|Student Union Policies
|Student Union Practices
To meet its mandated requirements to the Ontario government, in 2018, Carleton University enacted a new Free Expression Policy. The Policy affirms:
Disagreements and dissenting views make for a vibrant academic culture. The University strives to find a balance between allowing for critical views to be expressed civilly on campus and not obstructing the freedom of others to communicate their views. In exercising free speech, staff, students and faculty are encouraged to consider the value of mutual respect. Informed, thoughtful and respectful argument, even when disagreement is profound, benefits the University community and fosters its essential purpose.
Canadian law recognizes that freedom of speech is not absolute and can be limited in situations where there is a need to balance competing interests such as respect for differences and equality. The University may intervene, for example, when speech violates the law, interferes with the conduct of University operations, demeans others on prohibited grounds of discrimination, is harassment, defamatory or in breach of legal obligations.
University community members may engage in peaceful assemblies and demonstrations as well as make reasonable use of University facilities in accordance with its policies. Of necessity, in order to achieve its essential purpose, the University must be able to operate free from unreasonable interference from any person or group. Therefore, the University reserves the right to reasonably regulate the use of facilities and the time, place and manner of speech.
The University may intervene when activities disrupt the operations of the University, its learning, living and work environment, the safety of the community and to comply with the legal obligations including but not limited to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Ontario Human Rights Code. Organizers of events on campus or using University facilities are responsible for ensuring that their invited speakers and participants are aware of and are in compliance with the law as well as the University’s expectations and policies.
The University will consider a student organization’s compliance with this policy as condition for ongoing financial support or recognition pursuant to the Accreditation of Student Organizations Policy. The University encourages student organizations to consider adopting policies that respect freedom of speech.
This policy does not exhaust all of the University’s policies with respect to freedom of speech. Rather, it informs the interpretation of and is reflected in other University policies. The policy does not amend or qualify University policies on academic freedom, including, as expressed for example, in Article 4 of the Collective Agreement with Carleton University Academic Staff Association. The University reaffirms its commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and human rights as set out in the University’s Human Rights Policies and Procedure.
Carleton University’s Human Rights Policies and Procedures states in its “Guiding Principles” that “[t]he University must uphold academic freedom and encourage intellectual and scholarly debate,” and “[m]embers of the University community may not engage in abusive, violent, threatening or disruptive behaviour.”
The Human Rights Policies and Procedures places speech restrictions on the university community, such as the banning of “gender-derogatory nicknames”, “gender-degrading material or graffiti”, as well as “derogatory remarks” and “name calling” based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, creed, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin and citizenship.
The Student Rights and Responsibilities Policy lists “Mischief” as an offence:
No student shall:
Carleton’s Booking Space on Campus Policy states that all applications for space must explain “[t]he purpose or nature of the table rental/event” and a “[c]omplete list of all activities, displays and promotion planned.” Failure to abide by this Policy would result in the cancellation of booking privileges.
Carleton’s Department of Equity and Inclusive Communities (EIC) exists to “foster the development of an inclusive and transformational university culture where individual distinctiveness and a sense of belonging drive excellence in learning, research, teaching, and working at Carleton.” It further states that:
Inclusive and transformational culture requires an environment free from discrimination, harassment and sexual violence where Indigenous ways of knowing and learning inform our systems and practices, and where equitable access to services and opportunities guides all university action.
The Department’s services include “Proactive pan-university consultative initiatives,” “Education, Training and Professional Development,” and “Policy development and advice”.
In April of 2016 it was reported that students running for student positions on the Board of Governors were told they couldn’t campaign on platforms or make pledges to the students who would be voting them into the position. A letter in the student newspaper, the Charlatan, read:
Unlike elections in previous years, candidates were told they were not allowed to campaign on any platform points, or in any way tell students what they would do on the board if they were elected. Candidates can have posters, but those posters cannot mention student issues, such as tuition fees. Candidates can give class talks, but they cannot answer specific questions from students. Either of these things can result in disqualification.
Dr. Root Gorelick is a Biology professor at Carleton University who also sat on the Board of Governors from 2013 to 2016. During that time, he has blogged about Board sessions, often critically, on issues including security outside board meetings, the university’s commemorative naming policy, and others. Carleton University passed a new Board of Governors Code of Conduct, in August of 2015. The Code states that Governors must “refrain from making disparaging comments of fellow members and staff,” “support all actions taken by the Board of Governors even when in a minority position on such actions,” and “refrain from taking any action that is damaging to the reputation of the University.”
Gorelick refused to sign the new Code. In May of 2016, when his three-year term on the Board had expired, Gorelick re-applied for his seat but again refused to sign the new Code, citing its statement prohibiting members from speaking out against policies they disagree with in public. Carleton University declared Gorelick ineligible over his refusal to comply with the Code. Gorelick’s appeal was denied.
Throughout 2013-14, Carleton University continued to restrict student expression by limiting Greek Letter Organizations (GLOs) recruitment at Carleton Residences, stating that “students from the Greek community who are living in residence are permitted to wear their letters but must refrain from actively recruiting first year students,” and “in the event an individual or a group transgresses these directives, all [GLOs] will lose the privilege of being permitted into Residence for the remainder of the year.”
