|Year||University Policies||University Practices||Student Union Policies||Student Union Practices|
GRADE EXPLANATION: The University earns an A for its policies. There is a clearly stated commitment to free speech. The university has an anti-disruption policy which prohibits students (and other people) from blocking, obstructing, disrupting or interrupting speech (e.g. events, displays) on campus. The University does not have any speech code. The university does not provide funding and other resources to groups, departments, committees, commissions or other bodies that engage in ideological advocacy. The University earns an B for its practices. The University has not recently had its commitment to free speech tested, but its policy framework prevents censorship from being likely to occur.
Simon Fraser University (SFU) has a Statement on Respectful Debate by SFU President Andrew Petter on its website:
Public universities play a unique role in Canadian society: they are places in which people should feel free to exchange ideas, beliefs and opinions. Controversy, conflict, and criticism are inherent to this role. Yet universities also aspire to foster an environment that promotes civility and respects human dignity.
…Universities operate on the principle that freedom of speech is a core component of intellectual enquiry and is central to the pursuit of knowledge. The value universities place on free expression does not imply their endorsement of views that are expressed….
… when disputes arise in our university around major social and political issues, we should err on the side of tolerating free speech. Provided such speech does not overstep legal boundaries, it should not be censored even though it may be provocative or offensive…
…I therefore urge all members of the university community to redouble their efforts to create a culture that celebrates robust and vigorous debate within an academic milieu characterized by reason, tolerance, and mutual respect. Freedom of speech is a precious right and, as such, we have a duty to do all we can to ensure that is exercised responsibly and with civility.
In 2012, SFU launched a new strategic visioning project called “enVISION>SFU”. The Strategic Vision, under “Underlying Principles,” states that “SFU will be an open and inclusive university whose foundation is intellectual and academic freedom.”
SFU's Code of Academic Integrity and Good Conduct states in its preamble, that “Simon Fraser University is committed to creating a scholarly community characterized by honesty, civility, diversity, free inquiry, mutual respect, individual safety and freedom from harassment and discrimination” (Section 1.1). It further states:
1.2 Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community. This Code shall not be construed so as to unreasonably limit peaceful assemblies, demonstrations or the free expression of ideas.
The Code also prohibits disruption, stating:
4.2.1 Disruptive or Dangerous Behaviour
SFU’s Human Rights Policy prohibits discrimination and harassment. Section 2.2 of this Human Rights Policy reaffirms the University’s commitment to academic freedom:
2.2 This Policy will not be interpreted, administered, or applied to infringe the academic freedom of any member of the University community. Academic freedom is the freedom to examine, question, teach, and learn and it involves the right to investigate, speculate, and comment without reference to prescribed doctrine as well as the right to criticize the University and society at large. The frank discussion of controversial ideas, the pursuit and publication of controversial research, and the study and teaching of material with controversial content do not constitute discrimination.
SFU policy concerning the “Display of Notices, Posters, Advertisements, etc. on Campus”, requires approval for posting, without indicating what criteria must be met.
SFU recognizes the value of free speech in one of its research awards. The Sterling Prize aims to “recognize work which provokes, and/or contributes to the understanding of controversy.”
The Sterling Prize was set up through an endowment by Nora and Ted Sterling. “This is an unusual venture in a world in which controversy is discouraged rather than encouraged,” they said. “We hope, that by providing a substantial reward for creative, unconventional effort, it will contribute to works of this nature gaining both a forum and a degree of respectability."
The university does not provide funding or other resources to departments, committees, commissions or other bodies that engage in ideological advocacy.
In early February of 2013, the SFU campus club Life Link booked space for a pro-life display on campus, approved by SFU to take place on Monday March 18. Suddenly, on the afternoon of Friday March 15, SFU cancelled the club’s scheduled event, based on complaints received by the University about the display’s controversial content. University administrators said it might be “necessary” to set up the display with signs facing inwards so that nobody walking by could see the display.
