|Year||University Policies||University Practices||Student Union Policies||Student Union Practices|
To meet its obligations to the Ontario government, in December 2018, Queen’s University enacted a new Free Expression at Queen’s University Policy which states:
Open inquiry and the freedom to speak, write, listen, and learn are foundational principles on which Queen’s University is built. As such, the University is committed to providing an environment conducive to open dialogue and debate. The University is also committed to the principle that it should not restrict the expression of ideas or opinions that may be disturbing, offensive, or unpopular. Failure to explore or confront ideas with which we disagree through disciplined and respectful dialogue, debate, and argument, does society a disservice, weakens our intellectual integrity, and threatens the very core of the University. Both free expression and the achievement of social goals are possible, and challenging one’s agenda should be viewed as an opportunity to strengthen and enrich this position, and when needed, change it.
Queen’s students, faculty, staff, and visitors have the right to exercise free expression at the University. Equally, others are free to criticize and contest views expressed at the University by such means as peaceful assemblies, demonstrations, and protests, provided that they do not obstruct free expression protected by this policy.
The Policy further states:
The rights to exercise free expression and to criticize the free expression of others are subject to any collective agreements between the University and employee groups, and University policies that pertain to acceptable conduct at the University. These rights are also subject to all applicable Canadian laws, which include the Criminal Code of Canada (e.g. hate propaganda provisions), the Ontario Human Rights Code (e.g. prohibition against harassment on prohibited grounds), the Occupational Health and Safety Act (e.g. workplace violence and harassment provisions). This policy complements, and does not supersede or restrict, the application of any of the above.
The Queen’s University Student Code of Conduct says the following about free speech:
Nothing in this Code prohibits Student participation in lawful and peaceful public assemblies and demonstrations, nor inhibits Students’ lawful and nonviolent freedom of expression.
The Code also prohibits disruption:
Disruption or obstruction by action, threat or otherwise, of any University event or any Sanctioned Activity, including teaching, learning, research, administration, events, and, any conduct that disrupts the normal operations of the University or that infringes on the rights of another member of the University community. b Interfering with, obstructing, disrupting, misleading, or failing to comply with the directions of, any University official or any official of an Authorized Agent of the University, in the performance of their duties. c Any action, conduct, display or communication that causes disruption to, or an obstruction of, the freedom of movement of any person on University Property.
The Code defines misconduct to include:
Discrimination by a Student Group: An unjust or prejudicial form of unequal treatment that has the effect of imposing burdens, obligations, or disadvantages, or has the effect of withholding or limiting access to opportunities, benefits, or advantages, that would constitute a violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code.
The University’s Policy on the Booking, Use and Cancellation of Bookings in University Space prohibits:
There is no clarity as to what would bring “discredit” upon the University, leaving it open to Event Services’ discretion to censor expression on the basis of its content.
The Harassment/Discrimination Complaint Policy and Procedure prohibits “racism,” “heterosexism,” “transphobia” and sexual harassment. The definitions of each are rather broad and specifically include discrimination that is unintentional, as well as intentional. Anyone can file a complaint to the Human Rights Office within six months of an incident occurring.
The Human Rights and Equity Offices at Queen’s University “deliver diversity and inclusion training as part of the mandatory orientation programming for new staff at Queen’s”. The Office’s Division of Student Affairs and the Equity and Human Rights Offices “deliver mandatory inclusion, diversity, and equity training for student orientation leaders and volunteers”.
In response to calls to cancel a scheduled debate on campus between Queen's University professor Dr. Bruce Pardy and U of T professor Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, Queen's president Daniel Wolf issued a statement defending academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas:
Whatever one’s strongly-felt objections to particular points of view, their mere expression does not constitute a threat to physical safety; nor does that expression imply that the university itself accepts those views. To the contrary, if history has taught us anything, it is that attempts to shut down debate and limit speech serve no one well—even the groups calling for such silencing. They merely make it easier for the next group in power to silence others. A university cannot sustain its ancient mission of inquiry into the true, the good, and the beautiful under such circumstances, nor can it exercise its responsibility to pursue knowledge free of constraint.
On the evening of April 2, 2013, a free speech wall erected by the Queen’s Students for Liberty (Queen’s SFL) was shut down by the University’s Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, Arig Girgrah.
The free speech wall had been erected inside the John Deutsch University Centre, this space having been booked by Queen’s SFL in March. The wall was scheduled to stand from 11:00 a.m. Tuesday, April 2 until 5:00 p.m. on Friday, April 5. The Queen’s Free Speech Wall was part of a campaign to raise awareness about free expression rights in Canada and was co-sponsored by the Justice Centre.
