|Year||University Policies||University Practices||Student Union Policies||Student Union Practices|
Dalhousie University’s Code of Student Conduct (Code) states at section II.A.5: “Nothing in this Code shall be construed to prohibit peaceful assemblies and demonstrations, or lawful picketing, or to inhibit freedom of speech.”
Section II.C.1. of the Code states in part:
e) No student shall engage in a course of vexatious conduct, harassment or discrimination that is directed at one or more specific persons and that is based on the age, race, colour, religion, creed, sex, sexual orientation, physical disability, mental disability, an irrational fear of contracting an illness or disease, ethnic or national or aboriginal origin, family status, marital status, source of income, political belief or affiliation or activity of that person or of those with whom he or she associates.
Further, in section II.C.2, the Code states:
No student shall, by action, threat or otherwise, disrupt, obstruct or adversely affect any activity organized by Dalhousie University or by any of its faculties, schools or departments, or the right of other persons to carry on their legitimate activities, to speak or to associate with others.
Section C.1.C states that “[n]o student shall create a condition that unnecessarily endangers the health or safety of other persons.”
Dalhousie’s Sexual Harassment Policy states in its Preamble:
The University occupies a special place in society as an intellectual community with a responsibility for the discovery and sharing of knowledge. This aspiration demands a commitment to an atmosphere of reciprocal respect among all members of the university community. Sexual harassment potentially undermines the full and free participation of all members of the community by negatively impacting on an individual’s employment conditions or academic status or performance or by creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working or academic environment.
Part Three of the Sexual Harassment Policy protects academic freedom and free expression:
This policy is to be interpreted and administered in a way that is consistent with the principles of academic freedom. Neither this policy in general, nor its definitions in particular, are to be applied in such a way as to detract from the right of faculty, staff, and students to engage in the frank discussion of potentially controversial matters, such as age, race, politics, religion, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. These are legitimate topics and no University policy should have the effect of limiting discussion of them or of prohibiting instructional techniques, such as the use of irony, the use of conjecture and refutation, or the assignment of readings that advocate controversial positions, provided that such discussion and instructional techniques are conducted in a mutually respectful and non-coercive manner.
The Sexual Harassment Policy defines sexual harassment as follows:
10) Sexual harassment is defined as any sexually-oriented behaviour of a deliberate or negligent nature which adversely affects the working or learning environment. It may involve conduct or comments that are unintentional as well as intentional. It includes, but is not limited to:
…(d) sexually-oriented remarks or behaviour by a person who knows or ought reasonably to know that such remarks or behaviour may create a negative psychological or emotional environment for work, study or participation in a University-related activity or program. Such remarks or behaviour may include, but are not limited to, suggestive and/or derogatory comments, sounds or gestures emphasizing sex or sexual orientation; suggestive staring; inappropriate displays or distribution of sexually suggestive pictures, objects, writing or graffiti, including electronic and hard copy forms; persistent unwanted contact after the end of a consensual relationship; unnecessary or unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature such as patting, touching, pinching or brushing against; and sexual assault.
Given that the Sexual Harassment Policy was used to prosecute the complaints against dentistry students in the 2014-2015 year (see section 2 of this report), it is apparent that administrators interpret this policy to prohibit non-criminal sexual jokes and images posted on private social media pages.
Unlike the Sexual Harassment Policy, Dalhousie’s Personal Harassment Policy does not include a clause protecting academic freedom and free expression:
“Personal Harassment” is abusive, unfair, or demeaning treatment of a person or group of persons that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome and unwanted when:
- a) such treatment abuses the power one person holds over another by virtue of their employment relationship or misuses authority associated with their position of employment, or
- b) such treatment has the effect of seriously threatening or intimidating a person, and such treatment has the effect of unreasonably interfering with a person’s or a group of persons’ employment or performance, or
- c) such treatment has the effect of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.
Conduct considered above means either repeated or persistent patterns of behaviour, direct or indirect, that when taken together constitute personal harassment; or a single act of sufficient severity to constitute personal harassment in its own right. Such conduct may occur within or outside of the workplace.
