright, a Jewish second-year Science student who represents her class on the SSMU Legislative Council and serves on the Society’s Board of Directors.
This winter break, she has decided to participate in a trip called Face to Face that is being offered by Hillel Montreal. The trip involves visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories to meet with politicians, journalists, and locals from all sides. As a result of her decision to participate on the trip, the SSMU Legislative Council voted to call for Jordyn’s resignation from her positions in student government. Only Jordyn was targeted, despite the fact that another non-Jewish Councillor will also be joining her on the trip.
The SSMU claims the trip will put Jordyn in a “conflict of interest” on the Middle East. But as Jordyn points out if conflict was an issue then why is a SSMU Executive member with a pro-BDS sticker on their water bottle not facing the same scrutiny? There is a double standard for anything that involves Israel at McGill. Indeed for anything that involves Jews. And the Wright Affair is taking place just a week after anti-Semitic attacks at York University in Toronto.
In the Lew Affair it took McGill’s administration months to get justice for Noah. It should be much quicker now. The SSMU is supported by funds directed to it by the administration from students’ tuition. Students aren’t given a choice. McGill should make it clear to the SSMU that its existence is a privilege, and that if it does not end its concerted pattern of anti-Semitism those funds, and its charter, shall end. Perhaps then justice might be satisfied at this institution as well.