At approximately 8:20 p.m. on April 2, two campus security officers arrived at the University Centre, where four members of the Queen’s Students for Liberty were manning the wall. The campus security officers acted on the instructions of Ms. Girgrah, who told the students that the paper canvas on the wall was being removed due to “offensive content.” Neither the security guards nor Ms. Girgrah provided any examples of what was considered “offensive”, and further explanation was refused.
Earlier on Tuesday, at 4:17 p.m., the president of the Queen’s student union (Queen’s Alma Mater Society) Doug Johnson told the Queen’s SFL club that they needed to remove certain unspecified messages from the wall, claiming that they violated the University’s Code of Conduct and Harassment/Discrimination Policy. Like Ms. Girgrah, Mr. Johnson did not indicate which comments he thought were in violation of university policy. Without indicating which comments were offensive or why they violated university policy, Mr. Johnson nevertheless threatened to cancel the remainder of the club’s space booking if the club did not comply with his unspecified request.
Queen’s University interfered with free expression rights again when it seized the free speech wall for a second time, on April 4, 2013. Campus security confiscated the entire wall (paper, as well as the wood structure) on orders from Queen’s Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Dr. Alan Harrison, the Queen’s Alma Mater Society (AMS) and the Society of Graduate and Professional Students. Queen’s University further cancelled the remainder of the space booking for Queen’s SFL.
In an e-mail sent to the Queen’s SFL at 4:06 p.m. on April 4, 2013, Dr. Harrison told the club that the content of their display was “non-compliant” with Queen’s University Code of Conduct, the Queen’s Harassment/Discrimination Policy and Procedure, residence procedures and the Student Code of Conduct.
Queen’s SFL held a successful free speech wall event in October of 2013, and it was not disrupted by the University, though it also did not have any content that was considered controversial or offensive as reported by students.
In September of 2011, Queen’s University professor, Dr. Michael Mason, was made aware of complaints made against him for using “racist and sexist language” in his history class and in conversations to his teaching assistants. A letter from the chair of Queen’s History Department to Dr. Mason states:
In the course of our meeting, and subsequently in your letter to me you acknowledged using terms such as “rag head,” “towel head,” “japs,” “little yellow bastards” and so forth in your teaching. You also acknowledged making remarks about having the female TAs wash your car, use their TA pay to go shopping, that male students in the class ought to marry female doctors to get both money and babies, that the female TAs were the “mistresses” of the class and so forth.
Dr. Mason had used some of these words in the context of teaching about periods in history when these terms were commonly used. A letter from the University stated that Professor Mason’s “words and actions” put him “in contravention of the University Senate’s Educational Equity Policy,” and Professor Mason had “failed to create a safe space” for students. The University then cancelled two of Mason’s scheduled classes for October 28 and November 2. Dr. Mason took medical leave starting on November 2 because of a pre-existing heart condition which had become severe over the course of these events.
A report by the Canadian Association of University Teachers on the incident charged Queen’s administrators with compromising basic civil liberties in an effort to create “safe space” on campus:
It is our concern that if the actions of Queen’s University administrators vis-à-vis Professor Mason are allowed to stand it sends the message that similar strategies may now being pursued by uncollegial [sic] and increasingly dictatorial university administrators across Canada, even to the extent that they may thereby circumvent academic freedom clauses in collective agreements, and utterly undermine academic freedom both in long-established practice and in principle.
Dr. Alan Harrison, Queen’s Provost, supported the actions of Queen’s University in this case, saying, “We would never seek to censor anything that anyone says so long as it’s appropriately contextualized.”
In the fall of 2008, University administrators hired six “student facilitators” to intervene anywhere on campus if they overheard “homophobic,” sexist, racist, or any “discriminatory” language. According to Queen’s, “they were tasked with spotting ‘spontaneous teaching moments’ concerning issues of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ability and social class, and to respond – either actively by posing questions to spur discussion, or more passively through activities like poster campaigns or movies.”
Concerned students created a Facebook group entitled “Queen’s University Students and Alumni for Free Speech,” which had upwards of 600 members. Angela Hickman, then an editor of the campus newspaper, the Journal, said of the program, “Having a program like this in place could stifle public discussion if people are worried their private conversations are being monitored. . . . For a lot of people, their opinions get formed in conversations and so stifling that is dangerous”. The University administration responded that the program had been mischaracterized by the media, but nevertheless dropped the program in February of the following year.