Examples of personal harassment include, but are not limited to, name calling, insults, inappropriate jokes, threats, shouting, derogatory remarks (including messages that are threatening, derisive, or defamatory), spreading malicious rumours, persistent criticism and exclusion.
Personal harassment does not include appropriate managerial direction, delegation, performance management or attendance management.
The Dalhousie Office of Human Rights, Equity and Harassment Prevention (Human Rights Office) describes its purpose as preventing discrimination on campus. If a student files a human rights complaint against another student, the Office will insist the parties involved meet with “trained neutral mediators” in an attempt to resolve the conflict.
Dalhousie employs the Human Rights and Equity Advisor, as well as an Equity Assistant, to “foster and support an inclusive learning environment” and administer “the University’s human rights, equity, harassment, and other policies.”
The Human Rights Office outlines “Strategies for the inclusive classroom”:
Ask students to identify possibly discriminatory content in textbooks, readings, etc.
Do your best to be sensitive to language/ terminology issues
Provide guidelines for group discussions to assist everyone in participating.
Never ask a student to act as a spokesperson for his/her group/country/religion/ disability/sexuality
Be prepared to address inappropriate or offensive comments
In addition, the Human Rights Office sets down rules for individuals on their “Practices of Inclusion and Respect” webpage. Individuals are told the following:
Do not laugh at sexist, racist, heterosexist or otherwise demeaning humor.
Know that offensive comments often come from lack of knowledge or learned biases. Identify your own biases and stereotypes. Resist acting on them and take steps to inform yourself and unlearn them.
Accept that this is fluid and evolving and you will make mistakes. At the same time listen to the words used by diverse groups and make efforts to keep up with changing terminology.
Correct mistakes and move on. Apologize if appropriate.
What is experienced as offensive varies from individual to individual. If someone challenges you, listen to what they have to say and try to understand their perspective. Thank people for guidance.
Under “Organizational Practices” in this same section, students are told to “strive to make inclusive language the norm” but also to “create an environment where differing perspectives are welcomed and people speak up and out.”
There is much room for interpretation as to what is “discriminatory.” A failure to apologize for politically incorrect language would clearly violate these policies. Students are told what language to “strive” for, and in which shape they should sit during their meetings. They are told to promote the “fact” that “diversity” benefits everyone even in the absence of “diversity” having any clear or discernable meaning that is commonly understood by all.
The statements and policies of the Human Rights Office could open the door to complaints about “discriminatory” speech, and even lead to the censorship of speech that does not lead to “a learning environment and community free from prohibited discrimination.”
The job duties of residence assistants include “making sure residents respect one another”.
The DDS Gentlemen’s Club was a private Facebook group where up to sixteen students from Dalhousie’s dentistry program would share jokes and discuss campus life. Upon receiving 54 screenshots of the page from a female student on December 8, 2014, which the student believed constituted harassment and bullying, the University’s Vice-Provost of Student Affairs determined that the postings in the screenshots were not a violation of the University’s Code of Student Conduct. The student who brought forward the screenshots wanted the students prosecuted under the Code. Instead, the Vice-Provost determined that the complaint fell under the University’s Sexual Harassment Policy, and through the Office of Human Rights, Equity and Harassment Prevention, initiated a restorative justice process to address the complaint.
Thirteen fourth-year dentistry students who had made posts to the Facebook page were suspended from dental clinics for two months on January 5, 2015—halting a component of their program needed to graduate. On January 9, the University mandated that these students attend the classes they needed to graduate remotely and separately from their classmates.
Twelve of the thirteen students underwent the restorative justice program, which involved attending meetings, apologizing to students and the community, and other measures. One of the thirteen students, Ryan Millet, opted not to participate in the restorative justice process. Millet underwent a disciplinary committee hearing which ruled that he had engaged in unprofessional conduct and must undergo a remediation process. Millet has stated to media and through his lawyers that his involvement in the Facebook group amounted to clicking the “Like” button on postings made by other members of the Facebook group, which he describes as “guilt by association”.
After initially refusing to provide the screenshots of the Facebook postings to Halifax police, on January 13, 2015, the University reversed its decision and provided the screenshots to police, who determined that the postings were not criminal.
