|Year||University Policies||University Practices||Student Union Policies||Student Union Practices|
The Statement of Principles of the Concordia University (Concordia) Code of Rights and Responsibilities (Code) states:
The Code is not to be applied in such a way as to detract from the right of Members to engage in the frank discussion of potentially controversial matters, such as race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, politics or religion. Furthermore, the Code shall not be interpreted in such a way as to limit the use of legitimate instructional techniques, such as irony, argument, conjecture and refutation, or the assignment of readings, which may present a controversial point of view.
The sub-section “Rights Promoted and Protected by the Code” states “the freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression; freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association” are all rights and freedoms valued by the Code.
Section V, Article 28 of the Code defines harassment as “repeated, hostile and unwanted behaviour that infringes upon another university member’s right to safely pursue their work or studies at Concordia”.
The Code (Section V, Article 28E) has the following policy on “Communication of Discriminatory Matter”:
It is an offense for a Member to engage in the distribution, communication, publication or public exhibition by any means of any matter deemed to be discriminatory or to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination, as contemplated under the Québec Charter of Human Rights or under the Canadian Human Rights Act, and for which there is no bona fide and reasonable justification.
“Discrimination” is defined similarly to hate speech, making it possible for a member of an identifiable and protected group to make a claim of hate speech in regard to distribution of material or in a speech.
Section V, article 29G of the Code addresses the conflict between the right to peaceful assembly with the right of members of the University to go about their studies appropriately undisturbed. It recognizes the importance of free expression in the form of peaceful protest, by prohibiting the following:
Obstruction or disruption of teaching, research, administration, study, student disciplinary procedures or other University activity. Notwithstanding the preceding, Members are free to engage in peaceful and orderly protest, demonstration, and picketing that do not disrupt the functions of the University. For example, peaceful picketing or other activity in any public space that does not impede access nor interfere with the activities in a class or meeting is an acceptable expression of dissent and shall not be considered an infraction of this article.
The Policy on the Recognition of Student Organizations and the Use of University Space explicitly states that the University will not try to censor or restrict the materials displayed or used on campus space, provided the manner in which the materials are presented complies with the Code. It states “[f]reedom of expression is a fundamental principle and one which is a prerequisite to the essential mission of a university, namely the pursuit of knowledge. This principle requires the ability to question and debate any subject even the most controversial.” It further states that “[w]hile the University is committed to promoting freedom of expression, it has a concurrent responsibility to ensure that all of its members can reasonably expect to pursue their work and studies in a safe and civil environment.”
However, the Policy also states that University officials reserve the right to restrict campus-space booking on the basis of high demand for a particular space, as well as on the basis of discretion. Section 15 of the Policy states:
University space and facilities may be made available to recognized student associations and organizations for extra-curricular activities. The University, however, shall be under no obligation to permit such use and is free to exercise its discretion in permitting it.
Concordia’s Policy on the Display of Posters states that:
Only posters announcing activities to be held at the University or which are of special interest to the University community and are sponsored by a legitimate University group, shall be approved for display. Posters by any other group, whether internal or external, shall not be approved and, if displayed, shall be removed without further notice.
Security risks are assessed and the fees that the Concordia Students’ Union charges the event organizers are based on the results of the assessment. The assessment empowers security and University officials to discriminate against speech and events they consider controversial, and therefore a security risk, imposing burdens on students promoting controversial views that aren’t imposed on other students with less “risky” messages. There does not appear to be any further details upon which the assessment is based.
A lecture by Canadian Liberal MP Marc Garneau scheduled for January 12, 2015 was cancelled on that day due to concerns expressed by Montreal Police of a planned “hostile and violent” protest disrupting the event. The talk, organized by the two groups external to Concordia, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting (CAMERA) and the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research (CIJR), addressed Canada-Israel relations and was to take place at CIJR’s downtown Montreal offices, which are located next to Concordia University’s downtown campus. It was cancelled by the organizers.
One of the organizers of the event, Bradley Martin, a Concordia student, explained the details leading up to the cancellation of the event:
This morning, the Montreal Police informed CIJR that their cyber division detected a planned protest of the event. This protest was estimated to consist of about sixty demonstrators and considered to be hostile and violent. Under the circumstances, it was determined that the venue could not be secured properly and the safety of attendants would be at risk. It was therefore decided that the event would not take place as planned and be postponed indefinitely.
The event was rescheduled and took place in March, at a more secure location further away from campus. The University did not issue a statement regarding the cancellation of the event.
In response to a referendum vote compelling the Concordia Students’ Union (CSU) to endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, on December 5, 2014, Concordia University president Alan Shepard issued a statement upholding free speech and academic freedom:
Last week, the Concordia Student Union (CSU) included a referendum question on its by-election ballot asking its membership whether they approved of the CSU endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
I have heard from a number of members of our community who worry that this issue is divisive and could create an unwelcoming environment on campus.
The result of the vote is independent of the university.
In my view, a boycott barring us from contact with other universities and scholars would be contrary to the value of academic freedom that is a pillar of Concordia and of universities all over the world.
