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The University of British Columbia’s (UBC) President through June 2014, Dr. Stephen Toope lamented in a 2008 interview that “in Canada we have seen many examples of students trying to shut down speakers with whom they disagree.” Dr. Toope asserted that “the role of the University is to encourage tough questioning, and clear expressions of disagreement, but not the ‘silencing’ of alternative views. Universities are sites for the contestation of values, not places where everyone has to agree. That means that speakers we don't like, or even respect, should be allowed to put forward their views… [which can] then be challenged and argued over.”
In regards to academic freedom, UBC’s Calendar states:
The members of the University enjoy certain rights and privileges essential to the fulfilment of its primary functions: instruction and the pursuit of knowledge. Central among these rights is the freedom, within the law, to pursue what seems to them as fruitful avenues of inquiry, to teach and to learn unhindered by external or non-academic constraints, and to engage in full and unrestricted consideration of any opinion. This freedom extends not only to the regular members of the University, but to all who are invited to participate in its forum. Suppression of this freedom, whether by institutions of the state, the officers of the University, or the actions of private individuals, would prevent the University from carrying out its primary functions. All members of the University must recognize this fundamental principle and must share responsibility for supporting, safeguarding and preserving this central freedom. Behaviour that obstructs free and full discussion, not only of ideas that are safe and accepted, but of those which may be unpopular or even abhorrent, vitally threatens the integrity of the University's forum. Such behaviour cannot be tolerated.
UBC’s Student Non-Academic Misconduct Policy contains a section forbidding disruption of the right of other members of the community to free speech:
4.2.3 Disruption: No student shall, by action, threat, or otherwise, disrupt any activity organized by the 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.
UBC adopted a revised Discrimination and Harassment Policy in September of 2011. This Policy reverses the wording of the previous version concerning its relationship to the University statement on academic freedom. The previous Policy stated that the Discrimination and Harassment Policy should not be interpreted in a way that contradicts the Academic Freedom Statement. However, the new Policy states that academic freedom shall be interpreted in a way that is consistent with the Discrimination and Harassment Policy, reversing the direction of interpretation. The new Policy reads:
Academic Freedom and freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression carries with it the expectation that all Members of the University Community will conduct themselves in a responsible manner so as not to cause, condone or participate in the Discrimination or Harassment of another person or group of persons.
The new Policy goes on to define ‘harassment’ as follows:
3.4 Harassment is comment or conduct that one knows or ought reasonably to know is unwelcome, that creates a negative impact for the recipient, and that is related to one or more of the prohibited grounds of discrimination as set out in the B.C. Human Rights Code.
The apparent reversal in the order of priority between UBC’s statement of academic freedom and its Discrimination and Harassment Policy, combined with the fact that the latter appears to define ‘harassment’ broadly to include “comment” that “creates a negative impact for the recipient,” is a troubling step away from protecting free speech.
The new Policy is explicit in claiming that it only covers those grounds for complaint that are found in the B.C. Human Rights Code:
The fundamental objectives of this Policy are to prevent Discrimination and Harassment on grounds protected by the B.C. Human Rights Code, and to provide procedures for handling complaints, remedying situations, and imposing discipline when such Discrimination or Harassment does occur. Concerns regarding discrimination or harassment that do not involve any of the grounds prohibited by the B.C. Human Rights Code are not covered by this Policy.
The new Policy is consistent with the restriction on speech contained in Section 7(1) of the BC Human Rights Code:
A person must not publish, issue or display, or cause to be published, issued or displayed, any statement, publication, notice, sign, symbol, emblem or other representation that (a) indicates discrimination or an intention to discriminate against a person or a group or class of persons, or (b) is likely to expose a person or a group or class of persons to hatred or contempt because of the race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation or age of that person or that group or class of persons.
Complaints made on the basis of the Discrimination and Harassment Policy are referred to and handled by the UBC Equity Office. Equity officers are empowered to render judgments on these cases and to impose disciplinary measures left to the discretion of the equity officers (see sections 5.1 and 5.1.4. of the Discrimination and Harassment Policy).
The UBC poster and bulletin policy, Posting of Notices, Posters and Signs, requires that any postings (inside buildings) for events or groups be approved first by the department in the building in which it is to be posted. No criteria are given for departmental officials to approve postings.
UBC has an Equity Office which is empowered to handle complaints made under the Discrimination and Harassment Policy (as noted above). The official powers of the equity officers to monitor speech appear to be limited to the powers given to them by the Policy.