Dalhousie University commissioned a Task Force to make recommendations to address the “culture of misogyny” on campus and its response to the incident. Some of the Task Force report’s recommendations include:
The Faculty of Dentistry should monitor social and other extra-curricular events at the dental school to prevent excessive alcohol consumption and facilitation of sexist, heterosexist, misogynistic, or racist behaviour. Events that do not contribute to such behaviour should be reinstated.
- The University should make clear how codes of conduct and similar policies apply to social media activity, whether by revising policies or otherwise.
The University should develop early detection mechanisms to identify issues of discrimination or harassment that may be systemic in nature, and issue guidelines that will assist those with the power to initiate complaints on behalf of the University to identify when and how to do so.
The University’s President issued a statement in response to the Task Force report wherein he accepted the report’s recommendations “fully”.
In March of 2011, the student group Pro-Life at Dal (PLAD) organized a debate on abortion. The Vice-President of Student required PLAD to pay a $350 security fee, and also imposed other conditions. On the night of the debate, the club was suddenly told that security officers would not intervene if any disruptions occurred. The room was vandalized prior to the event, and stink bombs went off intermittently throughout the debate. Dalhousie Security did not intervene at any point, and made no effort to find out who vandalized the room and disrupted the event.
PLAD’s president wrote to the Vice-President of Student Services and expressed concern about Dalhousie’s failure to provide adequate security, and how this failure emboldens those who would disrupt future events. The University has not apologized for its inaction, and has not taken corrective measures to ensure future events did not face the same poor treatment and lack of protection.
In November of 2010, controversial British MP George Galloway was scheduled to speak at Dalhousie, but the University then deemed him to be a security risk (“because he speaks about controversial topics”) and demanded extra money for increased security services. This forced the event to be held off-campus.
In 2007, Jared Taylor was invited to the University to debate a professor on racial diversity. Several weeks before the scheduled debate was to be held, the University issued a statement saying it “learned more about the background and standpoint of the others involved in the proposed debate and has concluded a debate with people who held such views would not be a useful way to explore the topic [of racial diversity]” and cancelled the debate.
The Mission of the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) is to “actively represent the diverse interests of Dalhousie students,” and “provide services which complement and enhance their university experience in a financially, socially and environmentally responsible manner.”
By-Law I of the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) Constitution states:
(a) The Union and any organization under the jurisdiction of the Union shall not discriminate on the grounds of age; race; colour; religion; creed; sex; gender; sexual orientation; physical or mental disability; an irrational fear of contracting an illness or disease; ethnic, national, or Aboriginal origin; family status; martial status; source of income; political belief, affiliation, or activity; or an individual’s association with another individual(s) having characteristics referred to in previous groups.
Sub-section 3(b) states “[s]ub-section 3(a) does not preclude any By-law, Regulation, programme, activity or group that has as its object the amelioration of conditions of traditionally underrepresented individuals or groups including the participation of aboriginal people, racially visible people, persons with disabilities and women.
The DSU passed a new Equity Policy in September 2015. The new Policy states:
b. Discrimination and harassment may take the form of:
- Barriers that prevent the members of the Union living with disabilities from participating in student union programming and activities;
- Remarks, including jokes or innuendos, that are based on racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, or transphobic sentiments;
- Promotional materials, events, or performances that use stereotypes based on any and all grounds protected under the Nova Scotia Human Rights Act;
- Offensive comments and/or actions which demean, humiliate or threaten an individual or group;
- Printed or digital material, displays, and graffiti which demean, humiliate or threaten an individual or group; and
- Sexual harassment, including remarks, jokes or innuendoes about a person’s body, attire, age, marital status, gender, sexuality, sexual orientation, perceived sexual orientation or perceived gender identity.
The Equity Policy further states:
In accordance with the aims of this policy, the following statement will be posted and/or read aloud to participants at all events of the Union:
Student union solidarity is based on the principle that all members should be able to participate equally in their union, recognizing that students have diverse experiences of privilege and marginalization. As members of the students’ union, mutual respect, cooperation and understanding are our goals. We should neither condone nor tolerate behaviour that undermines the dignity of any individual or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.
