The University of Toronto has increased its police presence across all three of its campuses following an anonymous comments section post on a blogTO article encouraging readers to shoot U of T feminists. The comments, which have since been removed, include the user’s assertion that feminists and professors who teach Women and Gender Studies (WGS) or Sociology classes at the university should be shot. The user also recommended sources for aqcuiring a gun to carry out such an act.
Students in Women and Gender Studies classes received an email on September 12 outlining the increased security measures being implemented as a result of the threats. “WGSI and the university are putting in place a security plan for each class, and next week’s classes will only be held if instuctors are satisfied with these efforts,” read a portion of the email.
“Such measures might include having uniformed or plainclothes security personnel outside or inside classes, the requirement that everyone have a U of T photo ID to enter class, or any other measure we believe is necessary to ensure that students feel they can safely come to class next week.”
“I am not overly concerned for my safety but do feel that an emergency preparedness plan should be initiated by U of T in the unthinkable event that something does occur,” said Esther Saunders, a fourth-year WGS student. “It should outline what they students and faculty should know such as locations of best exits, best actions to evade a potential disaster.”
Many students first heard about the threats from an email sent out by U of T provost Cheryl Regehr. The email acknowledged the comments, but did not specify that that feminists and staff and students in particular departments were targeted. Additionally, recent reports have indicated that similar threats surfaced in June on the same website, and that the administration failed to inform the students or staff.
“I feel this should have been taken more seriously by the university, and more disclosure should have been given to students, especially those at risk,” said Mary O’Brien*, a WGS, international relations, and political science student.
O’Brien said that she was dissatisfied with the administration’s response to the threats. “I am appalled that the University would not inform people (specifically, someone in my circumstances for example) when ANYONE [sic] who identifies as a woman and/or participates in a WGS or Sociology Program is at risk,” she said.
Camilla Smith*, a second-year life sciences student minoring in WGS, echoed O’Brien’s concerns. “I think the provost’s response was incredibly inadequate,” she said. “The fact that they failed to mention the specificity of the threats puts the targets of the threats in danger by not letting them know that they are the targets.”
680 News reported that Toronto Police services do not consider the comments online to be a credible threat.
“It’s upsetting to hear comments from students at U of T who are not WGS students or feminists because they aren’t taking the threats seriously, saying ‘something like this would never happen at U of T, we’re perfectly safe’ and by saying that they are making light of what has the potential to become a national tragedy,” Smith said of people not taking the issue seriously.
“The reality is that as much as we claim to be a progressive and tolerating [sic] society, it is incidents such as these that prove otherwise,” said Zahra Vaid, the academic and student liaison for the Women and Gender Studies Union. Vaid spoke to the problem of violence against women not being treated as a serious issue and said that such violence has become normalized. “The recurring phrase that I heard was that this issue was being blown out of proportion by none other than feminists, because ‘that is what they do.’”
“This issue is not just about a threat made to the university. It is so much bigger,” Vaid stated.
Many groups, both student and local, have released statements condemning the threats including the U of T president’s office, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, the Canadian Union of Public Employees 3902, and blogTO.
* Name changed at student’s request.