Saturday, May 25, 2024

Open Email to Dr. Kelly Hannah-Moffat (Vice-President of People Strategy, Equity and Culture - U of T)

RE: Notice of trespass to participants in the encampment at St. George campus

Dear Kelly,

I hope you are doing well amid these very challenging times. I am writing because I am very shocked by the decision of the University of Toronto’s administration to issue a notice of trespass to those taking part in the encampment on your main campus, including students, staff, and professors. I am also alarmed that the administration – of which you are a part as Vice-President of People Strategy, Equity & Culture – has indicated that it may levy penalties, including up to expulsion for students and up to termination for staff and professors involved in the encampment. That such measures would be considered as viable to deal with opposition from fellow University of Toronto community members and that such threats would be made to punish their dissent is an affront to academic freedom and Charter rights protecting freedom of expression.

What is also shocking to me amid this disturbing episode in arguably unlawful administrative heavy-handedness and overreach is that while the University of Toronto has framed itself as a neutral party amid the “conflict in the Middle East” (e.g. 18 October 2023 message to the university community), your institution’s administration – like others, my own included – actively invests financial and human capital in activities that sustain and further entrench the occupation, apartheid and genocide that has harmed and killed scores of Palestinians. If the University of Toronto’s administration truly wanted to take the neutral position, why not take the reasonable steps outlined by St. George campus encampment participants to disclose and divest from financial investments and academic partnerships that support and sustain Israeli occupation, apartheid, and genocide? At least this way, University of Toronto officials such as yourself could legitimately state that they eventually did take a neutral position amid this horrific moment in human history and ended its complicity in the criminalizable atrocities taking place in Palestine. 

In closing, I wish to note that I asked you years ago if you would support my SSHRC post-doctoral fellowship application and agree to serve as my supervisor. As you are a leading punishment and society scholar with a distinguished career documenting and seeking to address human rights abuses in the context of imprisonment and community-based alternatives to confinement, I continue to feel honoured that you supported my post-doc application. I only regret that I did not get a chance to benefit from your mentorship and that we did not get to work together when I was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship from SSHRC in 2011 as I chose to take a tenure-track position instead given the volatility of the academic job market at the time. With all this said, given your dedication to the observance of human rights and your tremendous contributions to this end, I am absolutely shocked that you would be part of a university administration that would even consider cracking down on community members that are not only exercising their human rights, but also defending them for all people. This strikes me as completely at odds with your exemplary track record to date. I sincerely hope that you are a voice for what is right within the University of Toronto’s administration and that you can convince other members of senior leadership that subjecting community members to police and university repression is indefensible and must be avoided at all costs. Failure to do so will inevitably lead to calls to boycott and censure the University of Toronto, which – despite my enduring respect for you – I would support in the strongest terms possible if any students, staff and professors participating in the encampment at St. George campus are unjustly punished for doing so.  



Justin Piché, PhD 
Professeur titulaire | Full Professor
Coordonnateur du programme | PhD | Program Coordinator
uOttawa Criminologie / Criminology

Email: |

Director, Carceral Geography (Col)laboratory  
Co-editor, Journal of Prisoners on Prisons 
Member, Criminalization and Punishment Education Project

Co-director, Prisoner Legal Supports
Researcher, Carceral Cultures Research Initiative 

Management Committee Member, Human Rights Research and Education Centre
Member, Abolition Coalition
Liaison, International Conference On Penal Abolition

How to Abolish Prisons: Lessons from the Movement Against Imprisonment (Haymarket Books, 2024)
Pain in Vain: Penal Abolition and the Legacy of Louk Hulsman (Red Quill Books, 2023)

Journal of Prisoners on Prisons – Volume 32, Number 2 (University of Ottawa Press, 2023)

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