File photo: Simcoe Hall. JENNIFER SU/THE VARSITY

On August 21, an open letter was emailed to U of T President Meric Gertler on behalf of 129 faculty, staff, and students from many departments across all three U of T campuses. The letter was sent to President Gertler to express the signatories’ concerns regarding the administration’s response to a nationalist rally that had been planned by the Canadian Nationalist Party (CNP), scheduled to take place on campus on September 14.

While the administration has maintained that the rally was not booked in any U of T-owned spaces, the letter describes the response as insufficient, “considering the alarming rise of racism, hate speech, and bigotry in Toronto, Canada, the United States, and the world.”

One of the key points of the letter is the university’s mishandling of the communication of its message in the face of this issue. Since the administration chose to express itself on social media — which not all faculty members use — and did not explicitly disavow hate speech on campus from the beginning, the signatories felt that the university’s response fell short and was “hiding behind procedural arguments.”

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The letter also firmly spoke out against the far-right politics that the rally signifies. “We are particularly aware of the devastating consequences of academic silence in the face of extreme right movements and fascist ideologies,” it reads. “We cannot emphasize strongly enough that Canada is not immune to these processes and has its own legacies of tremendous gendered and racialized violence (much of it with academic complicity), the effects of which members of our University Community experience daily in the present.”

Althea Blackburn-Evans, Director of Media Relations at the university, stated that “[the administration] reached out the very next day to say that they did not have permission to use the space. I think we were very proactive in responding to it.”

Blackburn-Evans explained that “if it happens on U of T land, we have Campus Police regularly monitoring the area, and anything that is not approved would not be allowed to proceed.” The campus consists of both private and public property, so the university does not have jurisdiction over all areas.

Blackburn-Evans said that she could not comment specifically on the letter. “People feel very strongly about the issue, and although the group did not make a formal request, we did reach out a second time to let them know that there would be too much of a safety risk to host it,” she added.

The Canadian Nationalist Party’s 21-point platform includes clauses about repealing the Employment Equity Act, rewriting the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to revise its stance on multiculturalism, increasing border patrol, and forming a national citizen militia.

More than 3,000 others have already indicated interest in holding a counter-protest to contest the rally, which is to occur at Yonge-Dundas Square. The nationalist rally itself has yet to find a decisive space, and the National Post reports that the event has been called off, though it may be rescheduled in the future.

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