|Year||University Policies||University Practices||Student Union Policies||Student Union Practices|
Trent University’s Vision statement commits to creating “vibrant, engaged and sustainable communities of learning, teaching and research committed to free enquiry and expression.”
Trent University passed a Free Speech Policy in November 2018 which states:
Trent University’s vision statement commits it to the creation of "vibrant, engaged and sustainable communities of learning, teaching and research committed to free enquiry and expression." In keeping with this, the Members of Trent University (faculty, staff and students) have the right to freely examine, investigate, speculate upon, debate and comment on issues and ideas including the right to criticize popular points of view and society at large. Trent University views engagement with difficult and controversial ideas to be an essential part of the education (and research, which we consider a form of education) we provide. In view of this, Trent is committed to open discussion and free inquiry and does not attempt to insulate its students, nor its faculty, from ideas or opinions that they disagree with or find offensive. The right to free expression is a necessary precondition for the University to accomplish its essential purpose: the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge, the testing of new ideas and the advancement of learning. While members of the University are free to criticize and contest the views of others, their right to free speech does not include the right to obstruct or interfere with the freedom of others to express their views. The right to free speech does impose accompanying responsibilities. Such responsibilities include respecting privacy and confidentiality as required by the law and University operations; respecting faculty and adhering to course content; and a commitment to adhere to professional academic standards. This policy does not excuse hate speech, defamation, slander, or actions or speaking which is not compliant with the Human Rights Code; the Criminal Code of Canada; provincial regulations and Trent University’s Violence and Harassment policy. Trent reserves the right to deny access or remove persons who act in ways that compromise others’ rights to safety and security. The University may reasonably regulate the time, place and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the University. As a University, Trent is committed to an environment that embraces viewpoint diversity. It aims to support its students and faculty achieve their full potential by facilitating the expression of their diverse perspectives.
The preamble in the Discrimination and Harassment Policy states that “Trent University endeavours at all times to provide a working and learning environment … that is fundamentally committed to the promotion of free inquiry and expression. Harassment, as defined in Section 3 of this policy, may interfere with the exercise of free inquiry and expression”.
In section 3 of the Policy, harassment is defined as follows:
(a) "Harassment" means engaging in a course of vexatious misconduct, which may include verbal misconduct, that is of a serious nature, that is experienced first-hand, that is based on a prohibited ground of discrimination as defined in this policy, and that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome. In recognition of the high value accorded to freedom of expression and inquiry and to academic freedom in a university community, the stipulation that a course of activity be vexatious misconduct in order to constitute harassment indicates that communication or expression - including the communication or expression of thought, opinion or belief - which is germane to any aspect of academic inquiry or public discourse falls outside this definition.
Section D of the Residence Guide states that “all postings must be written and displayed in a manner that is respectful, does not discriminate and does not use offensive language, including language that violates Trent University’s Policy on Discrimination and Harassment.”
Policies governing bookings of the display case at Trent's Bata Library state:
The Trent University Library is committed to academic freedom – no censorship of exhibit material will be imposed by the Library. If there is concern over the subject matter of a display, it is advised you contact the university group mounting the displays and not the Library.
After Trent University’s student union denied club status to a proposed campus pro-life group on ideological grounds in January of 2013, the University effectively upheld and implemented that decision for the remainder of the school year. From February of 2013 onwards, Trent University insisted that Trent Lifeline could only be registered as a campus club if it agreed to “develop a mutually satisfactory risk management plan with the University and the TCSA [student union]” that would “give individuals the choice regarding being exposed to potentially disturbing material.” No such demand or requirement has ever been placed on other organizations, such as the Centre for Gender and Social Justice (“dedicated to facilitating a politics of resistance” and “the affirmation of action and resistance based on cultural identity, including and not limited to indigenous action, black consciousness, and Palestinian solidarity movements, as well as a consciousness of one’s identity and history as oppressor and oppressed.”).
Trent University administration played a role in negotiating the re-instatement of Trent Lifeline's status in February of 2014. Trent University's Associate Vice President of Students, Nona Robinson, said to the campus newspaper Arthur:
In effect, different opinions, values, and beliefs will always be with us, but it is engaging civilly that leads to dialogue. The issues that Lifeline is involved with, such as abortion and euthanasia, are critically important to many people, so it is understandable that the club’s activities have the potential to be provocative if the issues aren’t handled with respect.
Trent failed to defend the rights of one of its student groups when it was denied space for a free speech wall event by the Trent Central Students’ Association (TCSA) in 2012.
Among the Trent Central Student Association’s (TCSA) By-laws, Policies and Operating Resolutions 2015-2016 is by-law I.1.2, “Mission and Principles,” which states, “The [TCSA] is committed to… free speech and effective communication of all opinions in the University community.”
The TCSA is similarly committed to restricting any type of harassment or discrimination, as made clear by section I.1.1 of the TCSA’s mission: “to facilitate and provide an environment wherein our members can pursue academic excellence as well as personal and social growth free from all forms of discrimination, harassment, oppression and persecution.”