That freedom — to think the thoughts we want to think, to test ideas however controversial — is the bedrock of university life. Boycotts by definition foreclose all opportunities for such a free exchange of ideas and perspectives.
In cases that are as complex as the one at hand, questions of how the discussion, debate and aftermath are conducted are as important as the outcome.
All members of our community have an obligation to uphold the principles of academic freedom, free speech and mutual respect.
I wish to affirm strongly my commitment to these values. These are not hollow placeholders but essential values.
I call on everyone in the Concordia community to work together to sustain an environment in which all of us are emotionally and physically safe and secure.
Only in such an environment can we truly pursue the freedoms of education.
On April 29, 2013, a satirical article was posted to the news blog “Coop média de Montreal” (CMM) titled “Interview with Sociologist Nixed by Vic Toews’ Office”. Written by David Bernans, the article told a fictional story of a request made by Concordia University to the office of federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, to hold an on-campus interview with Mr. Toews and Dr. Emile Durkehim (1857-1917), the latter whom is credited with founding the academic discipline of sociology. The article “reports” that the Minister’s office cancelled the interview because Dr. Durkheim was alleged to have “committed sociology”.
Author Bernans explained the rationale behind publishing this piece of satire:
It made fun of the Harper government’s claim that “committing sociology” is some kind of terror-friendly crime. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews was the butt of the joke, but, strangely enough, it was Concordia University’s PR department that took offence.
Concordia’s Director of Media Relations Chris Mota informed CMM that the article defamed Concordia University, and ordered CMM to remove the article from its website within hours or face legal action. CMM did not remove the original article, but published a redacted version of the article on May 3, 2013, removing any direct mention of Concordia and Emile Durkheim.
In April 2012, tuition hike protesters hijacked an event where the University community was supposed to meet the potential new president, Alan Shepard. After students began chanting and using a megaphone to send the message that they would continue to disrupt the school year in this manner, the event was cancelled and Shepard never had the chance to speak. Despite the University’s anti-disruption policy, the University allowed the protesters to silence the speaker and prevented other students and staff from meeting Mr. Shepard.
During a student boycott in the winter 2012 session at Concordia, the University asked the professors to continue holding classes for students that chose not to participate in the boycott, while giving the professors some discretion in how they dealt with students who chose not to attend classes or pass in assignments. The official stance of the university on the strikes can be found here and here.
A major march of all students in Quebec wishing to oppose the proposed tuition hikes was planned for March 23, 2012. Yet, many students opposed the strike even more than the tuition increases, and wished to attend classes as normal, and continue with their education.
On March 22nd, the University shut down all its facilities for security purposes, fearing the riots that would come from the protesters if the university remained open.
In 2004 a Jewish students’ group, Concordia Hillel, invited former Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Barak to speak at Concordia. For fear of a security problem, Concordia refused to let Barak speak on campus, and proposed that Concordia Hillel co-sponsor an event at an alternative venue where Barak could speak. A risk assessment team informed the University that it did not believe Concordia was equipped to secure an on-campus presentation from the former Israeli Prime Minister. The university’s decision to move the event off-campus and not provide adequate security was criticized as a failure to protect free speech on campus; providing adequate security is as necessary a role as the upholding of free speech rights.
In its defence, Concordia stated:
Concordia University's decision not to host on our campuses the proposed speech by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, but to instead co-sponsor the event at a more securable location, has been distorted as a failure to protect free speech and a caving in to mob rule. This is simply not true.
The university has a responsibility to protect the security of students, staff, professors and neighbours while promoting free speech - at a location that security experts consider appropriate. This is precisely what we have done. That the organizers of Mr. Barak's proposed visit have rejected our offer to facilitate, co-sponsor and help pay for the event at one of several recommended Montreal sites calls into question whether they truly wish to hear Mr. Barak's views or, rather, wish to advance their own political agenda without regard for the potential consequences for Concordia University.
…However, it would have been negligent for the university to respond to such pressure by attempting to host the event on campus against responsible advice. Nor is it necessary. The facts are that Jewish students, professors and staff as well as members of many other ethnic and religious groups interact daily in complete freedom. Only yesterday, a distinguished Jewish scholar from Princeton University spoke to an overflow audience on the history of Jewish-Muslim relations. The lecture and an extended question period took place in an atmosphere of respect and civility.
In summary, we would have been pleased to have Mr. Barak speak to our students, and were prepared to plan for this until our risk assessment team, armed with advice from security authorities, concluded that we do not at present have a locale on campus that can reasonably be made sufficiently secure for such an event. That is why we made the offer to co-sponsor this speech off campus. Unfortunately, this offer was rejected.
Concordia provided no details or specific explanation for its assertion that no campus spaces were available.
In response to a motion passed by Concordia Students Union (CSU) council revoking club status for Concordia Hillel in 2002 (see section 4 of this report), Concordia stated:
The CSU has asserted on many occasions that, as a result of its accreditation, it is illegal for the university to intervene in CSU business. Therefore, it is particularly offensive to request the university overturn CSU Council decisions on an invitation-only basis when it is to the advantage of the CSU...We cannot absolve them of their responsibility and legal duty to conduct their affairs in a fair, equitable and non-partisan manner.
