Ontario man who once belonged to Palestinian terrorist group to speak at UofT student group event

Click to play video: 'St Michael’s College at University of Toronto says student group is not using their space for controversial speaker'
St Michael’s College at University of Toronto says student group is not using their space for controversial speaker
WATCH ABOVE: St Michael’s College at University of Toronto says student group is not using their space for controversial speaker. Catherine McDonald has more – Sep 9, 2019

A foreign citizen who has been deemed a security threat to Canada for having been a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine is still listed as a guest speaker at an event hosted by a University of Toronto student group.

But after a number of Jewish organizations protested Issam Al-Yamani speaking on campus, the event has been moved.

The event, called “Worker Solidarity, Israeli Apartheid and Struggle for Palestine” is being hosted Tuesday night by Students Against Israeli Apartheid U of T St George, CUPE 3902 Racialised Workers’ Caucus and U of T Divest.

In a Facebook post about the event, organizers originally said it was being held at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto. But a spokesperson for the school told Global News the space was never booked for the event.

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On Monday night, the location was changed to the CUPE 3902 office at 208 Bloor Street West, according to the Students Against Israeli Apartheid Facebook page.

The description of the event describes Al-Yamani as a Palestinian activist and trade unionist.

But according to Canada Border Services Agency, Al-Yamani, who has been under a deportation order since 2005 and is currently appealing, played a significant role in the PFLP, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a designated terror group.

According to a CBSA report from 2014, Al-Yamani constitutes a danger to the security of Canada as “a Canadian-based financial operator for the PFLP” and “moved over a million dollars to the Occupied Territories in a way that would circumvent Israeli controls, thereby contributing to the establishment and consolidation of the PFLP’s leadership.”

Two Jewish organizations, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Student and Hasbara Fellowships Canada opposed Al-Yamani speaking on campus, and Monday afternoon, the University of St. Michael’s College announced on its website, “the external groups organizing this event do not have a [booking] at this institution.”

In a press release, Avi Benlolo, president and CEO of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, said the FSWC contacted University of Toronto President Meric Gertler about his concerns regarding the event.

“The University should also be questioning why a student group is inviting such an individual to speak,” he said.

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On Tuesday, Wiesenthal issued another statement in regard to the event being move to the new location.

“We are surprised that a Canadian union representing public employees would agree to allow someone to speak at their office who is an accused terrorist,” he said, adding he has reached out to CUPE demanding it takes “a stand against those connected with terrorist violence by cancelling Al-Yamani’s talk.”

U of T media relations also responded to a Global News request for comment and said they passed along the request to the University of St. Michael’s College, a subsidiary of the university.

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Daniel Koren, the Executive Director at Hasbara Fellowships Canada, said he had hoped the University of Toronto and St. Michael’s College would take a stronger stance on the event.

“It’s great to know that the room hasn’t been booked, but if he’s still coming here and he still poses a threat and it’s very unfortunate to learn that there’s students that actually want to come and listen to somebody like this given his sinister relationship with a terrorist organization,” Koren said.

When asked by Global News as to why Al-Yamani was asked to speak, organizers sent the following statement:

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“We reject the unsubstantiated claims of terrorism against our esteemed panelist, Mr. Issam Al Yamani. The truth remains that Issam has never been charged or convicted of breaking the law, and twice the Federal Court found the government could not prove their claims against him. Issam Al Yamani is being unjustly and unfairly penalized for exercising pro-Palestinian views at a 2014 rally that any Canadian would be legally allowed to express.

“It is Issam’s right to the freedom of expression that appears to be the reason for his deportation. Baseless accusations of terrorism are routinely used to criminalize Palestinian, Arab and Muslim people and their anti-imperialist resistance.”

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