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Michael Geist: Jewish students have the right to feel safe on campus

Commentary

This is a post I never thought I would need to write in 2024. I have been a law professor at the University of Ottawa for nearly 26 years, and the principle that all students, regardless of race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation have the right to be safe and feel safe on campus and in classrooms has been inviolable and accepted as central to our academic mission. Indeed, over the years I have seen and supported colleagues’ efforts to ensure that we practice what we preach on inclusivity and ensuring a community free from harassment and discrimination. I believe the same to be true at academic institutions across the country. Yet since October 7th, something has changed.

Last week, Jewish students from multiple universities appeared at a national press conference and before the House of Commons Justice Committee. They provided deeply troubling accounts of why many Jewish students are no longer safe—or do not feel safe—on campus and in some classrooms. The students spoke of physical violence, threats, and harassment simply for being Jewish. When asked, each said they did not feel safe on campus and warned of “the normalization of antisemitic rhetoric through inaction by university administrators, who fail to use even their own policies and their own code of conduct to act against antisemitism on their own campuses.”

The response to these accounts has frankly shocked me. If this was any other group, I believe the testimony would spark urgent calls to address the concerns alongside strong commitments from politicians and university leaders pledging to ensure that all feel safe. Yet in the days since the hearing, some have argued that while there is a right to be safe, there is no right to feel safe. I’ve seen professors criticize students from their own faculty, even as those students provided evidence of exclusion or discrimination from classes or public spaces on campus. Others argue that the lack of safety is deserved since those students’ views or affiliations make them a legitimate target or that feeling safe creates an unworkable standard.

To be absolutely clear, Jewish students have the right to be safe and feel safe just like any other student. There is no shortage of stories and studies focused on incidents involving LGBTQ students feeling unsafewomen feeling unsafeBlack students feeling unsafe, and Muslim students feeling unsafe. I can never recall anyone responding to those issues by arguing that those students have no right to feel safe or by dismissing their concerns on the grounds that somehow their fears are unwarranted or are being used as a weapon against others.

That only Jewish students seemingly elicit this response is antisemitism. Indeed, open antisemitism, Jewish exclusion or hate, denial of the right to hold legitimate views on the right of Israel to exist, and to express one’s political beliefs or religion are under active threat right now. It matters little that some Jewish students claim to still feel safe since there is ample evidence that many do not in communities in which policy dictates that everyone has the right to feel safe.

There is good reason for policies that emphasize the need for students to feel safe. Studies unsurprisingly find that there is a correlation between safety and academic performance as students cannot be expected to perform at their best if they feel unsafe. Further, safety is directly linked to mental health, which has become an increasing focus of concern for universities. Students’ freedom of expression and freedom of association rights are also directly implicated as safety fears often lead to the uncomfortable decision to hide one’s identity, restrict participation in campus activities, or refrain from speaking out. You cannot argue in favour of expression—as I see some doing in the context of some encampments on campus that have violated university policies—and then simply ignore or dismiss the expression and association rights of Jewish students.

I write this post having just concluded teaching an annual joint course on global technology law with students and faculty from the University of Ottawa, University of Haifa, and Bocconi University. The course brings together an incredible array of participants with different backgrounds, perspectives, and religions. It once again affirmed the importance of academic exchange and why calls for boycotts are so wrongheaded. But I mention the course not because of those values, but to note that this was the first time in ten years that I was forced to remove publicly available classroom information due to safety concerns. In fact, it was also the first time that campus security was alerted to the existence and location of the class.

Safety was a real issue, and the experience reinforced in a personal way that some students and faculty do not feel safe on campus right now. Universities are failing to uphold their own policies, and, in doing so, failing to live up to their own ideals as inclusive institutions in which all feel welcome and safe.

This column originally appeared at michaelgeist.ca.

Aaron Gasch Burnett: Like it or not, Canadian resources are exactly what the free world needs during today’s geopolitical upheavals

Commentary

Since Russia tried to take over all of Ukraine two years ago, Europe has made major strides in gradually weaning itself off Russian gas.  But, its appetite for Canadian natural gas hasn’t gone away, whatever the Trudeau government might like to think.

This March, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis himself said so during his Canadian visit. He even made it clear his country was “very interested” in Canadian liquefied natural gas (LNG), and not simply for geopolitical reasons, but environmental ones too.

“As fast as we go in terms of our renewable penetration, we will still need a reliable source of electricity and for us, for  Greece, we don’t have nuclear. We’re moving completely away from coal so that leaves natural gas for the foreseeable future as a significant source of energy for the production of electricity,” he told CTV’s Question Period.

“Canada is a country with which we share so many values,” he added, confirming that Greece and other European countries would much rather buy their energy from a fellow liberal democracy like Canada, rather than the world’s autocrats.

Yet buying energy from dictators is precisely what Germany was left to do after Chancellor Olaf Scholz returned empty-handed from a frantic trip to Canada two years ago, looking for replacements for Russian gas. 

“As Germany is moving away from Russian energy at warp speed, Canada is our partner of choice,” Scholz said at the time. “For now, this means increasing our LNG imports. We hope that Canadian LNG will play a major role in this.”

Yet Prime Minister Trudeau rebuffed Scholz, claiming there was no “business case”—even as countries like South Korea, Japan, Ukraine, Poland, and Latvia all contradicted his conclusion. For Japan and Poland in particular, these calls for more Canadian LNG came from the very top.

