|Year||University Policies||University Practices||Student Union Policies||Student Union Practices|
In their 2020-2025 Academic Plan, Ryerson University names their seven values (access; boldness; sustainability; wellbeing; excellence; mutual respect and shared success; equity, diversity and inclusion), and notes:
Underpinning all seven values is academic freedom. At the heart of what it means to be a university, academic freedom provides us with the liberty to think critically, explore and exchange new ideas, and evaluate and challenge norms and preconceptions. It is a cornerstone of knowledge creation. We unequivocally embrace freedom of thought and expression in support of teaching, learning and activity SRC. Building a community where we can speak, write, critique and otherwise articulate ideas and perspectives provides a foundation for all that we do at Ryerson. Woven throughout these values is a commitment to examine and challenge the status quo and identify where and how we can do things differently. Going forward, we remain committed to being bold in our thinking, actions and decisions as an academic institution and in how we live our values every day.
Ryerson University’s Senate Statement on Freedom of Speech reads:
Ryerson embraces unequivocally the free exchange of ideas and the ideal of intellectual engagement within a culture of mutual respect. It is a powerful ideal that encompasses every dimension of the University. Everyone who is part of the University, as well as guests and visitors, has a role to play in this shared enterprise. This responsibility extends to both proponents and detractors of any idea or point of view. Recognizing and respecting diversity of people, thought and expression are essential and an integral part of the ideal.
In order to achieve and sustain Ryerson's ideal, members of its community must have freedom of thought and expression, freedom from harassment or discrimination and the freedom to consider, inquire, and write or comment about any topic without concern for widely held or prescribed opinions. This right to freedom of thought and expression inevitably includes the right to criticize aspects of society in general and the University itself.
Ryerson does not avoid controversies, difficult ideas, or disagreements over deeply held views. When such disagreements arise within the University or within a broader social context, the University's primary responsibility is to protect free speech within a culture of mutual respect.
The right to freedom of speech comes with the responsibility to exercise that right in an atmosphere free of intimidation and in an environment that supports the free speech rights of those with opposing views.
While Ryerson is committed to freedom of thought and the free exchange of ideas, it is also recognized that there are limits to the right of free speech that are recognized in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The University may act when speech on campus is used in a way that is itself unlawful or prevents the lawful exercise of free speech by others.
Ryerson’s Policy 61, the Student Code of Non-Academic Conduct, states:
Nothing in this Code shall be construed to prohibit peaceful assemblies and demonstrations, lawful picketing, or to inhibit freedom of expression.
One of the enumerated offences in Policy 61 is to “not endanger, threaten, harm, or encourage others to endanger, threaten or harm, or act in ways which would reasonably be perceived to endanger, threaten or harm the physical and mental well-being of community members” (section C.3).
The Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy states the following about academic freedom:
Ryerson University's Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy is not intended to inhibit academic freedom. It reminds all members of the Ryerson University Community that, in exercising our freedoms, we all have a responsibility to respect the rights and freedoms of others, including the right to study and work in an environment which is free of discrimination and harassment. Please refer to note 8 in the "Definitions and Notes" section at the end of this Policy.
The definitions include “a ‘non-discrimination’ clause, referencing the prohibited grounds of discrimination as contained in the Ontario Human Rights Code and refer to more general "obligations" of faculty members and instructors.”
The Policy also refers to a “Poisoned Environment”, and includes speech and other expressive behaviors as a source of creating such an environment. The Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Officer is empowered to enforce the Policy. The Officer is not empowered to censor speech, but may make recommendations to senior administration on sanctions to be placed on violators of the Policy.
The Office of the Vice-President, Equity and Community Inclusion (OVPECI) “works to make equity, diversity and inclusion a central focal point for all faculties, departments and community members on campus through a variety of programs and reports.”
Dr. Paul Bali, a professor who taught philosophy at Ryerson University on a per-course basis for 15 years, was informed in the 2018-2019 academic year that he will not receive a contract to teach in 2019-2020, following a row over the contents of a reference letter.
As Dr. Bali states in his blog,
I wrote a letter of reference for a student applying to PhD programs. Someone at one of those programs didn’t like my letter and complained to someone else who got word to my Chair. My Chair insisted I account for myself. He eventually insisted I surrender the letter for his and HR’s inspection. In refusing to hand over the letter I’ve been “insubordinate.” In my e-mailed exchanges with my Chair I became “uncivil.”
Dr. Bali was not told by Ryerson what the issue was with his reference letter, but guesses it has to do with his comparison of his female student to Sophia, a figure of wisdom.
Ryerson University cancelled a panel discussion which was to take place on campus on August 22, 2017. The panel, which was titled “The Stifling of Free Speech on University Campuses”, included University of Toronto (U of T) professor Jordan Peterson, Concordia University professor Gad Saad, and Rebel Media journalist Faith Goldy.