In January of 2013, Carleton University defended the free expression rights of its students when the Carleton Students for Liberty’s (SFL) “free speech wall” was vandalized and stolen from its location on campus. The display, which featured a stand-alone wall, was constructed by the student society to educate their classmates about free expression rights. The wall event was co-sponsored by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF). Arun Smith, a seventh-year human rights student at Carleton, tore down and disposed of the wall early in the morning of January 22. Mr. Smith claimed responsibility for the action and stated: “If everyone speaks freely we end up simply reinforcing the hierarchies that are created in our society.” Carleton’s Office of Student Affairs placed sanctions on Mr. Smith, but the exact scope of those sanctions remains unknown.
In June of 2012, Carleton University allowed a controversial conference, titled “The Contemporary Awakening and Imam Khomeini’s Thoughts,” to take place on campus despite backlash by faculty, students and community members. The event was organized by a student group, the Iranian Culture Association of Carleton University, in collaboration with the Culture Centre of the Islamic Republic of Iran to honour the 23rd anniversary of Khomeini’s death. Carleton University’s official statement in response to the controversy reads:
Student groups at Carleton University host many events each year on campus, sometimes on controversial subjects. The views expressed by the speakers at this event in no way reflect the views of the University as [a] whole. There are more than 160 student groups and societies registered at Carleton. Carleton...encourages a culture of debate and free expression.
In October 2010, Carleton University facilitated the handcuffing and arrest of pro-life students on campus who tried to set up a pro-life display at Tory Quad, a well-travelled, high-traffic area of campus. Carleton University asked the Police to arrest the students for “trespassing” in order to prevent them from peacefully expressing their views on campus. The police arrested the students before they had even set up the display, and confiscated their materials. The Crown refused to prosecute the students for trespassing.
Police confronted the students before they put up their display, and an unnamed member of the University administration can be heard saying “this display at this place is a prohibited activity.” The Statement of Claim of Ruth Lobo and John McLeod is posted here.
Carleton also informed the students they could not display smaller, hand-held anti-abortion signs on campus, a demand not based on any University rule, policy, bylaw or regulation. No other group on campus has faced demands from the University for any restrictions or limitations to be imposed on the expression of its opinion or viewpoint.
Further, Carleton has no rules or policies against visually disturbing images, and tolerates graphic displays by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) featuring gory images. Further, while Carleton claims to be neutral on the subject of abortion, the University invited Planned Parenthood to have a table at "clubs day" in the fall of 2011, even though Planned Parenthood is not an accredited student organization.
After the Lifeline pro-life students were arrested for “trespassing” on their own campus, Ryan Flannigan, head of Student Issues for the Administration, invited the students to a meeting but insisted that the students could not bring their lawyer with them. At the meeting, Mr. Flannigan threatened the students with charges of non-academic misconduct. He presented the students with an offer allowing them limited rights to express their views on campus, without any guarantee that their expression of opinion on campus would be protected from criminal activity like physical blocking and physical obstruction. The students rejected this offer to have their speech singled out for censorship.
Carleton justified its position on grounds that “other members of the University community” should be “afforded the opportunity to decide for themselves as whether they want to view these images and become engaged with” Lifeline’s campaign.
Upholding the freedom of expression for students is not an Objective of the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA), nor is it referenced in the 2019-2023 Strategic Plan. However, CUSA has a Declaration of Students’ Institutional and Academic Rights Policy stating that “[e]very student, full or part-time, has the right to openly question and freely comment on course material without penalty.”
In their Issues Policies, CUSA takes positions on areas outside of their mandate, such as blood donation rules.
The CUSA Social Media Policy states:
1.2 CUSA, as representatives of the Carleton student body as a whole, unequivocally condemn all forms of discrimination, be it racism, sexism, xenophobia, ableism, sizeism, ageism, classism and homo/bi /transphobia, and/or any other form of systemic oppression, along with any group or person who actively promotes the previous ideologies.
1.3 Spaces that are owned and operated by CUSA, or are representative of CUSA, shall be free of any material that promotes the above ideologies, and shall take action against the propagation of such ideologies.
1.4 CUSA prohibits discrimination and harassment in social media and Internet fora that:
1.5 CUSA supports and endorses the right to freedom of speech; however, CUSA believes that speech and expression loses its protection when it becomes:
On April 8, 2015, CUSA adopted a Support Freedom of Expression Policy which states:
(1) CUSA recognizes that within the unique university context, the most crucial of all human rights are freedom of speech, academic freedom, and freedom research. CUSA affirms that these freedoms are meaningless unless they include the right to raise disturbing questions and provocative challenges to the values embraced by society at large, and even by the University itself. The right to engage in frank and open debate, to share controversial and unpopular ideas, and to challenge society’s core beliefs, is essential for the pursuit of truth, and for preserving a free and democratic society.