It is worth noting that the Equity Office website appears to define “harassment” much more broadly than does the Discrimination and Harassment Policy. It states:
Harassment, a form of discrimination, is a comment, conduct or behaviour that humiliates, intimidates, excludes and isolates an individual or group based on the BC Human Rights Code’s thirteen grounds of prohibited discrimination.
Harassment is unwanted and unwelcome attention from a person who knows, or ought to know, that the behaviour is unwelcome. Harassment can range from written or spoken comments to unwanted jokes, gifts, and physical assault, and may be accompanied by threats or promises regarding work or study opportunities and conditions. Harassment can be either a single incident or a series of related incidents.
It is not clear what force this definition has, or whether the Equity Office in fact uses this definition to adjudicate harassment complaints. Whatever its use, this definition counts as harassment any “comment (written or spoken), conduct or behaviour” that “humiliates, intimidates, excludes and isolates an individual or group” based on their race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation or age.
In January of 2015, “UBC Rec,” which manages recreation activities for the University, censored the team names of some of its intramural teams. The team names that were censored included, “Got SEMENT?,” “Suckin' D's” and Strokin' P’s,” “Whiskey Disc,” “Floppy Disc,” “Peter North Stars,” and “#AirCanadaSucks”. Other team names not deemed inappropriate by UBC Rec included “EnviroMENTALS,” “Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy,” “Show Me Ya TDs,” “Girls Gone Wild,” “Beaches Be Cray,” “Gold Diggers,” “Homewreckers” and “High Speed Drillers.”
One of the teams was renamed to *CENSORED* North Stars. Following the re-naming of the team, which was originally named as a tongue-in-cheek reference to a pornographic film actor, the captains wrote an open letter to UBC Rec wherein it stated:
UBC Rec -- thank you for wisely renaming our intramural hockey team; the Peter North Stars definitely doesn't have the same ring as the *CENSORED* North Stars. We members and supporters of the *CENSORED* North Stars recognize that times change, and what is deemed acceptable changes with it. In today's social climate, we must conduct ourselves in accordance with what other people think is right.
In March of 2012, UBC student Justine Davidson removed all her clothes and sat in a chair in front of the controversial Genocide Awareness Project (GAP) display, holding a small sign that read “Autonomy is beautiful.” Her actions were peaceful, and did not block the visibility of the GAP display.
Campus security officers asked Davidson to put her clothes on, with which she partly complied. She was eventually escorted away by RCMP officers.
Pursuant to the anti-disruption provision in the Student Non-Academic Misconduct Policy (section 4.2.3: see link above), Davidson was asked to meet with Chad Hyson, UBC’s Associate Director for Student Development. However, after examining the details of the case, Hyson deemed that the infraction was too minor to warrant any disciplinary measures.
This judgment was viewed differently by various people as either a vindication or a defeat for free speech on campus. The campus newspaper, the Ubyssey, published an editorial strongly condemning the actions of campus security in interfering with Davidson’s protest, and mistakenly reported that Davidson had been disciplined by the University.
In a correction article, the Ubyssey editors apologized for their factual error, but argued that campus security was still culpable for interfering with Davidson’s right to protest.
Others, though, may see Davidson’s actions as constituting a disruption of the right to free speech of pro-life students. Such disruptions had occurred in years past. Hyson thought Davidson’s actions were disruptive, though he considered it of a minor nature.
Controversies surrounding the GAP date back to 1999, when UBC demanded security fees in the amount of up to $60,000 from a campus pro-life group (“Lifeline”) intending to set up this display. Similar fees had not been imposed on other groups putting on events with controversial messages. (Source: Ubyssey, UBC student newspaper, Sept 17, 1999, page 5.)
While abandoning its initial demand for $60,000 in security fees, UBC did place numerous restrictions on Lifeline from 1999 to 2010, insisting that the campus club limit the number, size, location, and direction of its signs, the number of times the group could express its views on campus, and the length of time the group could set up its display.
UBC repeatedly condoned the physical blocking, interruption and obstruction of Lifeline’s displays by opponents who were recruited by Students for Reproductive Choice. As recently as 2010, UBC failed to provide adequate security to enforce an agreement by protesting opponents of the pro-life display to stay 30 feet away from the display. The opponents rendered the pro-life display practically invisible by holding large yellow banners with slogans like “Unwanted Pregnancy is NOT a choice” and “Full Access to Free Abortion.” UBC did not make any effort to remove the protesters, or even to insist that they stand a reasonable distance away (as per an alleged “agreement”), thereby allowing the de facto censorship of pro-life speech on campus.
