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CUPE Ontario leader apologizes for 'Nazi' reference

Vanessa Kortekaas, CUPE Ontario leader apologizes for 'Nazi' reference, Ottawa Citizen, January 8, 2009

Source: Ottawa Citizen

The Ontario president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees says a Nazi reference he used to justify criticism of Israel was "a poor choice of analogy."

Sid Ryan made the comment yesterday after a trustee with the Toronto District School Board called on his board to disavow the union's proposal to ban Israeli academics from the province's post-secondary schools.

"The example I gave was inappropriate and left people with the impression I was trying to compare the people of Israel with the Nazis," Mr. Ryan said.

On Monday, Mr. Ryan likened Israel's attack on the Islamic University in Gaza to Nazis targeting educational institutions and burning books in the Second World War.

These comments, and similar statements in subsequent media interviews, were met with widespread scrutiny.

However, in an interview yesterday evening, Mr. Ryan said he would apologize to "any member of the Jewish community or Israelis who I've offended ... and I know I've offended some people."

Mr. Ryan offered the apology in a follow-up phone call shortly after reiterating that he would not withdraw any of his comments on the CUPE proposal regarding Israeli professors.

The union president was responding to a motion proposed by school board trustee Josh Matlow yesterday that requires CUPE members to comply with the school board's equity policies and staff directions regarding the Middle East.

There are 11,600 school board workers who are members of CUPE, which negotiates contracts with the board.

The board's Student and Community Equity Department sent a direction to all its members on Tuesday stating: "We count on our staff to take great care to ensure that feelings about this conflict do not give rise to hostilities within our schools or classrooms."

Mr. Matlow called Mr. Ryan's comments "outrageous, sensational rhetoric that only creates conflict within our schools and our country."

Although Mr. Ryan signalled his Nazi references were inappropriate, he stands behind the union's proposal that sparked this debate.

The motion requests the board to send a letter to Mr. Ryan expressing its strong disapproval of his Nazi references and his support for the proposed boycott of Israeli academics.

Mr. Matlow said he hopes the letter will convince CUPE members to hold Mr. Ryan individually accountable for his behaviour.

"I think there will be some courageous souls that will speak up," said the trustee.

"I'd be surprised if some didn't."

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