(2) CUSA has a duty to actively support this human right to unfettered, critical teaching and research, because apart from the University, there is no other institution or office in our modern liberal democracy which is the custodian of this most precious and vulnerable right of the liberated human spirit.
(3) CUSA affirms that the principles of academic freedom, which protect the right of professors to pursue controversial areas of research and to express and disseminate unpopular ideas, apply equally to students. All students enjoy the freedom to explore, debate, and disseminate ideas, regardless of their popularity or public acceptance.
(4) CUSA accepts that the free and open exchange of ideas will generate controversy and disputes among members of the University, and in the wider community. In such cases, CUSA will support and protect the free speech rights of all persons, including and especially those who adhere to unpopular beliefs or controversial opinions.
(5) CUSA recognizes that freedom of expression is limited to peaceful means and non-coercive methods. CUSA expressly rejects the use of violence, physical force, and physical coercion as methods to express one’s views, or as methods to prevent others from expressing their views. Controversial or unpopular ideas should be addressed through debate, reason, and argument, and not by silencing one’s opponents through blocking, obstructing, disrupting or otherwise suppressing unpopular or controversial speech on campus.
(6) CUSA recognizes that the Criminal Code of Canada places certain restrictions on freedom of expression. Apart from these restrictions, the peaceful expression of ideas on campus should be supported and encouraged.
(7) The right to free expression is complemented by the right to freedom of association, whereby individuals are free to cooperate in groups. All students enjoy the right to form and join the campus club (or clubs) of their own choosing, to hold and advertise meetings, to invite speakers on campus, to sponsor debate, to engage in peaceful assemblies and demonstrations, and to have equal access to CUSA facilities, rooms, spaces, and resources. No student, and no campus club, shall be discriminated against on the basis of belief, opinion, or viewpoint.
(8) CUSA will interpret and apply its rules, regulations, policies, by-laws, and Constitution in accordance with these principles.
The Discrimination on Campus Policy reads, in part:
CUSA’s Electoral Code Policy Items 13.5 and 13.12 state:
All campaign material shall be submitted first for approval of the CEO. Approval of the CEO shall be denoted by a stamp of the Office of the CEO, which shall appear on all material. The CEO shall refuse any item if, in the opinion of the CEO, the material contravenes the CUSA Constitution, is libelous, or if the material does not clearly identify its originator(s).
Candidates are to campaign in a fair and respectable fashion, as defined by the Carleton University Human Rights Code.
As per Bylaw IX – Clubs and Societies, decertification of a student club may occur when “Actions taken by the Club or Society are contrary to the Constitution, Bylaws, or Policies of the Carleton University Students' Association, or to the constitution of that Club or Society.”
On January 7, 2013, after being denied official club certification by CUSA since November 2010, Carleton Lifeline became registered asma club with the Carleton University Students’ Association Clubs & Societies Office. CUSA had decertified Carleton Lifeline in 2010, stripping this campus club of its status in November 2010 based solely on the group’s pro-life beliefs and opinions on abortion. During the 2011-2012 school year CUSA continued to deny Carleton Lifeline its official club status based on CUSA’s Discrimination on Campus Policy (see “Student Union Practices”, above).
Since being ratified in 2013, Lifeline has held a number of events on campus and has not experienced any discrimination by Carleton University or by CUSA.
CUSA defended the free expression rights of its members when the Carleton Students for Liberty’s (SFL) “free speech wall” was vandalized and stolen from its location on campus by student Arun Smith (see “University Practices”).
CUSA addressed this incident, calling an emergency meeting of CUSA Council, which approved a motion condemning the actions taken by Arun Smith:
Whereas Arun Smith, as per his public Facebook confession, unduly destroyed the property of a CUSA-accredited group, Carleton Students for Liberty
Whereas Arun Smith has not demonstrated public remorse rather has unabashedly
threatened Carleton Students for Liberty with further acts of vandalism…in contravention with CUSA’s Discrimination on Campus Policy…And is in contravention with Section 1 (2) of the Carleton Human Rights Code…And further violates Sections VI (2) and VII (A) (3) of the Student Rights and Responsibility Policy…
Be it resolved that CUSA council request that Arun Smith resign from his position as human rights representative of CASG.
Be it resolved that the executive of CUSA release a public statement restoring the respectability of our institution, asserting our commitment to a free and respectful campus, and speak out against these types of actions among the members of our organization
Be it further resolved that this statement be published on the CUSA website and be distributed to media outlets including, but not limited to Maclean’s, the National Post, Sun News, Pink News and Yahoo! News (Daily Brew).
Be it further resolved that CUSA note in its statement that they fully support any disciplinary action that the University Administration deems appropriate.
In March 2012, CUSA held a general referendum which included the following question:
The majority (almost 62%) of the 824 students who cast votes voted “yes.”
In the 2018–19 financial year,* Carleton University received $180,416,000 in taxpayer dollars in the form of government grants. These taxpayer funds accounted for 25.7% of their annual revenue.
*Carleton University did not make their 2019–20 financial statements available by the time of publication of the 2020 Campus Freedom Index.