TTC's Selection of Student for Advisory Panel Criticized
York student sanctioned in 2009 for incident that confined Hillel in its office.
The TTC is again under fire, this time for the appointment of York student Krisna Saravanamuttu to its new customer service advisory panel, a controversial move that is drawing the ire of Jewish groups in the GTA.
In May of 2009, Saravanamuttu, who was then incoming President of the York Federation of Students (YFS), was one of two students sanctioned by York for an incident stemming from February of that year. Saravanamuttu and Jesse Zimmerman were participants in a crowd that interrupted a Hillel at York press conference, leading chants of offensive slogans such as ‘Shame on the right wing agenda. Shame on the Zionists”, “Whose campus? Our campus” and “Racists off campus.” Eventually, Hillel members were forced to take shelter in their office until police arrived.
Howard English, UJA Vice President of Corporate Communications, questioned why the TTC would appoint a student who was penalized for involvement in a dispute that singled out a specific group on campus.
“That kind of behaviour hardly qualifies him for an advisory role in customer service,” said English.
The TTC appointed the fourth year Criminology major and current YFS President to the panel for his “success… delivering a deputation on behalf of York students to lobby the TTC for the $99 discounted Metropass” and his ability to “share the perspective of student riders.” They also noted that he grew up in a “poverty-stricken area of Toronto” where he was reliant on public transit.
The move by the TTC came as a shock to many York students who are concerned that Saravanamuttu will be their representative at the TTC.
Daniel Ferman, Hillel of Greater Toronto’s city wide chair and a current board member of the YFS, wondered whether Saravanamuttu could act in the best interest of all York students given his past history.
“It’s completely inappropriate,” said Ferman. “The TTC says (the appointment) wasn’t politically based but I don’t think York students want someone like him representing us on a public panel.”
York adjudicator Janet Mosher ruled in May 2009 that Saravanamuttu was guilty of violating the student code of conduct for his involvement in the incident, which occurred after Hillel had conducted a news conference calling for the dismissal of the YFS executive for supporting York’s teaching assistants during a contentious and lengthy strike.
Saravanamuttu’s penalty included a $150 fine and an order to attend human rights training at York’s Centre for Human Rights. He also had to author an essay explaining how he would help to promote freedom of debate on campus.
In a letter explaining her ruling, Mosher wrote that the Saravanamuttu contributed to an atmosphere “charged with disrespect and incivility and there is no doubt... (a number of students) feel unsafe as a result.”
Ferman told Shalom Life that the TTC should replace Saravanamuttu with a student who can speak for the needs of the whole York community.
“We would have thought that the committee would have really looked into who they were putting on the panel and that they would have taken someone who was not so politically charged and who hadn’t been at the centre of so many issues,” he said.
In a March 8 National Post story, TTC spokesperson Brad Ross said he was not aware of the 2009 incident. “Whatever happened, whether it’s political positions, or criticism by groups of people … it isn’t relevant to the panel’s task, which is really improving customer service,” he said.
Ferman was President of Hillel at York in 2009. He was in the Hillel lounge during the February incident, communicating with Toronto police and York security, as the crowd rallied by Saravanamuttu and Zimmerman surrounded Hillel’s office.
“The incident was probably one of the scariest moments I’ve had on campus,” Ferman said. “You really felt threatened for being Jewish. It’s one of those moments that you question how someone can get away with doing that and only get slapped with a fine.”
Shalom Life repeatedly called the TTC and left multiple messages. The TTC did not wish to respond.