Toronto Metropolitan University Sued for Anti-Semitic Environment

Against the backdrop of escalating tensions following the horrific attacks on Israel by the recognized terrorist organization Hamas on October 7, 2023, a Jewish undergraduate student has filed a Statement of Claim against Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) in Ontario Superior Court.

The plaintiff alleges she faced individual, institutional, and structural anti-semitism during her time at TMU, a situation exacerbated by the recent surge in anti-Israel protests specifically targeting Jewish Canadians, a phenomenon not witnessed in the country since the 1930s.

The student, who also held a part-time position at TMU until January 2024, has outlined a series of troubling incidents that have left her feeling targeted and unsafe on campus. According to the lawsuit, TMU’s actions and inactions since October 7, 2023, have contributed to a toxic environment for Jewish students, staff, and faculty.

TMU is accused of failing to address or adequately respond to antisemitic slogans and actions on campus. The plaintiff recounts being regularly confronted by violence-inciting slogans such as “Intifada” and “Only one solution, intifada revolution,” both on signs and graffiti throughout TMU buildings. TMU President and Vice-Chancellor Mohamed Lachemi acknowledged the inappropriateness of such slogans in a meeting with Members of Parliament on January 24, 2024, yet they continue to appear unchecked on campus.

Further exacerbating the situation, the plaintiff described an incident in March 2024 where students walked around TMU buildings with signs stating, “Zionism Off Our Campus.” To the Jewish community at TMU, this was interpreted as a call for Jews to be removed from the university, leaving many feeling marginalized and unwelcome.

The plaintiff also recounts a distressing experience during a “Silent Protest for Peace & Humanity” at TMU on November 3, 2023. She and her fellow participants were surrounded by a group of students who intimidated, harassed, and interfered with their right to protest. Although TMU security personnel were present, they failed to take any action to prevent or stop the misconduct, and as a result, the plaintiff and the other participants had to be escorted for their own safety.

In addition to these incidents, the plaintiff describes a deteriorating work environment characterized by cold and unwelcoming workplace interactions. She alleges that inappropriate political messaging, including on her personal property, further contributed to her discomfort and isolation.

The plaintiff seeks general damages of $300,000, special damages, damages for wrongful dismissal, and $1,000,000 in punitive damages. The claim also calls on the court to declare that TMU violated its commitments and duties of care to the plaintiff and other Jewish community members. This was done by failing to apply its own conduct policies adequately.

Toronto-based lawyer David Rosenfeld, a member of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ Legal Task Force, is leading the legal challenge. Rosenfeld emphasizes the importance of holding institutions accountable for fostering an environment of hate and exclusion.

“No one, let alone students paying for the privilege of attending an institute of higher learning, should have to face the environment that the plaintiff and other Jewish students at TMU have experienced,” Rosenfeld states. “TMU has policies in place that expressly prohibit the conduct that she and other Jewish students have been forced to endure. The failure to openly enforce their own policies fans the flames of hate and exclusion on campus.”

Richard Marceau, Vice President of External Affairs and General Counsel at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), echoes Rosenfeld’s sentiments. He emphasizes CIJA’s commitment to using all legal tools available to combat anti-semitism, discrimination, and double standards.

“CIJA is determined to use all the legal tools at our disposal to combat anti-semitism, discrimination, and double standards,” Marceau asserts. “We are supporting Jewish union members who have commenced proceedings against their union, the Public Service Alliance. We are taking the federal government to court for resuming funding to UNRWA despite its ties to Hamas. Now, we are helping a Jewish student suing TMU for its utter failure to protect her and her fellow students. And we’re not done. Other proceedings are on the way. Because Canadian Jews deserve the full protection of the law.”

The continued anti-jewish hatred that has manifested in encampments in “solidarity with Palestine” at prestigious universities, including McGill, and the blocking of Jews from entering academic institutions at schools across North America show that institutions of higher learning have a long way to go before their Jewish and Israeli students will feel included on campus again, ironic given Western universities are among the foremost proponents of Diversity Equity Inclusion policies and “Safe spaces” for marginalized people. TMU, for example, created Black-only student spaces after the tragic death of George Floyd in 2022 but did no such thing for its Jewish students after the barbaric October 7th attacks.

As protests against Israel and its policies grow increasingly hostile and antisemitic rhetoric becomes more prevalent, incidents like those alleged at TMU serve as a stark reminder of the urgent need to address and combat anti-semitism in all its forms.

Photo: Jenna Larkin, TMU Student Blog