It is our collective responsibility to create an inclusive space for discussion and dialogue. Any form or forms of discrimination and/or harassment will not be tolerated, nor will hate speech rooted in, but not limited to, sexist, racist, classist, ableist, homophobic or transphobic sentiments and/or remarks. We all have an obligation to ensure that an open and inclusive space, free of hate is established. If you violate this understanding, you will be asked to leave.
The DSU Social Media Policy reads:
The Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) will not tolerate discriminatory remarks or harassment in any form. This includes, but is not limited to:
o remarks or images that are based on racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, or transphobic sentiments;
o comments that attempt to demean, humiliate or threaten any individual or group based on any of the grounds listed above; and
o defamatory or libelous statements against any individual or group.
Comments or posts that do not comply with these rules will be removed.
Users who disregard the Code of Conduct will be removed and/or blocked from online spaces owned or operated by the DSU.
Users who are removed from an online space owned or operated by the DSU or a DSU-affiliated group, may also be removed or blocked from other online spaces owned or operated by the DSU or DSU-affiliated societies and student groups.
Instances of harassment, threats or other criminal behaviour may be reported to the police, the University, the Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission, or any other regulatory body deemed appropriate in the circumstances.
The DSU Society Policy states that “No Society may have the same purpose as any Society that has already been ratified by the Union,” and that “No Society may have a purpose that conflicts with the Union’s objectives as outlined in the Bylaws.”
These provisions could effectively ban campus clubs that do not share common mission and vision statements with the Dalhousie Student Union, or whose mission is considered too similar to that of other clubs to warrant recognition by DSU officials.
Section 3 of DSU Society Policy reads:
The DSU reserves the right to charge ancillary fees to societies holding events, for services including but not limited to DSU security staff, DSU technical staff, technical and audio-visual equipment, cleaning fees, coat check, custodial staff, set-up fees, extra furniture, extended building hours, SOCAN, conference materials and bar services.
Section 13(c) of the Dalhousie Student Union Elections Policy states:
Campaign displays and the distribution of literature on campus are subject to the approval of the Elections Committee. All candidates and campaigns shall inform and have the approval of the Chief Returning Officer for any such activity that they plan to undertake.
In addition, Section 13 requires that the total cost of a student’s campaign not exceed $200.
The DSU voted to endorse and support the Divest Dalhousie campaign, on November 20, 2013, an initiative to see Dalhousie University refrain from investing in fossil fuels. The aims of Divest Dalhousie are described as being ethical and environmental, rather than being directly related to the purpose of the DSU. The motion is unclear to what extent the DSU will be expected to “support” Divest Dalhousie, whether in principle or finance.
Following media reports of the Facebook ‘dentistry scandal’ (see section 2) the DSU issued a statement which did not mention or uphold free expression rights for the students affected.
On March 31, 2012 the DSU Elections Committee disqualified two students, Jamie Arron and Aaron Beale, for content they wrote on Facebook while campaigning for DSU President and VP Student Life (respectively).
Jamie Arron, candidate for DSU president, posted the following message on his friends’ “walls” on Facebook after the campaigning period had ended:
hey dude, did you vote in DSU elections yet? only takes 2min. Vote online @
dsuelections.ca. My dream team: Becky, Gavin, Aaron.
Arron was charged with posting the following message on his Facebook wall after the campaign period had officially ended, which is prohibited by the DSU. His Facebook posting stated:
The DSU is at a crossroads. Will you vote for the same ol’ insiders or for the new
wave of engagement? Times are a’changing. Lets make it happen.
These comments were posted on Facebook after the “allowable campaign period” which ended the evening prior to voting.
Arron was also penalized for launching his campaign website ahead of the official campaign period which did not begin until 8:00AM on February 6. His website was found active at 7:00AM on February 6. The Committee therefore found Mr. Arron in violation of the rules.
The candidates appealed the Elections Committee decision to disqualify them from the executive positions they had won. The Committee stayed the charges, and Jamie Arron and Aaron Beale proceeded to become President and VP Student life to the DSU for the 2011-2012 year.