A York University sociology professor who studies protests and at least two other employees of the school have been placed on leave from their jobs after they were charged in connection with hate-motivated mischief over the defacing of a Toronto Indigo bookstore.
Colleagues and students have announced an hour-long walkout from class on Tuesday afternoon in protest of the suspensions, which organizers say will interrupt studies, create fear and damage the reputations of those accused.
Lesley J. Wood, who chaired the university’s sociology department from 2017 to 2021, told The Globe and Mail on Monday via text message that she was suspended from her associate professor job. Police announced charges against her and 10 others last week for allegedly tossing red paint on the downtown store and pasting posters accusing its Jewish founder, Heather Reisman, of supporting genocide.
University spokesperson Yanni Dagonas said in a statement Monday afternoon that York had “placed the community members named in November 23 Toronto Police media advisory on leave.”
Mr. Dagonas would not confirm the number or names of faculty facing this discipline or comment further on the matter.
York University has been prominent in campus responses to the Israel-Hamas war. Three student organizations issued a joint statement shortly after the Oct. 7 atrocities committed by Hamas, describing what occurred as an act of Palestinian resistance against “so-called Israel.” The university administration later began a process that could lead to withdrawal of recognition of the student groups.
On Monday, Steven Tufts, a geography professor and labour expert who is one of the York academics organizing the walk-out, said Dr. Wood and two others had been placed on administrative leave last Thursday – the same day the police announced the charges after arresting most of the accused early Wednesday morning.
“There was an overstep by administration: they acted quickly due to some of the political pressure they’re under,” Dr. Tufts said.
He said the university said the action was necessary to protect everyone’s safety but university officials would not discuss alternative resolutions.
“In the case of these arrests, York University just went directly from A to B, from arrest to suspension, and made no effort to protect the employees,” he said. “What is the relationship between our employer and the police?”
Police charged the group of mostly middle-aged Torontonians with hate-motivated mischief for putting up posters depicting Ms. Reisman, Indigo’s chief executive officer, on a fake book cover titled Funding Genocide. The posters included a made-up quote attributed to her that read: “I’m happy to use the profits from your purchases to fund the Israeli military and bomb civilians,” according to images on social media.
Since the Nov. 10 defacing, pro-Palestinian protesters have drawn a direct link from that chain’s profits to Ms. Reisman’s co-founding in 2005 of the HESEG Foundation, which gives scholarships to Jewish people who move to Israel to join the Israeli army.
Indigo did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday evening.
Jewish organizations and politicians have been vocal in admonishing what they say is a clear act of antisemitism, with some, such as Bernie Farber, founding chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, saying it evoked echoes of Kristallnacht, a 1938 attack on Jewish businesses and homes in Nazi Germany.
Dr. Wood said, in a text message Monday evening, that police “are dragging our names through the mud.”
“It is grotesque. Orwellian. Hate crime charges used to stop those speaking out against hate,” said Dr. Wood, who said she was raised to be “proud but private” about her Jewishness as a great-granddaughter of those who fled pogroms in Poland. “Charges targeting those who work for a peaceful, freer and more just future for both the Palestinians and the Israelis.”
Dr. Wood also confirmed she sent a message to her students Monday morning via her faculty chair apologizing if her suspension interrupted their academic progress or caused them undue stress.
SEAN FINE, JUSTICE WRITER
The Globe and Mail, November 27, 2023