Canadian universities given failing grade on free speech: pro-life groups most affected
CALGARY, December 9, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – According to a report released by the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) December 8, Canadian universities fail in promoting and protecting free speech, most notably when it comes to the rights of pro-life groups on campus.
This failure has a “spin-off effect that harms the health of free speech” in society, says the report.
“If censorship is OK on a university campus, I think there is a spin-off effect that harms the health of free speech outside the university as well,” said Calgary lawyer, JCCF president, and lead author of the report, John Carpay. “Taxpayers are paying hundreds of millions of dollars to these institutions that promise to be a forum for frank debate. It’s disconcerting to see this.”
The 2011 Campus Freedom Index rates 18 public universities, and their student unions, in terms of their commitment to upholding the rights of students to express their beliefs, opinions and philosophy on campus.
No Canadian university was found to rate “good” in all categories, however the University of New Brunswick, the University of British Columbia, and Simon Fraser University received the best marks.
Carleton University, the University of Western Ontario, and the University of Calgary were ranked the worst.
The introduction to the Index states that one of the biggest threats to free speech in Canada comes from universities which condone illegal activities on the part of people who interfere with, and effectively shut down the events and speeches of people they disagree with. It notes that universities in Ottawa, Montreal, Waterloo, Halifax, Vancouver, and Calgary have turned a blind eye to people physically obstructing and disrupting speech with which they disagree.
The report found that most campus censorship was focused on university pro-life clubs, which have repeatedly been denied club status by student unions, denied the right to space to hold symposiums and show displays, and have been subjected to regulations regarding their pro-life activities that are not demanded of other students’ clubs.
“I think every age has a viewpoint that is particularly unpopular,” Mr. Carpay said. “But the most important thing I emphasize is if universities and student councils can censor the pro-life view, then they can censor anything and they will eventually censor anything.”
The Index rates Ottawa’s Carleton University as one of the worst offenders. On October 4, 2010, four members of Carleton Lifeline and one supporter from another campus were arrested by Ottawa police for “trespassing” on the Carleton campus because they tried to set up a Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) display at Tory Quad, a well-travelled and high-traffic area on campus. The display included graphic images of aborted babies as well as pictures of the Rwanda genocide and the Holocaust.
The university stated that it sent police to arrest the students expressly because of the content of the group’s expression.
A video showing police confronting the students has been posted to YouTube. During the video, an unnamed member of the Carleton University administration tells the group, “this display at this place is a prohibited activity.”
The trespassing charges were withdrawn by Crown prosecutors in November, with the explanation that issues dealing with the relationship between a university and its students was already being dealt with in a civil action brought by two Carleton Lifeline members, Ruth (Lobo) Shaw and John McLeod, against Carleton University and members of its administration on grounds of wrongful arrest.
Carleton Lifeline announced in February that they were suing the University and its administration for discriminatory treatment over the 2010-2011 academic school year.
Albertos Polizogopoulos, lawyer for the Carleton students, told the National Post that the Campus Freedom Index reveals the “frightening … depiction of how freedom of expression is being curtailed. Universities are going down a line where they become defenders of indoctrination and ideology rather than defending inquiry.”
John Carpay is currently defending members of the University of Calgary’s Campus Pro-Life (CPL) club who are asking for a judicial review of a UofC decision that found eight students guilty of “non-academic misconduct” for having set up a pro-life display on campus. The students refused to comply with the university’s demand that the signs be set up in a circle facing inwards, such that people walking by could not see the signs.
“The University of Calgary’s patronizing and paternalistic approach - trying to decide on behalf of students what they can and cannot see - has no place in a free society,” observed Mr. Carpay, “especially not at a public university that is funded by Alberta taxpayers.”
The full text of the “2011 Campus Freedom Index,” along with an in-depth report on each of the 18 universities in the Index (The state of campus free speech in 2011) is available from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms website.