The students contacted JCCF on the evening of Friday, March 15. On Monday morning, the JCCF promptly sent a legal warning to SFU President Andrew Petter, which can be viewed here. The club’s event was re-scheduled for April 10 and 11, and took place without any censorship on the part of the university.
On November 7, 2011, a pro-life club set up a display on SFU’s Burnaby campus. The display, known as the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP), included pictures comparing abortion to various historical genocides. The club followed the SFU’s rules and procedures in anticipation of the event, submitting a plan to set up their display at a high-traffic location at Convocation Mall. The setup would have included enough space to walk in front of, but also behind, the pictures, enabling passers-by to avoid the graphic images if they didn’t want to view them. After giving initial approval for the event, SFU demanded that the display’s signs be set up in a circle facing inwards, so that passers-by would not see the signs.
The president of SFU Lifeline wrote to the student newspaper in defence of students’ rights to display materials without obstructions, noting the University’s discrimination against the club purely on the basis of the contents of the club’s campus display:
We submitted a set-up plan (which we followed) to the administration, which allowed a path through Convocation Mall behind the signs so that people could avoid them. This plan was rejected by the administration on the grounds that students could come upon the display inadvertently. They requested that we obscure the signs in some way, much like saying we could have our freedom of speech on the condition that we whispered. We declined to submit another plan because to comply with demands to obstruct our display would be to accept an infringement on our right to free speech.
The pro-life club refused to compromise its display, and proceeded based on the plan originally approved by SFU. Opponents blocked the students’ signs using university property, namely: large portable blackboards on wheels. Rather than upholding the students’ free expression rights, campus security asked the pro-life students to turn the signs inward. Security knowingly condoned the physical blocking and obstruction of the students’ display.
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 do not 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 Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) is the governing student association at SFU. By-Law 21 of the SSFS Constitution and By-Laws states that, “The Society shall not discriminate against any person on any ground enumerated in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the British Columbia Human Rights Code.”
In the SSFS Board Policies, the Organizational Values statement reads, “In all its activities, the members, employees, and guests of the Society will act in a manner consistent with the Society’s fundamental values:
These “fundamental values” are not further defined.
By-Law 15 of the SSFS Constitution and By-Laws limits the number of official campaigns that can participate in referenda campaigns to one “yes” campaign and one “no” campaign. It further imposes a financial restriction of $300 on referenda campaigns. Campaign spending restrictions of $50 are imposed on candidates for SFSS council positions. The spending limits restrict the number of voters candidates can communicate with during an election period (those limits being the amount of pamphlets that can be prepared and distributed before going over the monetary limits).
The SFSS does not take political stances on issues outside of its mandate, nor does it have a policy or other document expressly upholding free expression rights on campus. Policies cannot be used to unfairly censor campus groups.
On December 7, 2015, a representative of the Gender and Women’s Studies Student Union (GWSSU) posted an open letter condemning the student group, Advocacy for Men and Boys (SFUAMB), for a lecture they held on November 8 on campus. The event, “Toxic Masculinity & TOXIC FEMININITY,” was promoted with posters showing a biohazard sign over a venus symbol. The open letter alleges the poster is “offensive, hostile, and aggressive.”
The issue was discussed at the December 10 meeting of the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS). During the meeting, Kathleen Yang, VP External Relations and chair of the Advocacy Committee, noted that the SFSS board of directors would be addressing the issue once they return from their holiday on January 4. “I shall be following up with our staff and committee members accordingly to ensure clarity in the future,” she said.
According to the student newspaper, the Martlet, Yang also made comments suggesting the SFUAMB could be subject to revocation of club status if the club acted or presented itself as “anti-feminist”:
Yang went on that, “all approved student clubs have access to the same SFSS resources regardless of their mandate.” In response to the question of the SFUAMB’s status, she assured that to her knowledge the club is not currently being investigated, adding that “when SFUAMB applied for club status, it was agreed upon by the then-executives of the club and the SFSS General Office that the club would not act based on a mandate of anti-feminism or present itself as anti-feminist.
“Should SFUAMB break this condition, their club status would be revoked.”