My interest in law, specifically in education law, began in what seemed like a lawless place. 

Ten years ago, I started my undergraduate degree at Concordia University. At the time, I was a shy, unassuming kid with no idea that I would become part of a handful of students on the front lines of one of the most shocking, bizarre and well-publicized events at a Canadian university in recent memory.

During my second year at Concordia, another round of violence had begun in Israel. I had spent a year there after high school and learned a fair bit about the history and politics of the Palestinians and Israelis. The first thing I had understood about the Arab-Israeli conflict was that, like any other but perhaps more so, it involved a war of information. Every major event in the Middle East caused a corresponding rally or lecture or pamphlet on campuses, creating serious challenges for university administrators.

The war of information at Concordia was particularly severe. For example, one zealous anti-Israel group would unabashedly equate Israel to Nazi Germany. The climate on campus created by this type of propaganda grew increasingly worse, and I found myself, as a visibly Jewish student, drawn further into the mix. University administrators failed miserably in their efforts to impose any semblance of order to campus debates. The student government simply fanned the flames.

A combination of extremism and incompetence eventually led, on September 9, 2002, to a full scale riot in the streets of Montreal, preventing a former Israeli leader from attending an event on campus. Rioters shouted anti-Semitic epithets, assaulted Jewish students, and smashed university property.

The event gained immediate and international media attention. At the time, I was actively involved with the Jewish student union, and I was in close contact with almost every journalist, university official, and student activist at the centre of the storm. The riot – and its subsequent fallout throughout the year – ripped at the seams of the university, and I was shown how the demands and concerns faced by administrators tested the fundamental character of the institution.  

Slowly, Concordia was turned rightside-up. Moderate students regained control of the student government and restored a sense of order to the campus. By the time I graduated and started law school, Concordia was a very different place.

In the years that followed, I got married, had a child and was called to the bar. Now, as a father and lawyer, I appreciate the events at Concordia from a slightly different angle by acknowledging the challenges and priorities of each group of campus stakeholders, including the students, professors, administrators and the many other communities tied to the vitality of the university.

Law is an essential element of the hasty and important functions of educational institutions. Schools and universities are carefully designed instruments of social growth and busy marketplaces of endless streams of ideas and identities carried in from every corner of the globe. The goal of this blog is to explore those legal issues and events of interest to Canada’s educational community.

Welcome! If you want to contact me directly, you can email me at nsarna@boughton.ca.