|Year||University Policies||University Practices||Student Union Policies||Student Union Practices|
GRADE EXPLANATION: The University earns an F for its policies. There is not a clearly stated commitment to free speech. The university does not have 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 has at least one speech code. The university provides funding and other resources to groups, departments, committees, commissions or other bodies that engage in ideological advocacy. The University earns a C for having failed to prevent disruption of a speech by one of its professors in the 2013-2014 year.
The University of Ottawa’s (U of O’s) Office for the Prevention of Discrimination and Harassment (OPDH) defines “harassment” as follows:
Harassment is engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct which is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome. Individuals, who engage in harassment use comments or actions in an attempt to intimidate, humiliate, belittle, embarrass, demean, undermine and dominate their targets. In general, harassment constitutes a repeated action, but if serious enough, one unwelcome incident can be considered as harassment.
The OPDH also provides a definition of discrimination. The definition applies to conduct of students, faculty, and employees, since the OPDH is empowered to “provide a respectful workplace and learning environment free from discrimination and harassment.” The definition states:
Discrimination means that a distinction has been made based on an individual's personal characteristics. This distinction can be intentional or unintentional, direct or indirect. Personal characteristics include but are not limited to, a person's race, ancestry, ethnic origin, creed, place of origin, colour of skin, citizenship, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, sexual identity, age, marital status, family status, record of offences, political allegiance or disability.
The OPDH lists “Offensive remarks” and “Displays of discriminatory material” as “Examples of discriminatory acts based on prohibited grounds.”
U of O’s security fee policy, Policy 28: Use of University of Ottawa Facilities and Services, section 17 gives the U of O discretion in setting security fees as it reserves to the U of O the “the right to determine the number of security guards required [for an event], with costs to be covered by the user.”
U of O’s Communications Services has regulations governing posting on its billboards. One regulations states: “Persons or groups of persons whose posters compromise the rights or the reputation of another person or group of persons will be denied posting privileges.”
On Friday, March 28, 2014, a lecture was held in the Colonel By Hall at the University of Ottawa. Its purpose was to support the creation of a men's issues awareness society at the University of Ottawa. The focus of the talk entitled "What's Equality got to do with it?", was on how conversations about "rape culture" create unfounded fear in university women and an attitude of hostility towards university men. The lecturer was U of O English Professor Janice Fiamengo.
As Dr. Fiamengo was being introduced, a vuvuzela horn began to be blown and other kinds of noise, like chanting, drumming, banging on desks and singing, prevented the lecturer from being heard. The students involved in this disruption were part of a loosely organized (not ratified) student group, Revolutionary Students Movement (RSM).
U of O Protection Services personnel were called for and arrived promptly, but the University of Ottawa should have anticipated the need for security previous to the event starting, as similar events in Toronto have resulted in noisy disruptions, the pulling of fire alarms and protest. The noisemakers were appealed to respect the ability of those interested in Fiamengo's talk to hear it, but allowed to stay in the room. Their noise continued unabated for about 30 minutes or more. The speaker and some of the audience relocated to another, smaller room, from which some but not all of those obstructing the talk were excluded. Interruption, taunting, and insults continued. After some of those causing the commotion were induced to leave the room, the fire alarm sounded and everyone was required to evacuate. After a long wait during which the fire alarm could not be resolved, the talk was cancelled. In all, Dr. Fiamengo was able to speak for only about 15 minutes while the audience was unable able to follow her presentation, given the constant interruptions and insults.
RSM made comments concerning Dr. Fiamengo’s presentation that appeared in The Fulcrum, U of O's campus paper:
“We feel that these ideas have no place on our campus and refuse to legitimize them by allowing them space to organize,” a representative for the RSM wrote. “As was demonstrated, campus security will not protect our community from events that are harmful to men, women, and trans people in the community, so we decided to stand up for what we feel is right.…[Student’s] have a right to decide what does and does not happen here.…I [a protestor at the event] felt like at a time when we’re really trying to make sure that everyone feels safe on campus, this was a very counterproductive speech that creates an unsafe atmosphere for many students and pushes back the progress that we’ve been trying to achieve.”
U of O president Allan Rock made the following comments to the Fulcrum about the incident:
I don’t know that we’ve gotten more flack than other universities…From what I know, what happened here happened at the University of Toronto. I don’t know what happened, I don’t know how the fire alarm got pulled, and I guess the matter is under investigation.
Meanwhile, I was happy to see that [Dr. Fiamengo] had a platform to speak from…She seems to have elicited interest from those in attendance, and the university is a great place for vigorous discussion of controversial views. I’m glad there was such a discussion.