The TCSA collects levies from students, as part of their TCSA fee, to fund particular groups including the Centre for Gender and Social Justice, the Kawartha World Issues Centre, the Organic Gardens, the Peterborough Coalition against Poverty, the Trent Queer Collective, and more. Levies can be proposed for new groups during referendum campaigns, with a majority vote resulting in the corresponding levy being put on all TCSA members the following school year.
TCSA elections are overseen by the Elections Committee. According to section XIII.4.3 of the Operating Resolutions and By-Laws, members of the Election Committee are empowered to approve (or censor) campaign materials. However, no specific guidelines for approval are provided except that “all publicity materials must be acceptable under the Trent University policy on Human Rights and the Association’s policies surrounding Discrimination, Harassment, and Oppression” in accordance with “Elections Procedures,” section iv. Furthermore, “discussion of other candidates must be limited to the public record and defamation or slander of opponents or other candidates may result in disciplinary procedures” in accordance with “Elections Procedures,” section xii. Unfortunately, no definitions for defamation or slander are provided, creating the potential for ambiguous interpretations of the policy and potential censorship.
The By-Laws limit election speech through spending limits on election campaigns, stating that “candidates shall adhere to a campaign spending limit as set by the Elections Committee.”
The TCA does not take positions on issues outside its mandate.
The student group Trent Liberty planned to host a “Free Speech Wall” event at Trent during the fall of 2013. The event involved raising a large whiteboard on campus and encouraging students to share their thoughts and opinions on the wall in an exercise of their free expression rights. The event was to be sponsored by JCCF. Upon applying for space with the Trent Central Students Association (TCSA) in August of 2013, however, Trent Liberty received a notice of rejection:
Thank you for you [sic] interest in working with the TCSA on a "Free Speech Wall". However, this is an initiative that we have chosen not to support. Whereas we recognize that you are coming from a position of hoping to foster free inquiry and expression, similar initiatives at other campuses have gone very wrong.
At campuses across North America, "free speech walls" have opened up space for people to espouse hate speech. The goal to make the board "free from censorship" allows students to write hateful and discriminatory messages free from repercussion.
Moreover, it implies that these messages would not be removed from the wall, as this would be a form of "censorship". This can create an unsafe and inaccessible environment, particularly for students from minority groups. As a student union with an aim to foster an equitable and safe campus environment, we cannot support an initiate that would allow students open space to espouse hate speech if they wish. We acknowledge that free speech does not inherently or necessarily equate to hate speech, but the potential cannot be ignored.
That said, Trent Liberty is free to pursue the initiative on its own. However, I would strongly encourage contacting the Office of Human Rights, Equity, and Accessibility and becoming acquainted with any relevant policies regarding hate speech, equity, and/or accessibility I would also encourage becoming acquainted with the University's postering policy.
Vice President Campaigns and Equity
Trent Central Student Association
In January 2013, a pro-life student group called “Trent Lifeline” applied for official recognition with the TCSA. Without recognition, student groups are not eligible for TCSA funding or resources, and are not permitted to attend Clubs and Groups day during Introductory Seminar Week. Furthermore, using the University’s logo and name is not permitted if advertising on campus as an unrecognized student group.
On January 31, the club received an email from Vanessa Jones, Club & Group Coordinator, indicating that the Trent Central Student Association (TCSA) had rejected Lifeline’s application to be an official club at Trent University. Ms. Jones stated “[s]ince campaigning for pro life [sic] or pro choice [sic] is not allowed on campus… since there is [sic]so many opinions to this it can lead to a very exclusive group, while all groups at Trent must be inclusive[.]”
When representatives from Trent Lifeline asked for a specific policy to refer that justified the club’s rejection, the Club and Group Coordinator responded “I cannot send you a policy right now as there is one working under way [sic].” Trent Lifeline was encouraged to appeal the decision, but the appeal process went through the same individuals and organization that rejected them in the first place; there is no independent process to review the decision.
Due to delays caused by having to appeal the denial of club status, Trent Lifeline was forced to cancel planned events to promote their cause. One member of the Trent Lifeline executive stated:
Because of the appeal process, the club ran out of time in the school year to plan and host an event on campus. We were hoping to have a lecture and a viewing of the movie “It’s a Girl” before the end of the winter term (April). The club was focused on getting club status and responding to the student union’s demands/ requests for information, which continued well into April. By the time the club started talking about holding the events, exams were upon us, and we did not have sufficient time to properly organize the events.
[Source: Trent Lifeline]
A letter from Trent Lifeline’s legal counsel, JCCF president John Carpay, was sent to the President of the TCSA on February 6, 2014, calling for a reversal of the decision to reject Lifeline’s application, and explaining why and how the TCSA's conduct was illegal.
In February of 2014, the TCSA re-instated Trent Lifeline after months of deliberations between Lifeline members, TCSA and Trent University representatives.