|Year||University Policies||University Practices||Student Union Policies||Student Union Practices|
To meet its obligations to the Ontario government, in December 2018, Queen’s University enacted a new Free Expression at Queen’s University Policy which states:
Open inquiry and the freedom to speak, write, listen, and learn are foundational principles on which Queen’s University is built. As such, the University is committed to providing an environment conducive to open dialogue and debate. The University is also committed to the principle that it should not restrict the expression of ideas or opinions that may be disturbing, offensive, or unpopular. Failure to explore or confront ideas with which we disagree through disciplined and respectful dialogue, debate, and argument, does society a disservice, weakens our intellectual integrity, and threatens the very core of the University. Both free expression and the achievement of social goals are possible, and challenging one’s agenda should be viewed as an opportunity to strengthen and enrich this position, and when needed, change it.
Queen’s students, faculty, staff, and visitors have the right to exercise free expression at the University. Equally, others are free to criticize and contest views expressed at the University by such means as peaceful assemblies, demonstrations, and protests, provided that they do not obstruct free expression protected by this policy.
The Policy further states:
The rights to exercise free expression and to criticize the free expression of others are subject to any collective agreements between the University and employee groups, and University policies that pertain to acceptable conduct at the University. These rights are also subject to all applicable Canadian laws, which include the Criminal Code of Canada (e.g. hate propaganda provisions), the Ontario Human Rights Code (e.g. prohibition against harassment on prohibited grounds), the Occupational Health and Safety Act (e.g. workplace violence and harassment provisions). This policy complements, and does not supersede or restrict, the application of any of the above.
Queen’s University’s Policy on the Booking, Use, and Cancellation of Bookings in University Space states:
Regardless of the academic or administrative unit with responsibility for booking a space, and regardless of the type of space being booked, any proposed event that falls into one or more of the categories below must be referred by the Designated Space Administrator to the Event Assessment Team (EAT) for review:
Subject to an application, the EAT will make a final decision regarding whether the event will be permitted to take place; and, if permitted, the EAT will determine what, if any, conditions the requester must meet before the event is allowed to proceed. Conditions could include a requirement that the requester assumes responsibility for additional costs that the university may incur as a result of the event (e.g. additional security staff, damages, etc.) and a requirement for the requester to provide a deposit to the university for such costs as determined by the university.
The Queen’s University Student Code of Conduct says the following about free speech:
Nothing in this Code prohibits Student participation in lawful and peaceful public assemblies and demonstrations, nor inhibits Students’ lawful and nonviolent freedom of expression.
The Code also prohibits disruption:
The Harassment/Discrimination Complaint Policy and Procedure prohibits “racism,” “heterosexism,” “transphobia” and sexual harassment. The definitions of each are broad and specifically include discrimination that is unintentional, as well as intentional. Anyone can file a complaint to the Human Rights Office within six months of an incident occurring.
The Human Rights and Equity Offices at Queen’s University “deliver diversity and inclusion training as part of the mandatory orientation programming for new staff at Queen’s”.
In February 2020, Queen’s track and field head coach Steve Boyd was fired for speaking out against the University of Guelph’s handling of misconduct allegations against their former coach Dave Scott-Thomas. Scott-Thomas was fired after a former student-athlete alleged the coach groomed her for sex in the 2000s. Boyd commented in a Facebook thread about Scott-Thomas with one of Scott-Thomas’ former student-athletes, where he said:
“...In spite of the difficulties you and others claimed he created, and that you had to endure, many of you enjoyed the personal benefits of winning, and actively sought to enlist others to come and help you continue to win, all the while potentially exposing unwitting athletes to the abuse some of you were suffering.”
Queen’s Interim Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic), Professor Tom Harris, released a statement addressing the firing of Boyd:
As a community, and as a university, we were saddened and distressed by the February Globe and Mail article concerning a coach and a former university track athlete and her experiences. We are sure it was even more distressing for the many athletes directly impacted, and for the wider sporting community in Canada. No student-athlete should be subjected to the type of environment described.
We understand that there were many victims in this matter. We expect the behaviours of those who represent us to reflect the values of the institution and to demonstrate proper consideration and respect for those who were victimized. Queen’s university upholds and promotes the value of free speech.
However, Mr. Boyd made numerous statements on social media berating and blaming student athletes who were themselves victims and which only served to re-traumatize them. In doing so, Mr. Boyd flagrantly disregarded the respect and dignity requirements of the Queen’s A&R Coaches Code of Ethics, the OUA Code of Conduct and Ethics, and related U SPORTS Policies and Procedures. Mr. Boyd’s comments follow a pattern of objectionable social media commentary spanning several years, about which he had previously been formally cautioned. Mr. Boyd failed to heed repeated warnings from the administration to stop his reckless social media activities.
Queen’s University fully supports Canada’s Safe Sport actions to prevent abuse, harassment and bullying. The university had no choice but to take assertive action in this instance to make it clear that Mr. Boyd’s berating and victim-blaming comments do not reflect the values of the university and we certainly do not condone them.
