Premier Doug Ford has denounced a protest that took place during a pro-Israel event at York University Wednesday evening, saying he was “shocked” at news of the event.
Protesters gathered at Vari Hall ahead of the event that saw speeches from members of Reservists On Duty, an organization founded by former members of the Israeli Defence Forces.
“I was shocked by the vile hatred that was on display last night at York University,” Ford tweeted Thursday afternoon.
“My caucus and I stand with the students at York University who had to endure this.”
Organizers of the initial protest, however, said their chants were specifically against the Israeli Defence Forces and not the broader Jewish community.
“They were coming in a somewhat official capacity to represent the IDF, and the IDF is known to be a force, a group of soldiers, that have actually committed a lot of human rights violations,” said Huda Sadoon, a fourth-year student.
Earlier this year, the UN found the force had violated international human rights by firing live rounds into a crowd of protesters on the Gaza strip in 2018.
Videos posted online of Wednesday’s event shows a large crowd filling a campus hallway, chanting, “Viva, viva intefadeh!” referring to a Palestinian uprising that began in 1987 and lasted several years.
Toronto police told Global News officers were on scene for the protest and while it was “largely peaceful,” some scuffles did break out.
Police said people who got into physical altercations were removed from the area and released without charges. Officials said a person was injured, but it is unclear how serious their injuries were.
York University President Rhonda Lenton released a statement Thursday afternoon and said the university is in the process of reviewing what happened at the event to determine if any hate speech, harassment, threats, or discrimination occurred.
“I want to emphasize in the strongest possible terms that acts of violence are not tolerated on our campuses and York University has zero tolerance for hate,” Lenton said.
“In democratic societies, universities play a central role in facilitating debate on difficult issues. Shouting, threats of violence and attempts to intimidate community members are not consistent with the responsibilities we all share.”
Global News spoke to Cassandra D., a student who declined to provide her last name and said she protested Reservists On Duty and the Israeli Defence Forces Wednesday evening. She said the protest towards the event was peaceful.
“No one started violence on our side,” she said.
Meanwhile, Ilan Orzy, the director of advocacy and issues management for Jewish student group Hillel Ontario, called Wednesday’s events “troubling.”
“Freedom of speech is something that we obviously stand for and as does York University I’m sure,” he said.
“I think that there could have been more precautions taken into consideration to make sure that things didn’t get out of hand.”
– With files from Catherine McDonald and The Canadian Press