|Year||University Policies||University Practices||Student Union Policies||Student Union Practices|
Ryerson University’s Senate passed a Statement on Freedom of Speech on May 4, 2010:
Ryerson embraces unequivocally the free exchange of ideas and the ideal of intellectual engagement within a culture of mutual respect. It is a powerful ideal that encompasses every dimension of the University. Everyone who is part of the University, as well as guests and visitors, has a role to play in this shared enterprise. This responsibility extends to both proponents and detractors of any idea or point of view. Recognizing and respecting diversity of people, thought and expression are essential and an integral part of the ideal.
In order to achieve and sustain Ryerson's ideal, members of its community must have freedom of thought and expression, freedom from harassment or discrimination and the freedom to consider, inquire, and write or comment about any topic without concern for widely held or prescribed opinions. This right to freedom of thought and expression inevitably includes the right to criticize aspects of society in general and the University itself.
Ryerson does not avoid controversies, difficult ideas, or disagreements over deeply held views. When such disagreements arise within the University or within a broader social context, the University's primary responsibility is to protect free speech within a culture of mutual respect.
The right to freedom of speech comes with the responsibility to exercise that right in an atmosphere free of intimidation and in an environment that supports the free speech rights of those with opposing views.
While Ryerson is committed to freedom of thought and the free exchange of ideas, it is also recognized that there are limits to the right of free speech that are recognized in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The University may act when speech on campus is used in a way that is itself unlawful or prevents the lawful exercise of free speech by others.
Ryerson’s Policy 61, the Student Code of Non-Academic Conduct, states:
Nothing in this Code shall be construed to prohibit peaceful assemblies and demonstrations, lawful picketing, or to inhibit freedom of expression.
One of the enumerated offences in Policy 61 is to “not endanger, threaten, harm, or encourage others to endanger, threaten or harm, or act in ways which would reasonably be perceived to endanger, threaten or harm the physical and mental well-being of community members” (section C.3).
The Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities declares that:
As a student at Ryerson University, you have the responsibility to:
…unwelcome or persistent behaviour (e.g. personal harassment) that you know, or ought reasonably to know, would cause another person to feel humiliated, demeaned or intimidated or which may obstruct the teaching, learning and/or work process of another person and which includes, but is not limited to, hazing and aggressive religious recruiting;
using the university’s computing, telephone, mail and/or other university communication systems to convey nuisance or other objectionable messages which may endanger the personal well-being of another person or which may obstruct the teaching, learning and/or work process of another[.]
On February 8, 2010, Ryerson University released an extensive investigative report on racism and related issues on campus. The report made several recommendations to quell what it reported to be a “chilly climate” for racial minorities at the school. Its recommendation included a change to the school’s anti-discrimination policy. The report stated: “While ideas will be debated vigorously, no one should be made to feel disrespected because of their race, language, religion, gender, sexual difference or ability.” The report also recommended more restrictions on academic freedom:
Issues of academic freedom are contested since there is a fine line between free speech and hatemongering. A person has crossed the line when their protest/speech diminishes another person’s self-respect and identity.
The report led to the establishment of a revised Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy, passed by the Board of Governors in November 2011. Section 4 of the “Guiding Principles” of this Policy states:
Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of education at Ryerson University, but like other Charter rights, it is not an absolute right. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees "freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication." The rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Charter are "... subject only to reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society." Human rights, for example, may place limits on these freedoms.
The Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy states the following about academic freedom:
Ryerson University's Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy is not intended to inhibit academic freedom. It reminds all members of the Ryerson University Community that, in exercising our freedoms, we all have a responsibility to respect the rights and freedoms of others, including the right to study and work in an environment which is free of discrimination and harassment. Please refer to note 8 in the "Definitions and Notes" section at the end of this Policy.
The definitions include “a ‘non-discrimination’ clause, referencing the prohibited grounds of discrimination as contained in the Ontario Human Rights Code and refer to more general "obligations" of faculty members and instructors.”
The Policy also refers to a “Poisoned Environment”, and includes speech and other expressive behaviors as a source of creating such an environment. However, the Policy does not empower officials to sanction or impose penalties, even if it is found that speech caused a poisoned atmosphere on campus.
The Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Officer is empowered to enforce the Policy. The Officer is not empowered to censor speech, but may make recommendations to senior administration on sanctions to be placed on violators of the Policy.
Ryerson University did not respond to the denial of club certification of the Men’s Issues Awareness Society by the Ryerson Students’ Union in the 2015-2016, failing to defend free expression in this instance.
Ryerson President Sheldon Levy spoke out against a decision by the Ryerson Students’ Union to deny club recognition to Students for Life at Ryerson (SFLR), in February of 2015, describing it as ‘disturbing’ (see section 4). Levy stated “[t]he strength of freedom of speech is not that I give freedom of speech to those that I like to hear, but that the strength of it is that you give [it to] those you wish you did not have to listen to.”
On January 31, 2014, Ryerson University ordered that the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE), a Toronto-based organization advocating for “men's issues awareness,” pay a $1,600 security fee in order to hold an organized talk at Ryerson on February 6, 2014, entitled “Are Men Obsolete? Feminism, Free Speech and the Censorship of Men’s Issues,” to be delivered by Karen Straughan. Ironically, Straughan’s talk focused on the need for safe spaces in which men on university campuses can discuss issues of health and well-being. Ryerson also changed the venue from the advertised Mattamy Athletic Centre to the less central G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education. CAFE was able to collect enough support to pay the security fee, and the event proceeded. Ryerson eventually absorbed the cost of the security fee after the President and Vice Chancellor of Ryerson University, Sheldon Levy, stated that the fee was an obstruction to free expression. Levy made the following comments to the student newspaper on the matter:
Freedom of speech is hugely important. If you’re gonna say something, and I like what you say, big deal. That’s not freedom of speech. It’s when you say something, and I hate what you’re saying … but I make room for you to say it, that’s real freedom of speech…. We share the university’s goal to promote freedom of expression, but recognize that freedom of speech comes with the responsibility to ensure that student safety is prioritized.
On May 15, 2007, Malik Zulu Shabazz, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer and the leader of the New Black Panther Party, was scheduled to speak at an event at Ryerson. He had been invited by a registered student group, United Black Students at Ryerson, which is a chapter of the Toronto-based Black Youth Taking Action (BYTA). Shabazz was detained at the airport and refused entry to the country, and ultimately did not make it to the speaking engagement. His views were the subject of serious controversy. A CBC News article explains the decision by federal agents to detain Shabazz:
Canadian authorities bar Shabazz from the country owing to his criminal record: a five-year-old misdemeanour, according to a BYTA spokesperson. Toronto Jewish groups had lobbied for Shabazz, an admitted anti-Zionist, to be denied entry and the case prompts criticism of Jewish groups for what critics say is an attempt to suppress free speech.
Despite this, the Ryerson administration did not cancel the event. In fact, Janet Mowat, a University spokesperson stated, “The Ryerson administration attempts to maintain a forum for free thought and free expression.”
The Ryerson Students’ Union’s (RSU) Policy Manual includes a statement supporting free expression on campus, titled Non-Academic Codes of Conduct:
The Ryerson Students’ Union Supports:
- Freedom of conscious and religion;
- Freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other mediums of communication;
iii. Freedom of peaceful assembly; and
- Freedom of association.
The Ryerson Students’ Union Opposes:
- Any speech or expression that is hate speech rooted in, but not limited to anti Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and ableism;
- Any attempts by Ryerson University’s administration to quiet or silence student dissent on or off campus which thereby denies students their fundamental freedoms under the guise of the Non-Academic Code of Conduct
iii. Any University policies or processes that empower a single Administrator to be judge and juror of a particular complaint.
The RSU’s Course Union Groups Policy and Student Group Policy both state that the course unions’ and student groups’ “actions must not be contrary to the Ontario Human Rights Code, RSU Policies, or the Policies of the University.” Students must also meet other criteria, including having at least 20 members in their club.
The Student Group Policy states that “RSU groups may not proselytize (i.e. seek to convert).” This clause clearly infringes the expression rights of student groups, particularly religious and political student groups. The Policy also prohibits groups affiliating with federal or provincial politics.
