The University of Toronto has announced that it will begin withholding fees from the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) over its policy of forcing students to fund Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activities, B’nai Brith Canada said in a statement on Monday.
In a letter sent on Friday, U of T Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr announced that, beginning March 31, the University would withhold $10,918.36 of student fees earmarked for the GSU. This sum represents the University’s calculation of the amount spent annually by the GSU to promote the antisemitic BDS campaign against Israel.
In March of 2019, the Graduate Students’ Union approved a motion to make its Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Committee permanent.
The Provost’s decision is the outcome of a lengthy struggle waged by former Jewish graduate student Chaim Katz, with the support of B’nai Brith Canada.
In February of 2021, the Complaint and Resolution Council for Student Societies (CRCSS), a body created by the University but composed of students, upheld Katz’s complaint that the GSU was engaging in discrimination based on nationality through its funding of BDS. After the GSU refused to implement its recommendations, the CRCSS issued a further decision confirming its prior stance on November 9, which in turn led to the Provost’s letter last week.
B’nai Brith Canada noted that this is the first time in history that a Canadian university has withheld funding from a student union over its support for BDS, or antisemitism generally. Katz had argued that the University ought to have withheld the entire GSU fee, rather than only a portion of it, in line with its Policy on Compulsory Non-Academic Incidental Fees, which provides that “The University shall continue to collect fees on behalf of student societies only so long as the individual societies operate in an open, accessible and democratic fashion, following the terms of their constitutions.”
“Today marks a pivotal step forward in the struggle against antisemitism at U of T, and at Canadian universities more broadly,” said Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada. “While U of T should have gone further and withheld the entire fee, this is a positive precedent and a step in the right direction.
“I am relieved that U of T has finally decided to take some action on behalf of Jewish students,” said Chaim Katz, who filed the complaint that led to the decision. “While this outcome took far longer than it should have, it will hopefully make life easier for future generations of Jewish students.”
The University of Toronto has been in the headlines several times in recent years in relation to anti-Israel conduct.
Just last month, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) voted to endorse a BDS motion that called on the union to “wholly divest funds and further on forbid investment to firms complicit in the occupation of Palestinian Territory.”
In 2020, B’nai Brith Canada condemned CUPE 3902, a labor union at U of T, following a series of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic tweets issued by its official Twitter account.
This past November, the University of Toronto at Scarborough (UTSC) student union passed two motions which eliminate funding for student groups that support Israel. Following backlash, the university walked back the controversial move.