Boyd has served Queen’s with a notice of a pending lawsuit over Harris’ statement.
In March 2018, in response to calls to cancel a scheduled debate on campus between Queen's University professor Dr. Bruce Pardy and University of Toronto professor Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, Queen's president Daniel Wolf issued a statement defending academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas:
Whatever one’s strongly-felt objections to particular points of view, their mere expression does not constitute a threat to physical safety; nor does that expression imply that the university itself accepts those views. To the contrary, if history has taught us anything, it is that attempts to shut down debate and limit speech serve no one well—even the groups calling for such silencing. They merely make it easier for the next group in power to silence others. A university cannot sustain its ancient mission of inquiry into the true, the good, and the beautiful under such circumstances, nor can it exercise its responsibility to pursue knowledge free of constraint.
On the evening of April 2, 2013, a free speech wall erected by the Queen’s Students for Liberty (Queen’s SFL) was shut down by the University’s Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, Arig Girgrah.
The free speech wall had been erected inside the John Deutsch University Centre, this space having been booked by Queen’s SFL in March. The wall was scheduled to stand from 11:00 a.m. Tuesday, April 2 until 5:00 p.m. on Friday, April 5. The Queen’s Free Speech Wall was part of a campaign to raise awareness about free expression rights in Canada and was co-sponsored by the Justice Centre.
At approximately 8:20 p.m. on April 2, two campus security officers arrived at the University Centre, where four members of the Queen’s Students for Liberty were manning the wall. The campus security officers acted on the instructions of Ms. Girgrah, who told the students that the paper canvas on the wall was being removed due to “offensive content.” Neither the security guards nor Ms. Girgrah provided any examples of what was considered “offensive”, and further explanation was refused.
Earlier on Tuesday, at 4:17 p.m., the president of the Queen’s student union (Queen’s Alma Mater Society) Doug Johnson told the Queen’s SFL club that they needed to remove certain unspecified messages from the wall, claiming that they violated the University’s Code of Conduct and Harassment/Discrimination Policy. Like Ms. Girgrah, Mr. Johnson did not indicate which comments he thought were in violation of university policy. Without indicating which comments were offensive or why they violated university policy, Mr. Johnson nevertheless threatened to cancel the remainder of the club’s space booking if the club did not comply with his unspecified request.
Queen’s University interfered with free expression rights again when it seized the free speech wall for a second time, on April 4, 2013. Campus security confiscated the entire wall (paper, as well as the wood structure) on orders from Queen’s Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) Dr. Alan Harrison, the Queen’s Alma Mater Society (AMS) and the Society of Graduate and Professional Students. Queen’s University further cancelled the remainder of the space booking for Queen’s SFL.
In an e-mail sent to the Queen’s SFL at 4:06 p.m. on April 4, 2013, Dr. Harrison told the club that the content of their display was “non-compliant” with Queen’s University Code of Conduct, the Queen’s Harassment/Discrimination Policy and Procedure, residence procedures and the Student Code of Conduct.
Queen’s SFL held a successful free speech wall event in October of 2013, and it was not disrupted by the University, though it also did not have any content that was considered controversial or offensive as reported by students.
In September of 2011, Queen’s University professor Dr. Michael Mason was made aware of complaints made against him for using “racist and sexist language” in his history class and in conversations to his teaching assistants. A letter from the chair of Queen’s History Department to Dr. Mason states:
In the course of our meeting, and subsequently in your letter to me you acknowledged using terms such as “rag head,” “towel head,” “japs,” “little yellow bastards” and so forth in your teaching. You also acknowledged making remarks about having the female TAs wash your car, use their TA pay to go shopping, that male students in the class ought to marry female doctors to get both money and babies, that the female TAs were the “mistresses” of the class and so forth.
Dr. Mason had used some of these words in the context of teaching about periods in history when these terms were commonly used. A letter from the University stated that Professor Mason’s “words and actions” put him “in contravention of the University Senate’s Educational Equity Policy,” and Professor Mason had “failed to create a safe space” for students. The University then cancelled two of Mason’s scheduled classes for October 28 and November 2. Dr. Mason took medical leave starting on November 2 because of a pre-existing heart condition which had become severe over the course of these events.
A report by the Canadian Association of University Teachers on the incident charged Queen’s administrators with compromising basic civil liberties in an effort to create “safe space” on campus:
It is our concern that if the actions of Queen’s University administrators vis-à-vis Professor Mason are allowed to stand it sends the message that similar strategies may now being pursued by uncollegial [sic] and increasingly dictatorial university administrators across Canada, even to the extent that they may thereby circumvent academic freedom clauses in collective agreements, and utterly undermine academic freedom both in long-established practice and in principle.
Dr. Alan Harrison, Queen’s Provost, supported the actions of Queen’s University in this case, saying, “We would never seek to censor anything that anyone says so long as it’s appropriately contextualized.”