In a 2011 article concerning student groups, The Eyeopener, Ryerson’s independent student newspaper, wrote as follows: An individual student club’s “ratification would be at the discretion of the Student Group Committee and the Board of Directors regardless of whether they meet the requirements in the[Student Group Policy]”, The Eyeopener reports:
Aside from listing proposed executive members, creating a valid constitution and listing potential events, prospective groups must also provide a list of at least 20 current full-time undergraduate students that support the funding of the group. This last factor can prove troublesome for students looking to share what are currently unpopular ideas.
Carson [RSU VP Student Life and Events] says such a club’s ratification would be at the discretion of the Student Group Committee and the Board of Directors regardless of whether they meet the requirements in the policy. Instead of following a rigid set of guidelines, both groups review applications on a case-by-case basis. “Every group that applies has the potential to be approved or denied,” says Carson.
RSU’s Advertising Policy gives discretion to the RSU President and other RSU administrators to censor speech that is deemed to carry political or religious messages:
2.1 Posters must be approved and stamped by the RSU.
2.2 Posters advertising a licensed event must be stamped by the Campus Groups
2.3 Posters containing political slogans or religious messages must only be approved
by the Campus Groups Administrator, the RSU’s President or the Executive
Director of Communications & Outreach.
RSU’s Poster Policy requires that the President approve all posters from religious and political groups, but does not specify by what criteria approval is given.
The RSU’s Pro-Choice Student Union Policy states:
28.1 The Ryerson Students’ Union prohibits all forms of harassment and discrimination on the base of race, class, religion, sec, gender, or gender identity. As per section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, all students have the right to the following fundamental freedoms:
- Freedom of conscience and religion;
- Freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communications;
iii. Freedom of peaceful assembly; and
- Freedom of association.
28.2 Anti-choice groups or organizations are those which compromise and/or threaten the freedom and/or wellbeing of women who may contemplate an abortion or have chosen to have an abortion.
28.3 Pro-choice describes the view that a woman should have the right to determine what she does with her sexual and reproductive health. It is the moderate and widely supported stance which respects and acknowledges a women’s intellectual and moral ability to make decisions on what choice is best for her body. Pro-choice is not pro-abortion; it simply defends the right of a woman to decide for herself what to do with her body.
28.4 The RSU respects and affirms a women’s right to choose. No RSU resources, space, recognition or funding will be allocated to enhance groups/individuals whose primary/sole purpose is anti-choice activities. Such activities are defined as any campaigns, actions, distribution, solicitation, or lobbying efforts that seek to limit an individual’s right to choose what they can or cannot do with their own body.
28.5 Further, no RSU resources, space, or recognition or funding will be allocated to enhance groups/individuals who are members of or directly affiliated with external organizations with the primary/sole purpose of anti-choice activities.
The RSU takes political stances on issues including bottled water, the Prison Industrial Complex, privatization, public funding for Pride events, abortion, women’s issues, and religious, spiritual and cultural freedom. It has also endorsed the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement.
On March 4, 2013, Neda Hamzari, representative on the RSU’s Board of Directors, introduced a motion to amend the RSU’s policy on women’s issues. The motion to amend passed without debate or discussion, and mandates the RSU to officially oppose the following:
Groups, Meetings or events [that] promote misogynist views towards women and ideologies that promote gender inequity, challenges women’s right to bodily autonomy, or justifies sexual assault
The concept of misandry as it ignores structural inequity that exist between men and women
Groups, meetings events or initiatives [that] negate the need to centre women’s voices in the struggle for gender equity.
Marwa Hamad, vice-president equity at the RSU, said the policy will preserve space for discussing misogyny and institutionalized gender imbalances.
In 2015, the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) voted to deny club recognition to a student group based on its views. The Men’s Issues Awareness Society at Ryerson (MIAS) is a student group established in 2015 by students at Ryerson “to host discussions and bring social awareness to issues that disproportionately affect men and boys, such as higher rates of suicide, homelessness, workplace injuries and failure in school.” Nearly half of MIAS’ members are women.
On October 19, 2015, MIAS submitted its application to RSU for recognition as a student group. At a meeting with RSU’s Student Group Committee on October 26, RSU told MIAS that there was no need for a men’s issues group. RSU took the position that other groups like the Women and Trans Collective were already addressing many of the issues MIAS sought to focus on. Further, RSU claimed that men have “systemic privilege,” and that a group focused on men’s issues would “harass” women and make them feel “unsafe”.