In March of 2011, following presure from John Carpay, JCCF’s President, UBC lifted these restrictions and insisted that pro-choice counter-protesters refrain from obstructing and blocking Lifeline’s expression. Lifeline’s event went ahead without restrictions, and with campus security upholding the rule of law on campus.
In March 2011, a Bosnian-Muslim group calling itself the Institute for Research of Genocide of Canada tried to prevent Dr. Srdja Trifkovic from speaking at UBC. The Institute argued that “[a] historical revisionist like Trifkovic should not be allowed to lecture in an academic context.” UBC approved of Dr. Trifkovic speaking, with president Stephen Toope stating: “for a University, anything that detracts from the free expression of ideas is just not acceptable.”
The event was later cancelled after Dr. Trifkovic was stopped at the Vancouver International Airport and sent back to the US. “The ensuing campaign soon escalated into demands to keep me out of Canada altogether” (Trifkovic).
In the lead up to hosting Olympic 2010 events at Thunderbird Stadium, UBC agreed to insert a clause in the student residency contract prohibiting students living within eyesight of the sports centre from displaying offensive "signage" in their windows while the games were being held. Stephen Owen, chief spokesman for UBC, said the policy was meant to shield the Olympics from "guerilla advertising;” however, it was left to Owen to decide personally, in consultation with the UBC legal department, which signs were acceptable and which ones needed to be removed. During the Olympics, residents were not allowed to display "false or unauthorized commercial association with the Olympics" that would be visible from the Thunderbird Winter Sports Centre, an Olympic venue. “UBC spokesperson Stephen Owen said the University was not trying to suppress anyone's right to political protest. He said the clause in question was written strictly to protect the commercial interests of Games organizers.”
In 1997, UBC hosted the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. During the time of the event, protests were not permitted on campus. While there may have been legitimate security concerns, it is doubtful that they justified the actions taken against one student, Craig Jones, who was arrested for displaying signs reading “Free Speech,” “Democracy,” and “Human Rights” on the front lawn of his residence.
The mission statement of the UBC student’s union, the Alma Mater Society (AMS) states:
The Alma Mater Society will promote high-quality student learning. It will advocate student interests, as well as those of the University of British Columbia and post-secondary education as a whole. The Society will provide its members with diverse opportunities to become exceptional leaders. It will be flexible enough to accommodate the changing world.
The AMS's priorities will be determined by its members. The Society will foster communication, both internally and externally, in order to be democratic, fair, accountable to, and accessible to its members. It will provide services students want and can use. It will cultivate unity and goodwill among its members, but will also encourage free and open debate, as well as respect for differing views. It will solve problems constructively.
The AMS passed a Respectful Environment Policy which states:
“Bullying and Harassment” means any inappropriate conduct or comment by a person towards another person that the first person knew or reasonably ought to have known would cause the second person to be humiliated or intimidated, but with respect to employees, volunteers and appointees excludes any reasonable action taken by a manager relating to management and/or direction, or the place of employment. Although bullying and harassment typically refer to a series of incidents, a single serious incident may constitute bullying and harassment. “Complainant” means the individual filing a complaint.
“Discrimination” means making a distinction, whether intentional or not, based on enumerated grounds, relating to personal characteristics of an individual or group, which has the effect of imposing burdens, obligations, or disadvantages on such individual or group not imposed upon others.
“Enumerated grounds” means: race, colour, age, ancestry, citizenship, creed, national or ethnic origin, sex (including pregnancy), religion, marital status, family status, disability (physical and mental), sexual orientation, gender identity, union membership, and criminal conviction unrelated to employment.
“Respondent” means the individual against whom a complaint is filed.
- Examples of bullying and harassment
Examples of personal bullying and harassment encompassed by this policy are:
- Insults or verbal aggression, such as yelling, swearing, name-calling, and intentional humiliation.
- Multiple or destructive “pranks” or “practical jokes” directed towards an individual, or targeted group of individuals, including harmful hazing or initiation practices.
- Vandalizing or otherwise damaging or defiling personal belongings, work area or work product.
- Social isolation, ignoring an individual or unwarranted exclusion from organized team building activities.
- Spreading malicious rumours (regardless of whether they are believed to be true).
- Examples of bullying and harassment based on grounds of discrimination
Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation. Examples include:
- Making or threatening reprisals after a negative response to sexual advances.