On February 5th, 2014, the University of Ottawa Liberty Society erected a free speech wall inside the University Centre of the U of O, sponsored by the JCCF. One student of the RSM monopolized the entire wall by repeatedly writing “Hate Speech is Not Free Speech”, leaving no room for other students to write on the wall. Omar Benmedgoul, organizer of the U of O free speech wall event, said of the incident, “They covered the wall entirely in an effort to stop others from being able to write on the wall as well.”
In 2010, the International Free Press Society sponsored a tour for controversial Republican pundit and author Ann Coulter to speak at several university campuses across Canada. Prior to Ms. Coulter’s arrival, a letter signed by U of O academic vice-president François Houle offered Coulter a bleak warning:
…I would, however, like to inform you, or perhaps remind you, that our domestic laws, both provincial and federal, delineate freedom of expression (or “free speech”) in a manner that is somewhat different than the approach taken in the United States. I therefore encourage you to educate yourself, if need be, as to what is acceptable in Canada and to do so before your planned visit here. You will realize that Canadian law puts reasonable limits on the freedom of expression. For example, promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges. Outside of the criminal realm, Canadian defamation laws also limit freedom of expression and may differ somewhat from those to which you are accustomed. I therefore ask you, while you are a guest on our campus, to weigh your words with respect and civility in mind. There is a strong tradition in Canada, including at this University, of restraint, respect and consideration in expressing even provocative and controversial opinions and urge you to respect that Canadian tradition while on our campus. Hopefully, you will understand and agree that what may, at first glance, seem like unnecessary restrictions to freedom of expression do, in fact, lead not only to a more civilized discussion, but to a more meaningful, reasoned and intelligent one as well.
Ms. Coulter’s speech, to be held in the U of O’s largest auditorium seating nearly 500, was cancelled due to protests and the risk of physical violence against Ms. Coulter. Ezra Levant, one of the event’s organizers, stated: “The police and the security have advised that it would be physically dangerous for Ann Coulter to proceed with this event and for others to come in.”
It is unresolved who was ultimately responsible for cancelling the event, though Coutler stated that the Ottawa Police shut down the event.
After negative media publicity, the U of O released a statement declaring:
The University of Ottawa has always promoted and defended freedom of expression... For that reason, we did not at any time oppose Ann Coulter's appearance. Whether it is Ann Coulter or any other speaker, diverse views have always been and continue to be welcome on our campus.
U of O President Allan Rock stated that the University is a “safe and democratic environment for the expression of views, and we will keep it that way."
On February 20, 2009, the University of Ottawa banned posters associated with the national campus event, Israeli Apartheid Week. The Communications Office at the University sent the following statement to the student group organizing the event, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights:
A poster from the campus group Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights has recently come to the attention of the Communications Office. All posters approved by the Communications Office must promote a campus culture where all members of the community can play a part in a declaration of human rights recognizing the inherent dignity and equal rights of all students. Consequently, we will not place this particular poster on our campus billboards.
Events scheduled during the week were able to proceed as planned. In 2010, 2011 and 2012 Israeli Apartheid Week was able to take place without interference by the University, and the administration has not banned posters promoting the event since 2009.
In the summer of 2008, the University of Ottawa informed a professor, Denis Rancourt, that his weekly film and discussion series on social justice issues, “Cinema Politica,” would not be permitted to continue in the 2008-2009 academic year. The series had been running (under varying names) since September 2005, involving a film on any number of issues followed by discussion. The University had always provided the venue and equipment for the event upon application by Rancourt, free of charge. Rancourt considered the event part of his “community service” as an employee of the University, and included accounts of the event’s activities in his yearly reports.
In a July 14, 2008, letter to Rancourt, the U of O justified its decision as follows:
As previously communicated to you, you are not entitled to request your academic unit to reserve a meeting room on behalf of Cinema Politica as its activities are unrelated to your workload. Even if such request is made directly through Housing and Convention Services, the University of Ottawa is unable to grant such a request since, by failing to provide interpretative services at its events as required by the Ontario Human Rights Code, Cinema Politica did not respect all applicable statutes, regulations and University of Ottawa policies in its use of the University's facilities in 2007-2008.
The incident involving interpretive services occurred in the fall semester of 2007, when a deaf student, Genevieve Deguire, made a request to Access Services at the University of Ottawa to provide interpretive service at Cinema Politica so that she could attend. The University denied the application on the grounds that the Dean of Science refused to approve a statement showing that Cinema Politica was part of Rancourt’s workload.
The event was able to continue despite U of O opposition, with another professor booking space on behalf of the group. The University fired Rancourt in December 2008 for assigning A+ grades to all students in his fourth-year physics course, and for allowing “unauthorized individuals” into his physics lab. In January 2009, Rancourt was arrested for trespassing at a scheduled screening of the renamed Cinema Academica on campus. The Prosecution dropped the charges in July 2009.
