At least three employees of York University, including a professor, have been suspended after they were charged in connection with an incident of vandalism at a downtown Toronto Indigo bookstore.
Toronto police announced last week that they had arrested 11 people in connection with the alleged crime, among them sociology professor Lesley Wood, who studies protests. 10 of the 11 accused, who are mostly middle-aged, have been charged with conspiracy to commit an indictable offence. All of them have been charged with mischief over $5,000 with a hate-motivation applied to the charge.
The Bay and Bloor location of the Indigo bookstore was defaced on Nov. 10 with red paint and posters that accused founder and CEO Heather Reisman, who is Jewish, of "funding genocide."
Reisman cofounded the HESEG Foundation in 2005, which provides scholarships to Jewish people who move to Israel to join the Israeli army.
In a statement on Monday afternoon, university spokesperson Yanni Dagonas said that York had “placed the community members named in November 23 Toronto Police media advisory on leave."
A hour-long walkout to protest the suspensions organized by the alleged vandals' colleagues and students has been planned for Tuesday afternoon.
Steven Tufts, a geography professor, told the Globe and Mail that the York administration had overstepped. "They acted quickly due to some of the political pressure they’re under,” he said.
York is well-known for radical activism and especially for flare-ups of protests and demonstrations during periods of conflict between Israel and terrorist groups in the region. Three student organizations called the October 7th attacks by Hamas, which killed approximately 1,200 people, most of them civilians, an act of Palestinian resistance against "so-called Israel."
The administration has begun a process that could lead to the withdrawal of recognition of these groups, reported the Globe.
Tufts 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?”
Lesley Wood, a York University professor who is among those charged, said that police “are dragging our names through the mud.”
“It is grotesque. Orwellian. Hate crime charges used to stop those speaking out against hate,” she added. “Charges targeting those who work for a peaceful, freer and more just future for both the Palestinians and the Israelis.”
The charges are among those that led Chief Myron Demkiw to tell the Toronto Police Services Board Thursday that the rise in hate incidents in the past six weeks in the city has been “staggering.”
“Freedom of expression ends when it becomes criminal,” he said. “Hate will have no space here.”