In the fall of 2008, University administrators hired six “student facilitators” to intervene anywhere on campus if they overheard “homophobic,” sexist, racist, or any “discriminatory” language. According to Queen’s, “they were tasked with spotting ‘spontaneous teaching moments’ concerning issues of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, ability and social class, and to respond – either actively by posing questions to spur discussion, or more passively through activities like poster campaigns or movies.”
Concerned students created a Facebook group entitled “Queen’s University Students and Alumni for Free Speech,” which had upwards of 600 members.
Angela Hickman, then an editor of the campus newspaper, the Journal, said of the program, “Having a program like this in place could stifle public discussion if people are worried their private conversations are being monitored. . . . For a lot of people, their opinions get formed in conversations and so stifling that is dangerous.” The University administration responded that the program had been mischaracterized by the media, but nevertheless dropped the program in February of the following year.
Upholding students’ free expression is not referenced in the Mandate or Constitution of the Queen’s University Alma Mater Society (AMS).
In the Introduction to Policy Manual 3: Representational Policy, the AMS states:
The AMS does not take positions on governmental policy or political issues that do not directly relate to Queen's University and its students, and commits itself to a strict policy of political neutrality regarding such issues. Moreover, the AMS recognizes that ideally its student representatives should not be elected on the basis of these political views. The AMS welcomes diversity of opinion and will at all times protect the rights of students to express themselves.
The AMS, recognizing that the universities and colleges of Canada are fundamental to the Canadian tradition of intellectual development, affirms its devotion to the values entrenched in the Canadian Constitution through the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and pledges that in the application of its procedural and representational policies, it shall treat all members and member organizations equally, and in a fashion consistent with the principles of due process and free expression enshrined in the Charter.
The authors are not aware of the AMS taking any official stances on issues outside of their mandate.
Section 4(c) of the AMS Clubs Policy, “De-Ratification”, states three ways an AMS club may be de-ratified:
III. by the Vice-President University Affairs.
The AMS Elections and Referenda Policy, Section 5, “Campaigning”, excessively subjects candidates to the discretion of the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO):
The AMS awards Equity Grants “provided through the Social Issues Commission to promote the fostering of an anti-oppressive and safe environment in the Queen’s community.”
The Men's Issues Awareness Society (MIAS) at Queen's hosted a discussion on March 27, 2014, at Stirling B of the Stirling Hall building at Queen’s University, titled "What's Equality Got To Do With it? Men's Issues and Feminism's Double Standards.” The event included a presentation by University of Ottawa professor Dr. Janice Fiamengo to discuss men's issues.
On March 19, Queen’s student and AMS member-at-large Amal Abu-Bakare of the unregistered student group “Opposition to the Misrepresentation of Men’s Issues and Feminism at Queen’s University” emailed members of AMS Assembly to inform them that the group would be proposing a motion at the March 20 Assembly to de-ratify MIAS “because of the manner in which its members have chosen to publicly undermine feminism and anti-rape culture discourse on campus”. The vote failed, however, in a secret ballot vote held on March 20, 2014.
In 2013, AMS President Doug Johnson issued a press release supporting the removal of the Queen’s SFL wall (see section 2, above) and confirming that the student union was a catalyst in making the decision to censor the display:
Anyone booking space in the Student Life Centre (SLC) has an obligation to abide by the Queen's code of conduct. In this case, several phrases were identified by the SLC that denigrated individuals based on race or religion, and alienated them from a space intended to be inclusive of all Queen's students. Queen’s Students for Liberty was given an opportunity to remove these two denigrating comments, and return the space to one of inclusive, free dialogue for all. When the club failed to act, the offensive material was removed by Campus Security but the wall was kept in place, with an understanding that such alienating and denigrating language would not re-appear.
In February of 2012, a referendum was held about the continuation of an opt-out fee (a fee charged to all students that they can claim back during a designated “opt-out period”) for the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) at Queen’s. During the referendum, participants in the “Yes” and “No” campaigns reported being orally slandered, and participants in the “No” campaign reported being physically intimidated during campaigning. One of the “No” campaign organizers commented that, “[a]t the [cafeterias] we’ve had certain OPIRG sympathizers surround and yell at our volunteers.”
In response to reports of physical intimidation by OPIRG campaign volunteers, AMS issued the following statement:
Any incidents of intimidation and violations of elections policy are subject to sanctions through the Non-Academic Discipline system.… Elections and referenda are intended to encourage respectful debate and discussion on campus .… The AMS encourages any student who feels unsafe on campus to contact Campus Security at [number redacted].
The AMS made no attempt to censor anyone surrounding the referendum. The AMS also offered security protection.
In the late 1990s, the AMS debated for over three hours on whether or not to approve the campus Star Trek club, because its constitution has a “no Klingons allowed” clause, thereby failing to promote “equity.”
In the 2018–19 financial year,* Queen’s University received $418,728,000 in taxpayer dollars in the form of government grants. These taxpayer funds accounted for 39.1% of their annual revenue.
*Queen’s University did not make their 2019–20 financial statements available by the time of publication of the 2020 Campus Freedom Index.