Instead, Canada sold Scholz some hydrogen. The current federal government, along with environmental groups like the Pembina Institute, view a long-term commitment to fossil fuels like LNG as worsening climate change significantly. Supporting LNG exports to Europe would also require infrastructure investments into ports on the east coast – matching the one in Kitimat, B.C. Such support is unlikely to play well politically with the Liberal Party’s environment base.

Meanwhile, the German chancellor signed an LNG deal with autocratic Qatar instead of democratic Canada. Having bought 55 percent of its gas from Russia before Ukraine was invaded, Germany has now quit Kremlin gas cold turkey – but still has to buy from authoritarian states and Norway, rather than Canada.

Today, the Liberal government looks to be making the same mistake on another crucial resource file—the critical minerals the free world also needs.

Canada has got the minerals

It’s not that the government hasn’t been thinking about the minerals it could sell to its allies.  Natural Resources Canada actually has a strategy document listing the critical minerals and rare earths Canada has in abundance and how they could be a part of new global supply chains. Many of these are minerals Canada’s allies either don’t have at all or have in short supply—including aluminum, copper, nickel, potash, tin, lithium, and zinc. Prime Minister Trudeau has even expressed some willingness to export them.

Canada is among the world’s top five producers for nine of the 31 critical minerals named in the strategy–with the US taking the vast majority of Canadian critical mineral exports at $37.6 billion in 2022. China was in a distant second with just $3.9 billion. Europe meanwhile, takes even less from Canada–and currently remains dependent on authoritarian China to a large extent for many of these minerals.

Beyond the Canadian LNG  other countries require for their present energy needs, these Canadian critical minerals represent what the world—and particularly the free world—needs for the energy of the future. 

Many of these minerals are found in solar panels—a market China currently has cornered.  Almost 90 percent of the world’s solar panels come from China—leaving Canada and the rest of the democratic world dangerously exposed to the geopolitical whims of an authoritarian adversary, as we choose to rely more on solar power. Should China ever attack Taiwan, our ability to respond decisively as the free world could be held hostage to our energy transition needs. That is if free societies don’t bring key elements of it back home.

Canada plays an integral role in this “friendshoring” of the democratic world’s critical mineral supply. European Commission vice-president Margrethe Vestager told German business newspaper Handelsblatt as much in 2022, calling for Europeans to be ready to pay a “national security premium” to buy less from aggressive, authoritarian countries, and more from allies and friends sharing liberal democratic values.

“Canada has almost all the raw materials we need. But the companies there need a long-term perspective from us in order to invest,” she said.

As Vestager suggested, it takes two countries to do the critical mineral trade tango—and European money is clearly needed. 

“We now face a rapidly changing world, with supply chains pushed to breaking point. We can only ensure security and prosperity through decisive action from governments to support the industry to navigate these challenges,” said Bernd Schäfer, the CEO and managing director of EIT RawMaterials in Berlin, in an interview with The Hub in Berlin.  His organization attempts to secure the supply of critical raw minerals for the European industry and is largely funded by the EU.  “We see an enormous need for innovative funding solutions for partnership projects between European and Canadian businesses and mechanisms to identify and fast-track projects of mutual strategic importance,” he said.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speak as they walk along the water front, Tuesday, August 23, 2022 in Stephenville, Newfoundland and Labrador. Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press.

Yet even if Canada has a strategy on paper, experts say high political buy-in—and a sense of how urgent the problem is—is still missing on the Canadian side. That political buy-in is especially needed to secure European investment.

“It could take Trudeau coming to Europe and specifically saying ‘Hey, I have minerals,’” said Loyle Campbell, a Canadian research fellow in the Center for Climate and Foreign Policy at the German Council on Foreign Relations, in Berlin. “The Trudeau government needs to take political leadership over this and keep driving it forward aggressively.”

Campbell compared the Canadian government’s efforts on critical minerals with its recent pet project to export hydrogen. He said while there has been movement on the hydrogen file, the mineral file leaves much to be desired.

“Hydrogen has gotten quite a lot of support and a lot of attention and a lot of promotion among the [Canadian] diplomatic staff,” he said. “Hydrogen and critical minerals both started from a baseline of zero. There wasn’t much activity going on and we needed to get them both going much faster. So why are there MOUs coming out now on hydrogen, and much less action between the countries that need critical minerals and Canada?”

Campbell points to what he calls Canada’s “special responsibility” to help the rest of the democratic world with its energy and mineral needs—particularly in light of Canada shirking its global responsibilities in other areas, including defence spending that remains well below NATO targets.

“The scope and scale of the energy transition and the energy security crisis really require you to be all on board for more than just your favourite [resource],” he said. “You also need to be realistic about what your allies are asking for. You need to say, ‘What do you need and how can I help?’  rather than saying, ‘This is what we want to promote.’” “Rather than having political favouritism towards hydrogen, really go in on what’s strategically necessary.”

On critical minerals, as well as LNG, Canada is punching well below its potential. As Heather Exner-Pirot recently pointed out in these pages, collapsing energy and resource investment has stymied Canadian economic growth. The responsibility for that lies at the Trudeau government’s feet.

Without a government that will change course on its indifference—or even antipathy—to Canada’s resource sector, these domestic economic mistakes will soon become wider geopolitical ones.