GRADE EXPLANATION: The student union earns a C for its policies. The student union does not have an express commitment to free speech on campus; the student union has at least one speech code; the student union’s policies in regard to club certification enable unequal treatment of clubs based on beliefs and opinions; the student union’s rules and regulations for elections and referenda impose unfair restrictions on campaign speech and literature; the student union does not take political positions on issues outside its mandate. The student union earns a C for its practices for having not recently censored free speech on campus.
The Queen’s Alma Mater Society (AMS) Representation Policy states in section 2.1:
The AMS shall not take positions on governmental policy or political issues that do not directly relate to Queen's University and its students, and commits itself to a general policy of political neutrality regarding such issues. The AMS acknowledges that its student representatives should not be elected on the basis of these political views. The AMS welcomes diversity of opinion and feels that a position of political neutrality can better foster openness and inclusivity than a politicized AMS.
The Non-Academic Discipline Policy and Procedures prohibits “infringement of the rights of any member of the University community or general public, including but not limited to excessive noise and general public disturbance” and “actions committed as part as an [sic] unlawful public disturbances that threaten civil order and/or the safety of any member of the University community or general public,” among infractions under the policy.
Section 5 (Elections) of the AMS Policy Manual states that:
All campaign materials and promotions are subject to the approval of the CRO. A sample of all campaign materials shall be submitted to the CRO to be kept on file for the duration of the campaign. All posters must be stamped to indicate approval. All websites and social media accounts must be approved by the CRO prior to posting. All updates shall be closely monitored by the CRO.
The same conditions are applied to referenda campaigns in section 7. Regarding referenda, the Policy Manual places a prohibition on running one’s own “No” or “Yes” campaign that is separate from the officially mandated “Vote No Campaign” and “Vote Yes Campaign.”
The Men's Issues Awareness Society (MIAS) at Queen's hosted a discussion on March 27, 2014, at Stirling B of the Stirling Hall building at Queen’s University, titled "What's Equality Got To Do With it? Men's Issues and Feminism's Double Standards.” The event included a presentation by University of Ottawa professor Dr. Janice Fiamengo to discuss men's issues.
On March 19, Queen’s student and AMS member-at-large Amal Abu-Bakare of the un-registered student group “Opposition to the Misrepresentation of Men’s Issues and Feminism at Queen’s University” emailed members of AMS Assembly to inform them that the group would be proposing a motion at the March 20 Assembly to de-ratify MIAS “because of the manner in which its members have chosen to publicly undermine feminism and anti-rape culture discourse on campus”. The vote failed, however, in a secret ballot vote held on March 20, 2014.
In 2013, AMS President, Doug Johnson, issued a press release supporting the removal of the Queen’s SFL wall (see section 2, above) and confirming that the student union was a catalyst in making the decision to censor the display:
Anyone booking space in the Student Life Centre (SLC) has an obligation to abide by the Queen's code of conduct. In this case, several phrases were identified by the SLC that denigrated individuals based on race or religion, and alienated them from a space intended to be inclusive of all Queen's students. Queen’s Students for Liberty was given an opportunity to remove these two denigrating comments, and return the space to one of inclusive, free dialogue for all. When the club failed to act, the offensive material was removed by Campus Security but the wall was kept in place, with an understanding that such alienating and denigrating language would not re-appear.
In February of 2012, a referendum was held about the continuation of an opt-out fee (a fee charged to all students that they can claim back during a designated “opt-out period”) for the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) at Queen’s. During the referendum, participants in the “Yes” and “No” campaigns reported being orally slandered, and participants in the “No” campaign reported being physically intimidated during campaigning. One of the “No” campaign organizers commented that, “[a]t the [cafeterias] we’ve had certain OPIRG sympathizers surround and yell at our volunteers.”
In response to reports of physical intimidation by OPIRG campaign volunteers, AMS issued the following statement:
Any incidents of intimidation and violations of elections policy are subject to sanctions through the Non-Academic Discipline system.… Elections and referenda are intended to encourage respectful debate and discussion on campus .… The AMS encourages any student who feels unsafe on campus to contact Campus Security at [number redacted].
The AMS made no attempt to censor anyone surrounding the referendum. The AMS also offered security protection.
In the late 1990s, the AMS debated for over three hours on whether or not to approve the campus Star Trek club, because its constitution has a “no Klingons allowed” clause, thereby failing to promote “equity.”