On October 27, 2015, MIAS was informed that its application for club status had been rejected. MIAS immediately appealed the decision, making numerous changes to its constitution to answer concerns the RSU had listed. These amendments expressly stated MIAS’ pre-existing commitments to remain independent of any external control, to reject all forms of violence and hate speech, to take all precautions for safety at any group functions, and to provide a safe place for discussions free of fear for personal safety. Nevertheless, on January 26, 2016, the RSU Board of Directors voted to reject MIAS’ appeal.
As a result of RSU’s decision to deny club status, MIAS is excluded from RSU club services such as funding, advertising, event approval services, and free room and facility bookings, even though MIAS members are required to pay fees to RSU.
The Justice Centre has filed a court application against RSU on behalf of MIAS. In the court application, MIAS seeks a declaration that the decision of the RSU to deny their application for student group recognition (i) was contrary to the principles of natural justice and procedural fairness, (ii) was tainted by a closed mind and bias, and (iii) was not made in good faith; that it exceeds RSU’s jurisdiction and is contrary to RSU’s own policies and rules; and that it is unreasonable, discriminatory and contrary to fundamental common law values and the values of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, by failing to respect Ryerson University students’ freedom of expression and freedom of association. The outcome of this court application is pending.
On February 23, 2015, the RSU Board of Directors voted to deny club recognition to Students for Life at Ryerson (SFLR), on the grounds that it violated the RSU’s women’s issues policy. The group had applied for club recognition in October of 2014, was denied, and then appealed to the Board of Directors, where it was again denied. The club is now pursuing court action against the University to uphold its free speech rights.
On October 3, 2014, a video created by the group Hamas on Campus was posted by Ryerson student Ofer Ziberman to the RSU’s Facebook page, and subsequently removed by page administrators. The video asserts that several current members of al-Qaeda (including a co-founder) were former members of the Muslim Students’ Association or Students for Justice in Palestine—groups with campus affiliates at campuses across North America. The video was reportedly re-posted by other students, and removed each time. RSU administrators explained later that the video was removed because it was “racist and Islamophobic.” The RSU further stated:
We would like to take this opportunity to remind folks that we have a zero-tolerance policy for hate speech both online and offline … we will continue to delete videos posted on our page that promoted hate speech rooted in, but not limited to, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab and/or anti-Semitic sentiments and/or remarks.
In October of 2013, Ryerson student Carter Grant applied to have his student group, Preserving Human Dignity at Ryerson (PHDR), registered as an official club. He received an email on October 28 from the RSU informing him that his pro-life group would not be approved. Campus Groups Administrator Leatrice O’Neill gave no reasons for the refusal, and directed Mr. Grant to speak to RSU President Melissa Palermo, who explained that the union was worried Grant’s student group would prevent some students from feeling “comfortable”, “welcome”, and included”.
PHDR had met all of the requirements outlined in the Student Groups Policy. The only reason that the RSU refused club status to PHDR is the content of PHDR’s message, based on RSU’s beliefs that this content would make some students feel uncomfortable.
The Justice Centre wrote to RSU President Melissa Palermo on January 16, 2014, pointing out that the RSU’s censorship is discriminatory, contrary to freedom of expression, and illegal. To date the RSU has not granted club status to PHDR.
On March 15, 2013, the Ryerson Student Union (RSU) denied certification to a men’s issues student group because the RSU was worried the student group was affiliated with two external organizations, “A Voice for Men and the Canadian Association for Equality,” they viewed as “in some jurisdictions…a hate group”. The men’s issues group’s constitution said its goal was to “create a progressive and constructive voice and lend representation to any and all Ryerson students concerned with the issues of men and boys.”
In November of 2010, a group of students planned to organize a Soviet Union-themed party. The posters designed to advertise the event were rejected by the RSU. RSU’s then-president Toby Whittfield commented on the incident by explaining that all posters have to “support RSU’s mandate of respect and inclusiveness”. He added: “If it turns out that [the poster] is not part of the mandate, then they shouldn’t be on a board.”