On September 9, 2002, current Israeli Prime Minister Banjamin Netanyahu was to present a lecture at Concordia University. His speaking event was cancelled when protestors and Montreal police began to clash outside the Henry F. Hall building, where the lecture was scheduled to take place. Just before the event was scheduled to begin, protesters shattered a window in the lecture hall and police responded by throwing pepper spray into the crowd, which forced the evacuation of the building and the cancellation of the lecture.
In March 1992, artist Lyne Robichaud was invited to display her paintings at Concordia University’s Women’s Centre. Organizers of the exhibition decided to ban some of her paintings that featured women of colour carrying fruit on their heads. Organizers at the Women’s Centre justified the ban, expressing that as a white woman Robichaud should not be painting black women at all, let alone in “stereotypical” “Chiquita Banana” poses. Robichaud, believing the ban to be absurd, noted that by the same logic “only men should paint men and only women should paint women.”
Concordia Student Union’s (CSU) mission includes a defence of “students’ rights.”
CSU’s Standing Regulations, section 97, defines requirements for student organizations to be officially recognized as clubs by the CSU. The criteria for registration require, among other things, that “[t]he objectives and activities of the group should be seen as attempting to contribute to the educational, recreational, social, or cultural values of the Student Union and the University,” and that “[t]he group must be unique with its ideas, events and activities.” It further states that club membership “must be open to all members of the Student Union, without restriction on the grounds of national origin, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability or faculty of study.”
Chapter 2 of “Book XII – General Provisions”, contained in the Standing Regulations, gives CSU Council broad powers to disregard any Regulations maintained in the document:
Any ordinary motion, resolution or regulation who derogates from the code can only be adopted with a clause stating that the motion operates regardless of the Code of Standing Regulations. The clause must state which article (s) are not to be applied towards the motion. Such motion requires a 2/3 majority vote and will cease to have effect 4 months following its approval.
CSU’s Banner Policy is designed to ensure “freedom of expression while simultaneously securing that all members of the Concordia C. community can reasonably expect to pursue their studies in a safe and civil environment, as outlined in the Code of Rights and Responsibilities.”
However, the Banner Policy prohibits banners that are deemed “discriminatory” by Quebec’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Concordia’s Code of Rights and Responsibilities.
The CSU reserves the right to remove anyone from a booked space that is “objectionable” or “unruly”. Neither of these terms are defined or explained in more detail. Information regarding booking campus space through the CSU is found here.
In December of 2014, members of the CSU voted on a referendum question to endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to place economic pressure on Israel for perceived human rights violations. The question read: “Do you approve of the CSU endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel?” The “yes” side garnered a slim majority of 1,276 votes. The overall turnout was 2,580. There are 35,000 registered undergraduates at Concordia who were eligible to vote.
On July 23, 2014, at a Special Meeting of CSU council, a motion was approved that positions the CSU “against the disproportionate use of force, the use of chemical weapons, the illegal settlements in Palestine and the blockade on Gaza all caused by the state of Israel.”
The CSU also supports issue campaigns which promote stances on “Climate Justice,” “Divestment,” “Anti-Consumerism,” and “Indigenous Sovereignty.”
During the 2011-12 school year, the Concordia Student Union (CSU) was faced with determining its response to the student “strike,” or boycott of classes, as a method of protesting the tuition hikes. At a general assembly, CSU members had the opportunity to debate what form the strike would take, and then vote on whether or not to strike. Students who spoke against the strike received angry responses from the crowd, and often dismissive responses from CSU leaders.
In October of 2004, in response to the cancelling of the Ehud Barack lecture by Concordia University officials (see Section 2), CSU posted the following statement to its website supporting free expression on campus:
The Concordia Student Union supports free speech. As such we would support a speech by Ehud Barak held on campus as long as it is not disruptive to the academic pursuits of students. It could be held in the hockey arena or FC Smith Auditorium (at a time when there are no classes). In addition, 75% of the seats would need to be saved for students, entry could not be restricted for any constituency group and there would need to be an open question period.
On December 2, 2002, the student group Concordia Hillel (Hillel) had its club status revoked by CSU council in response to a flier that Hillel allegedly distributed at an information table providing information on a volunteer program with the Israel Defense Forces. Hillel has denied any responsibility for the flyers in question, claiming they were placed on one of their tables without their knowledge or consent. The motion required Hillel to issue a public apology for the flyers before it could be re-instated. Despite the council chair ruling the motion Out of Order, the nine council members present at the meeting overturned his decision and passed the motion by 8 to 1. A week later, council back-tracked by stating Hillel could be re-instated if it would apologize and promise not to distribute offensive materials in the future, but Hillel refused.
On December 11, 2002, Hillel announced that it would sue the CSU and the University as co-parties, demanding full re-instatement of club status as well as damages for the violation of their constitutional freedoms. On October 10, 2003, the Quebec Court of Appeal found against Hillel’s appeal on lifting the suspension of their lawsuit, which had been ordered by the Quebec Superior Court in May of 2003.