- Making unwelcome sexual advances, propositions, flirtations or repeated unwelcome requests for or efforts to make social contact, including asking questions about sexual conduct or sexual orientation or spreading rumours about such information.
- Making comments about an individual’s body, sexual prowess, sexual orientation or sexual deficiencies or using sexually degrading or vulgar words to describe an individual or making derogatory sexual comments.
- Displaying or distributing sexually suggestive or gender-based objects, pictures, posters, cartoons, letters, or e-mails.
Other examples of harassment and bullying on the basis of noted grounds of discrimination include:
Offensive jokes related to race or nationality.
Racial slurs or commentary.
Display of literature or materials that promotes the supremacy of one race or ethnic group.
The AMS may refuse to grant club status based on belief and philosophy. Some of the criteria used by SAC to determine club status include:
Would this club further the mission of the AMS?
Would this club conflict with an existing club or group?
Do we have sufficient resources to constitute this club?
Would this club be accessible to all AMS members?
Is there a good reason this club should be affiliated with the AMS?
AMS’ Student Resource Group Policy gives discretionary power to its officials and decision-making bodies to restrict the distribution of publications, the posting of signage in the Student Union Buildings, and the hosting of events in AMS facilities. The Policy empowers AMS officials to give special privileges to clubs known as “Resource Groups”, if recommended by the Student Administrative Council. There are no stated critera for SAC to recommend a club, except that it be a fully constituted student association that has been in existence for at least two years. Special privileges include financial services, priority over regular student organizations when it comes to booking space, etc.
The Policy in effect promotes the speech and ideology of clubs whose message the SAC agrees with (or considers more important), while putting other clubs at a disadvantage for high-traffic space and AMS resources.
According to the AMS Student Administrative Commission (SAC) Policy Handbook all properly constituted clubs are eligible to book rooms, post notices on Student Union Building (SUB) notice boards, and receive other benefits. According to the SUB Bookings Policy, room bookings that may be “controversial” need to be brought to the SAC for approval. This discretionary power has potential for withholding booking facilities to groups putting on events with unpopular messages. Similarly, the Bookable Bulletin Boards Policy forbids the posting of materials deemed “inappropriate” by the SAC, though there is no evidence of abuse of this discretionary power.
The SUB Distributions and Publications Policy requires that any publications distributed in the SUB be UBC student-produced (or else approved by the SAC on grounds that it contains student-focused content) and not contain “offensive” material. No definitions are offered for what constitutes “offensive” material.
The AMS elections rules require that campaign materials be approved by an elections administrator, who has discretionary power to disallow materials she/he deems offensive. Section 7 of the AMS code of procedures for elections states that:
“(h) All campaign material must be approved by the Elections Administrator before it is used.
(i) The Elections Administrator shall not approve campaign material which he or she deems to be offensive.
(j) A decision of the Elections Administrator to approve or not approve campaign material may be appealed to the Elections Committee, in accordance with the appeal procedures in Article 8(2) below.”
The AMS takes a stance on dozens of issues outside its mandate in its External Policies Manual.
The Alma Mater Society (AMS) is the student union for students at UBC’s Vancouver campus, but Okanagan campus students are members of the UBC Okanagan Campus Students’ Union (OCSU). On August 7, 2014, OCSU executives voted to evict the student newspaper, The Phoenix, from student union office space after the paper ran continuous deficits and was considered a liability at a time when OCSU officials were conducting an internal space audit. OSCU also cut the operating budget of the paper by 27%. While the vote to evict did not take place until August, the OSCU informed The Phoenix on July 9 that it would need to leave.
On April 2, 2013, a BC Liberal party representative was denied the opportunity to participate in an all-candidates forum hosted by the AMS. Andrew Wilkinson, himself a Liberal candidate for the riding of Vancouver–Quilchena, was sent as a representative for Point Grey Liberal candidate (Premier) Christy Clark. However, AMS officials did not allow Mr. Wilkinson to participate in the debate on grounds that “they wanted to keep it a debate about Point Grey riding issues only”.
The AMS did not provide Premier Clark with sufficient notice of the event. An initial email that was supposed to be sent to Clark informing her of the event was not sent due to a “technical glitch.” A second email was sent on March 31. However, due to the Easter long weekend, the email was only read by Clark’s office the day of the event. Furthermore, the AMS’s explanation for excluding Wilkinson from this forum, whom Clark sent in her stead, is inconsistent with the content of the invitation email sent to Clark’s office on March 31. According to AMS Vice-President External Tanner Bokor (as reported in theUbyssey), the email requested that Clark, “or a representative,” attend.