Spine­less de­fence of free speech

U of A se­lec­tively up­holds rule of law on cam­pus, based on "pop­u­lar­ity" of cause

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL - BY JOHN CAR­PAY Cal­gary lawyer John Car­pay is pres­i­dent of the Jus­tice Cen­tre for Con­sti­tu­tional Free­doms (www.jccf.ca), and acts for the Go-Life stu­dents at the Univer­sity of Al­berta. www.troy­media.com

When it comes to cen­sor­ing un­pop­u­lar speech on cam­pus, some univer­si­ties are smarter than oth­ers.

The Univer­sity of Cal­gary fool­ishly charged its own stu­dents with tres­pass­ing, and later with non-aca­demic mis­con­duct, for hav­ing set up a pro-life dis­play on cam­pus. The univer­sity's cen­sor­ship goals and tac­tics were de­ci­sively re­jected by the court in Wil­son v. Univer­sity of Cal­gary. At Mount Royal Univer­sity, se­cu­rity guards ar­rested a young man for dis­tribut­ing pro-life literature on cam­pus, and de­tained him for sev­eral hours in a small room, with his hands cuffed painfully be­hind his back. Af­ter a court ac­tion was com­menced, the univer­sity's pres­i­dent apol­o­gized for the se­cu­rity guards' con­duct, and the court ac­tion was with­drawn.

In con­trast, the Univer­sity of Al­berta uses more clever tech­niques to cen­sor un­pop­u­lar speech. It ex­torts "se­cu­rity fees" from stu­dents who ex­press con­tro­ver­sial ideas, and fails to en­force its own Code of Stu­dent Be­hav­iour.

Dur­ing the 2014-15 school year, the U of A stu­dent pro-life club, Go-Life, was sub­jected re­peat­edly to hav­ing hun­dreds of its posters torn down by other stu­dents who boasted openly on Face­book about hav­ing de­stroyed Go-Life's prop­erty. The van­dals have not been re­quired to pay resti­tu­tion to Go-Life for the dam­age they ad­mit­ted caus­ing, in spite of ex­press pro­vi­sions in the Code that em­power the Univer­sity to re­quire stu­dents to ac­cept real con­se­quences for their con­duct.

In the weeks lead­ing up to a cam­pus pro-life dis­play in March 2015, sev­eral U of A stu­dents used Face­book to urge the phys­i­cal ob­struc­tion and dis­rup­tion of GoLife's event. This be­hav­iour is ex­pressly pro­hib­ited by the U of A, not to men­tion the Crim­i­nal Code of Canada. These Face­book threats also di­rectly vi­o­lated the U of A's own rules against en­cour­ag­ing the com­mis­sion of of­fences.

In March, the Univer­sity of Al­berta Pro­tec­tive Ser­vices (UAPS) stood by pas­sively while dozens of U of A stu­dents, joined by non-stu­dents (in­clud­ing NDP MP Linda Dun­can), used mob cen­sor­ship to deny other stu­dents their le­gal right to see Go-Life's dis­play. UAPS did not pho­to­graph the stu­dents who phys­i­cally dis­rupted the dis­play, or ask to see their iden­ti­fi­ca­tion (which stu­dents are legally re­quired to pro­duce to univer­sity of­fi­cials when asked), or in­form them that their con­duct was in vi­o­la­tion of the Code. UAPS wil­fully de­prived it­self of the in­for­ma­tion it would need to com­mence dis­ci­plinary pro­ceed­ings against Code­vi­o­la­tors.

Cam­pus se­cu­rity can act de­ci­sively when it wants to. At Car­leton Univer­sity, cam­pus se­cu­rity ar­rested and hand­cuffed stu­dents who tried to set up a pro-life dis­play on cam­pus, and frog­marched them into the wait­ing paddy wagon. At the Univer­sity of Cal­gary, cam­pus se­cu­rity pho­tographed pro-life stu­dents, de­manded to see their iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, and used that in­for­ma­tion to charge the stu­dents with tres­pass­ing and with non-aca­demic mis­con­duct. Cam­pus se­cu­rity would, ap­pro­pri­ately, not al­low a mob of young con­ser­va­tives to dis­rupt a cam­pus NDP event, or white su­prem­a­cists to shut down an abo­rig­i­nal cer­e­mony, or re­li­gious fun­da­men­tal­ists to dis­rupt a cam­pus gay pride pa­rade. But when it comes to pro-choicers phys­i­cally pre­vent­ing peo­ple from see­ing their op­po­nents' ex­pres­sion, cam­pus se­cu­rity guards sud­denly turn into spine­less weak­lings. Up­hold­ing the rule of law on cam­pus de­pends - mys­te­ri­ously - on the iden­tity of the group that needs pro­tec­tion from the mob.

Af­ter the phys­i­cal ob­struc­tion of Go-Life's dis­play in March, the club booked a class­room for a pro­life speaker. Two weeks prior to this event, the U of A in­formed GoLife that the room was avail­able for use. How­ever, the U of A de­nied for­mal ap­proval un­til min­utes prior to the event's start, thereby pre­vent­ing Go-Life from advertising. This ren­dered the event al­most mean­ing­less.

Adding in­sult to in­jury, the U of A then pre­sented Go-Life with an in­voice for hun­dreds of dol­lars be­cause a UAPS se­cu­rity guard was present at the event - a ser­vice which the stu­dents had not re­quested. The per­verse think­ing that un­der­lies the in­voice - that law-abid­ing stu­dents must pay hun­dreds of dol­lars for the po­ten­tial mis­con­duct of law-break­ing stu­dents - is com­pletely con­trary to the rule of law.

U of A pres­i­dent Indira Sa­ma­rasek­era is more clever than the Univer­sity of Cal­gary in achiev­ing the same re­sult: a cam­pus which does not fa­cil­i­tate the ex­pres­sion of un­pop­u­lar ideas.

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