Human Rights Commission looking into Jewish holidays at York

An Ontario Human Rights Commission investigator has found that York University’s practice of cancelling classes on Jewish holidays is discriminatory. In a report to be considered by the Commission, the investigator concluded that York’s policy discriminates against other religions.

The Toronto Starreported that professor David Noble considers the report a victory. Noble, who is Jewish, has opposed the policy for years. “This is fantastic,” Noble told the Star. “It’s just too bad it took four years to have a third party confirm that this is an illegal practice.”

But York officials didn’t see this as a major set-back. In an email to Maclean’s, officials wrote that the report is only the first step in the investigation and that they now have 15 days to respond to the concerns brought up in the report regarding Noble’s complaint. “This is far from final.”

Noble declined to comment to Maclean’s, noting that the Star article presented his perspective.

York has cancelled three days of classes for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for decades. A recent report estimated that only 5.8 per cent of York’s 51,000 students are Jewish. The majority are Christian. Muslim students make up 4.8 per cent of the student body.

David Noble has long been an outspoken and controversial professor at York. In November, York was ordered to pay $2,500 to Noble for violating his academic freedom in an on-going dispute that stems from Noble’s claim that York officials, including former president Lorna Marsden, conspired with Jewish lobby groups to ruin his reputation in 2004. The university released a statement denouncing a pamphlet Noble had distributed to students that criticized the university’s pro-Israel bias. Noble had sought $10 million from York over the incident.

Noble also won an out-of-court settlement and apology from Simon Fraser University last year over their handling of the appointment to J.S. Woodsworth chair. Noble was not awarded the seat even though he had the support of the department of humanities. SFU admitted that a number of mistakes were made but that they may not have changed the outcome of their decision.