Hotline provides legal support for students visited by CSIS, RCMP

“Legal education is a kind of education, and that’s what we’re providing,” says Institute of Islamic Studies Director

Hotline provides legal support for students visited by CSIS, RCMP

The Institute of Islamic Studies (IIS) at U of T has created a student support hotline that provides legal advice for U of T students who have been visited by organizations such as the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

The National Security Student Support Hotline is a collaboration between the Downtown Legal Services clinic, the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association, the National Council of Canadian Muslims, and the IIS.

The project was created after stories emerged in the past year about former Muslim Students’ Association executives across Canada being visited by CSIS. 

“For a number of years it’s come to mine and a number of people’s attention at universities across Canada [that] since 9/11… students at universities are often approached by field agents for a conversation,” said Anver Emon, a Professor of Law and History and the Director of the IIS.

CSIS is a civilian intelligence service that covers a broad range of issues. Unlike the RCMP, it does not seek information related to ongoing criminal investigations. “In the case of CSIS…  knowing what your rights are, knowing the legal landscape and knowing what you should do is not straight forward,” said Emon.

In a previous interview with The Varsity, John Townsend, Head of Public Relations for CSIS, said that, “when CSIS seeks cooperation or assistance from Canadians, we emphasize that discussions are voluntary. CSIS ensures our approach is lawful, ethical, necessary, and proportionate.”

Emon said that anecdotal evidence from lawyers who had dealt with these cases suggested it was not uncommon for CSIS agents to say to interviewees who considered seeking legal advice that, “If you’re going to get a lawyer, that just makes you look guilty.”

“And that’s a problem for those of us who are law professors and lawyers who value education, who value the recognition that knowing what our rights are is part of what makes us citizens of this country or residents,” Emon said.

“It is against CSIS policy for CSIS employees to discourage anyone from seeking legal advice,” said CSIS’s Townsend.

Students who call the hotline will be asked to make a brief report about their encounter. The IIS, who manages the call centre, will then connect the student to a volunteer lawyer. From there, the lawyer and the student will form an attorney-client relationship, where the IIS no longer plays a role. 

“There’s a number of factors that go into any sort of conversation, which is why the lawyer-client relationship… was the best vehicle to maximize the educational possibility of this program,” said Emon.

Emon emphasized that Muslim students have only been the most recent group to be targeted by CSIS. “We know that this kind of practice has been existing for many years or decades. A while ago, Latin American students were approached by CSIS. We heard that our Sikh students in the past had been questioned, Tamil students have been subject to this, so there is a history.”

“This is a hotline for any U of T student regardless of religion, race, gender, identity, politics.”

Op-ed: What happened in New Zealand has no borders

A Muslim Students’ Association Executive reflects on the recent mosque massacre

Op-ed: What happened in New Zealand has no borders

“Hello brother.” That was the greeting of a Muslim man who was the first to be met with bullets. 

On March 15, a white supremacist perpetrated a massacre in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. 51 innocent souls lost their lives due to a vicious and gruesome hate crime. But while this terrorist attack took place thousands of miles from Toronto, its origin and impact has no borders for Muslims around the world. 

The attack was fuelled by extremist anti-Muslim ideologies that have been tolerated, and even actively encouraged, by politicians and leaders around the world. It is not disconnected from the ongoing Muslim ban in the US or the rising anti-hijab contempt in Europe. Furthermore, the denial of the problem of white supremacy and the lack of its reporting by the media contribute to massacres like the one that took place in New Zealand.

Canada too knows the violent ideology of white supremacy very well. Two years ago, the Québec City mosque shooting took the lives of six Muslims and devastated the lives of many Canadians. In fact, the white supremacist New Zealand shooter wrote the name of the Québec mosque shooter on his weapon. This should be a wake-up call to Canadians: we need to acknowledge and address the existence of Islamophobia in our country. 

Earlier this year, students found white nationalist posters around U of T that decried  multiculturalism. In 2018, the municipal elections gave a platform to white nationalist individuals like Faith Goldy. At York University, just a few miles from our campus, a student showed up in a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat to a vigil for the victims of the New Zealand mosque massacre.

All of these examples have been largely tolerated and not condemned by our community. The perpetrators of white supremacy are hiding behind the banner of ‘freedom of speech’ as an excuse for their Islamophobia. But the tolerance of this anti-Muslim rhetoric has resulted in the loss of 51 lives. We need to draw the line between intellectual freedom and the spewing of hate. We cannot accept a version of freedom of speech that results in the deaths of innocent people.  

The massacre has impacted the lives of many Muslims, including U of T students — especially those who made their way to Friday prayers the next day. Within hours of receiving the news, we at the Muslim Students’ Association (MSA) organized healing circles at the two Friday prayer locations to provide students with the space to grieve. We extended our support to the Toronto vigil by assisting in the marketing and promotion of the event. We referred students to wellness resources in the GTA to assist them in coping with the tragedy through an Islamically-principled approach.  

In turn, the campus community has been quite supportive through this process. As we arrived at Hart House to perform the congregational prayers that the New Zealand victims had just engaged in a few hours previously, we were welcomed by handwritten messages from the staff and students offering their support to the Muslim community. Our Christian and Jewish friends stood by us as we made our way to prayers. The kindness we received from our faculty and fellow students on campus was incredibly supportive during what was a dark day for Muslims. 

President Meric Gertler released a heartfelt statement in which he sent his condolences to the MSA and all Muslims on campus. His kind words helped us feel heard and acknowledged. 

Others, however, have made a meaningful effort to address the issue at its core. Professor Anver Emon, director of the Institute of Islamic Studies (IIS) has recognized the attack for what it is: a white supremacist attack. He highlights that the discussion on Islamophobia is long-term, and we must recognize its existence within our own lands. Emon has announced that the IIS will be hosting bimonthly discussions on difficult topics in order to advance our understanding of Islamophobia. 

This explicit recognition has a far greater impact on combating white supremacy. We hope that the U of T administration and the IIS can work together to address Islamophobia and eradicate ignorance both within our campus and in Canada at large. 

The Christchurch massacre can serve as an entryway into an important discussion on Islamophobia. However, we must remember that the attack is not an isolated incident. Anti-Muslim violence has existed as a global reality for years. Therefore, the efforts and discourse from our allies at U of T in alleviating the pain of the New Zealand massacre must address those continued realities as well. 

There is much work to be done at the university to support Muslims in their efforts to confront white supremacist ideologies and the violence they face around the world. And these changes begin when we make a sincere effort to recognize the problem of white supremacy.

Shahd Fulath Khan is a second-year Psychology, Neuroscience, and Political Science student at Victoria College. She is the Secretary of the MSA at UTSG.