In 2007, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) planned to host Burmese activist Ka Hsaw Wa on campus. While the event itself ultimately went ahead on the date scheduled with no reported interference, documents obtained by the Canadian Friends of Burma show that members of the University administration had been communicating to try and stop the event. Victor Simon, U of O Vice President for Resources emailed both President Gilles Patry and Vice President for External Relations Bruce Feldthusen to suggest that the University could block the event from taking place by claiming it was "libellous":
Gilles, Bruce, I can't stop thinking that we should prohibit the use of our facilities for this event, on the grounds that the program material includes allegations and accusations that may be libellous... I know that this kind of action thinking flies in the face of many principles we hold dear in the University world, but I think we have others interests at stake here.
Feldthusen then emailed both Patry and Simon that he was concerned that the event posed unspecified "security issues."
GRADE EXPLANATION: The student union earns an F 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 restrictions on campaign speech and literature; the student union takes political positions on issues outside its mandate. The student union earns a C for its practices; it has not recently engaged in censorship, though its poor policy framework does not prevent it.
The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) operates a Centre for Equity and Human Rights (CEHR), which processes and investigates discrimination complaints from students in accordance with the Ontario Human Rights Code.
The Centre for Equity and Human Rights defines “discrimination” and “harassment” as the following:
Discrimination means making a distinction between certain individuals or groups based on a prohibited ground of discrimination as defined by the Ontario Human Rights Code.
Harassment as defined by the Code is a form of discrimination based on protected grounds. It designates unwanted physical or verbal conduct reasonably understood as offensive or humiliating. This behaviour can create a negative or hostile living and learning environment (“poisoned environment”), which can interfere with your studies.
Harassment is generally a “course of conduct”; a pattern of behaviour involving more than one incident. A single incident may be categorized as harassment, though this is assessed on a case-by-case basis.
In the SFUO’s Constitution, Article 8.13.10 details the criteria for a club to be recognized by the SFUO, and therefore receive SFUO Clubs services, such as room and table bookings. Part k of that article requires that “the Club applicant’s constitution does not contain any discriminatory clauses and has no clauses that are contrary to any existing Canadian law.” Part l requires that “the Club applicant’s constitution does not contain any provision for its present or future affiliation with any organization that has discriminatory policies or practices.”
For club events, the SFUO Club Manual Posting Procedures states that “[p]osters may not be sexist, racist, ableist, homphobic, transphobic, or any other wording and imagery deemed offensive by the SFUO.”
The SFUO Club Manual explains the process for getting table materials approved: “Before materials, visuals, etc. can be displayed at a table in the University Centre by a Club, they must be approved by Community Life Services (following Policy 28 of UCU).”
According to the Club Manual, “[b]efore materials, visuals, etc. can be displayed at a table in the University Centre, they must be approved by Community Life Services (following Policy 28 of UCU).”
The SFUO claims the following as part of its mandate:
Recognizing our role as agents of social progress, assisting students in understanding and acting against oppression and injustice and emphasizing the rights and responsibilities of the student. To further this end, we will act against the oppression of women, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered, the disabled, native people, ethnic, religious and linguistics and other disadvantaged groups and causes including our environment on the University of Ottawa campus.
In June of 2010, SFUO used student funds to send students to protest the G20 at the Toronto G20 summit. According to the University of Ottawa’s student newspaper The Fulcrum, “[a]t least four SFUO services—the Student Appeal Centre, the Women's Resource Centre, the Pride Centre, and Foot Patrol—combined finances from their budgets to rent a bus which took students to Toronto.” These actions are funded through mandatory student fees paid to the SFUO. On March 22, 2012, The SFUO sent a bus with forty-five student protesters to join in the Montreal student protest against tuition hikes.
During the March 2010 SFUO elections, Tristan Dénommée was elected VP Finance with a majority of the votes over opponent and incumbent Sarah Jayne King. He won by 114 votes, which given the extremely low voter turnout, was a very wide margin. However, he was disqualified by the SFUO Board of Administration (BOA) “based on accusations of publishing false statements in relation to the personal character or conduct of a candidate; posting in unauthorized locations; and failure to comply [sic] with minor and major penalties.”
After a meeting where Tristan’s appeals were denied, the President of the SFUO, Tyler Steeves, declared: “[I am] disappointed with the decision of the BOA tonight. I was hoping for some sort of acknowledgement that elected candidates are elected and it’s not fair to unelect them,” he said. After intensive protests organized by Tristan’s friends, Tristan was suspended for two weeks from his job as an employee at the SFUO-owned Pivik grocery store. In the words of the blog, Campus Accountability, “....regarding the actions taken by the SFUO to silence dissent...These activities are completely unacceptable, and continue to undermine the democratic rights of the students of the University of Ottawa.”