|Student Union Policies
|Student Union Practices
Mount Royal University (MRU) does not reference free expression in their Vision, Mission, or 2025 Strategic Plan.
MRU approved their Expression and Free Speech Policy in October 2019. It reads, in part:
1.1 The University strives to ensure its community is diverse and fulfills its commitment to inclusiveness and equality. It is committed to providing an environment where all members of the community may engage freely and openly in the pursuit of knowledge. The University is an academic institution of free and open inquiry where all of its members have the opportunity to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn free from harassment or discrimination, in accordance with University policies and applicable collective agreements.
1.2 The University unequivocally embraces its institutional responsibility to ensure the free and open exchange of ideas in the spirit of intellectual and critical enquiry. The University will not suppress presentations or debate whether or not the points of view being expressed are thought to be offensive, unwise, immoral, extreme, harmful, incorrect or wrongheaded.
1.3 It is for individuals, not the University, to make their own judgments relating to the quality of thoughts being expressed and to act, not in effort to suppress speech, but to openly and vigorously challenge those ideas to which they oppose.
1.4 Members of the University community have the right to criticize and question the points of views expressed by others at the University, but may not obstruct or interfere with the free speech of others.
1.5 Free speech is an essential element of a university’s culture and therefore neither the University, nor any of its members, will attempt to shield students from ideas or opinions they disagree with or find offensive. While mutual respect and civility are valued, they may not be used as a justification to limit free speech.
1.6 The University may reasonably regulate the time, place and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the institution.
1.7 Any expression of speech may not violate Canadian, provincial or municipal law. The University will restrict expression that violates the law, falsely defames an individual, or constitutes a threat, harassment or hate speech under the law that unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality of interests.
In addition, MRU passed an Academic Freedom policy in 1993, which states:
The common good of society depends upon the search for knowledge and its free exposition. Academic freedom in educational institutions is essential to both these purposes in the teaching function of the institution as well as in its scholarship and research.
Academic staff shall not be hindered or impeded in any way by the institution or the faculty association from exercising their legal rights as citizens, nor shall they suffer any penalties because of the exercise of such legal rights. Academic members of the community are entitled, regardless of prescribed doctrine, to freedom in carrying out research and in publishing the results thereof, freedom of teaching and of discussion, freedom to criticize the University and the faculty association, and freedom from institutional censorship.
Academic freedom does not require neutrality on the part of the individual. Rather, academic freedom makes commitment possible. Academic freedom carries with it the duty to use that freedom in a manner consistent with the scholarly obligation to base research and teaching on an honest search for knowledge.
In exercising the freedom to comment and criticize, academic staff members have a corresponding obligation to use academic freedom in a responsible manner. This implies a recognition of the rights of other members of the academic community, and a tolerance of differing points of view.
MRU’s Offensive/Discriminatory Materials Policy states “It is the policy of Mount Royal to prohibit the posting, display or distribution of Offensive or Discriminatory Materials including by telephone and/or electronic format.”
Offensive and/or discriminatory material is defined as material that violates the Alberta Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act or The Criminal Code of Canada, in addition to material that is “primarily of a sexual or violent nature and offer[s] no redeeming educational or artistic value or purpose.”
The Student Conduct Guide provides examples of non-academic misconduct, which can serve as anti-disruption measures to ensure speech is not interfered with:
MRU’s Office of Campus Equity & Meaningful Inclusion has a mission of:
...fostering an equitable and meaningfully inclusive campus for all members of the Mount Royal community. We recognize that inequities in opportunities and access to education caused by historical and ongoing oppression and marginalization exist. Being equitable means we work to address and correct the imbalances. Being meaningfully inclusive means we understand, identify and address barriers to full participation in the campus community.
We listen to concerns while maintaining strict confidentiality, explore informal methods of resolution, if necessary, explain the process for a formal complaint, deliver educational programming, workshops, training and presentations, and promote a respectful campus community.
Mark Hecht, an instructor in MRU’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, published an op-ed in the Vancouver Sun in September 2019 about social trust and ethnic diversity, an op-ed which was very controversial and ultimately pulled from the Vancouver Sun.
On September 7, 2019, Dr. Jonathan Withey, Faculty of Science & Technology Dean released a statement affirming Hecht’s freedom of expression:
We understand the concern from members of the community over this op-ed piece in the Vancouver Sun.
Mount Royal, like all universities, is a place for debate, for freedom of expression and for the respectful exchange of ideas. The ideas expressed in this newspaper op-ed, while protected by freedom of expression, do not represent my personal views, nor the position of Mount Royal University as a whole.
Mount Royal University is committed to diversity on our campus, and in the wider community, and providing a welcoming learning environment for all.
Yet at an MRU General Faculties Council meeting on September 19, 2019, the Mount Royal Faculty Association (MRFA) President made posters available that read “WE BELONG HERE RACISM DOES NOT”, which were made for the purpose of pressuring the administration to denounce Hecht’s op-ed. Some of Hecht’s colleagues also sent a letter to MRU President Tim Rahilly, expressing that they were upset the university didn’t condemn Hecht’s “blatantly Islamophobic and xenophobic” op-ed.
The field school Hecht was set to lead, scheduled for the Spring 2020 semester, was subsequently cancelled.
On March 19, 2019, two days before ex-Muslim Armin Navabi would deliver a presentation for the Atheist Society of Calgary on “The Case against Islamic Reform” at MRU, MRU’s interfaith coordinator unilaterally cancelled the event, citing heightened sensitivities following the tragic Christchurch mosque shootings of March 15, 2019.
Fortunately, and thanks to pressure from the public and members of the University community who wanted to hear Navabi’s point of view, MRU reversed course. President David Docherty stated that the decision to deplatform Navabi “while right for some, was not right for all. If the speaker is willing to speak on our campus, we will have him back. An outreach has already been made.”
Docherty’s message embraced the importance of disagreement, debate, and different perspectives in an academic context. It ended by saying “we must, and we will, uphold the ideals of freedom of expression and academic freedom in our words and in our actions.”
Navabi has not yet received his promised re-invitation to speak.
In February 2013, Nicholas MacLeod was peacefully distributing pro-life literature in a building on campus when confronted by MRU security guard Jeff Beddome, who ordered Nicholas to stop immediately, because Beddome considered the literature to be “offensive.” Nicholas initially refused to stop distributing his pamphlets, but then agreed to leave on condition that he could retrieve his jacket from a locker, as it was a very cold winter evening. Beddome and other security guards tried to force Nicholas to leave the building without permitting him to retrieve his jacket, which was in a nearby locker. The security guards assaulted Nicholas, forced him to the ground, hand-cuffed him, and confined him to a small room for several hours, with his hands still cuffed painfully behind his back. Nicholas had video-recorded the incident on his cell phone, but one of the MRU guards removed the SD memory card from Nicholas’ cell phone. That guard was later charged with theft, and admitted in court to having taken this evidence.
On behalf of Nicholas, the Justice Centre requested an apology from MRU, appropriate compensation for physical and psychological suffering endured by Nicholas, and revisions to campus security policies and training. MRU rejected this proposal in its entirety, making court action necessary.
In 2015, the court action settled without continuing further to trial. MRU president Dr. David Docherty apologized to Nicholas for the behaviour of MRU security guards, their unnecessary use of force, the unlawful detention, and the violation of Charter rights. In his letter of apology, Dr. Docherty stated that “supplemental training will be conducted to ensure that community officers understand the interaction between the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and their duties in maintaining a safe campus environment.”
Freedom of expression is not referenced in the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University (SAMRU) Vision, Mission Statement, Values & Beliefs, Essentials, or Strategic Priorities.
Section 7 of the Clubs Procedures gives discretion to the SAMRU Board of Directors to de-ratify student groups on virtually any ground:
7.1 The Clubs Ratification Committee has the authority to de-ratify Clubs upon the recommendation of the Clubs Coordinator, if the Club fails to meet the standards of the Clubs procedures, all applicable SAMRU and MRU policies, procedures and bylaws and all relevant provincial and federal legislation.
Section 12.5 of the Clubs Procedure states “SAMRU will prevent the distribution of any Club marketing materials that can be reasonably judged to be discriminatory.”
SAMRU requires all volunteers to undergo unconscious bias training.
The authors are not aware of any speech codes in the SAMRU election policies and procedures.
SAMRU does not take official positions on issues outside of its mandate.
Following several complaints from students and faculty over what was deemed “offensive” content in the February 2, 2012 issue of the student newspaper The Reflector, namely, a photo of a woman consuming a banana, SAMRU Vice President – External, Michelle Dennis wrote the following letter to the paper:
The Reflector is a separately-incorporated Society housed in Wyckham House as a tenant of SAMRU only. As a Board member, I am not involved in the Reflector’s content but feel the need to respond based on the overwhelming amount of complaints coming from SAMRU’s membership. Intentional or not, the commentary published in Vanessa Gillard’s sex column in the February 2nd edition is offensive to some students as expressed in written concern to the Reflector. The Reflector has heard my recommendation to retract the piece, make an apology to those offended and consider the student’s feedback when making future content decisions. The Students’ Association fosters a community of respect, integrity and diversity on campus and as such, expect that enterprises that collect mandatory fees from the student body will live up to these principles as well.
In the 2018–19 financial year,* Mount Royal University received $118,086,000 in taxpayer dollars in the form of government grants. These taxpayer funds accounted for 49.2% of their annual revenue.
*Mount Royal University did not make their 2019–20 financial statements available by the time of publication of the 2020 Campus Freedom Index.