Ryerson released a statement on August 16, 2017, citing a rally and counter protests which took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, as a factor in their decision to cancel the event:
After a thorough security review, the University has concluded that Ryerson is not equipped to provide the necessary level of public safety for the event to go forward, particularly given the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia. For that reason, we have told the organizers that Ryerson will no longer provide a room for their event.
On August 10, 2017, political commentator Tarek Fatah was scheduled to speak at Ryerson University as part of a speaker series sponsored by the Canadian non-profit organization, Canada Indian Foundation, whose mandate is “to foster stronger bilateral relations between Canada and India” and increase “awareness of the changing face of India.” Mr. Fatah’s lecture was titled “Ghazwa-e-Hind vs. the Ethos of Hindustan”.
The Canada Indian Foundation had previously requested, and been approved for, a lecture hall to conduct the Speaker Series. However, Ryerson University decided to cancel the event ten days prior and issued a statement which read:
Ryerson was unable to accommodate the Canada India Foundation’s room booking request for August 10; we have expressed our apologies to Mr. Jani and CIF. The university is not aware of any concerns or plans to disrupt Mr. Fatah’s keynote address.
When Mr. Fatah asked Ryerson why the University cancelled the event, he received a response from Voula Cocolakis, executive director of Ryerson University’s Business Services, stating:
We certainly understand your frustration, but as per our Rules and Regulations for Permit to Use Ryerson University Campus Premises and Facilities, Ryerson may revoke or cancel the Permit at any time with or without cause.
Ryerson University failed to condemn the denial of club certification of the Men’s Issues Awareness Society by the Ryerson Students’ Union in the 2015-2016 school year (see section 4).
Ryerson President Sheldon Levy spoke out against a decision by the Ryerson Students’ Union to deny club recognition to Students for Life at Ryerson (SFLR), in February of 2015, describing it as ‘disturbing’ (see section 4). Levy stated “[t]he strength of freedom of speech is not that I give freedom of speech to those that I like to hear, but that the strength of it is that you give [it to] those you wish you did not have to listen to.”
The Ryerson Students’ Union’s (RSU) Policy Manual includes a statement supporting free expression on campus:
The Ryerson Students’ Union Supports:
iii. Freedom of peaceful assembly; and
The Ryerson Students’ Union Opposes:
iii. Any University policies or processes that empower a single Administrator to be judge and juror of a particular complaint.
The RSU’s Pro-Choice Student Union policy reads:
28.2 Anti-choice groups or organizations are those which compromise and/or threaten the freedom and/or wellbeing of women who may contemplate an abortion or have chosen to have an abortion.
28.3 Pro-choice describes the view that a woman should have the right to determine what she does with her sexual and reproductive health. It is the moderate and widely supported stance which respects and acknowledges a women’s intellectual and moral ability to make decisions on what choice is best for her body. Pro-choice is not pro-abortion; it simply defends the right of a woman to decide for herself what to do with her body.
28.4 The RSU respects and affirms a women’s right to choose. No RSU resources, space, recognition or funding will be allocated to enhance groups/individuals whose primary/sole purpose is anti-choice activities. Such activities are defined as any campaigns, actions, distribution, solicitation, or lobbying efforts that seek to limit an individual’s right to choose what they can or cannot do with their own body.
28.5 Further, no RSU resources, space, or recognition or funding will be allocated to enhance groups/individuals who are members of or directly affiliated with external organizations with the primary/sole purpose of anti-choice activities.
RSU’s Poster Policy requires that the President approve all posters from religious and political groups, but does not specify by what criteria approval is given.
The Student Group policy states, under “Restrictions”, that:
The RSU Equity Statement reads:
Student Union solidarity is based on the principle that all members are equal and deserve mutual respect and understanding. As members of the students’ union, mutual respect, cooperation and understanding are our goals. We should neither condone nor tolerate behaviour that undermines the dignity or self-esteem of any individual or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment. It is our collective responsibility to create an inclusive space for discussion and 8 dialogue. All forms of discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated, nor will hate speech rooted in, but not limited to Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, sexism, racism, classism, ableism, homophobia or transphobia. We all have an obligation to ensure that an open and inclusive space, free of hate, is established. If you are not here in an understanding of good faith, or you have violated this understanding, you will be asked to leave.
As per the Election Procedure By-Laws, 6.43(k), the Chief Returning Officer is empowered to “maintain, update and enforce a set of Candidate Guidelines.”
The RSU takes political stances on issues including bottled water, the Prison Industrial Complex, public funding for Pride events, abortion, and Israel.
In 2015, the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) voted to deny club recognition to a student group based on its views. The Men’s Issues Awareness Society at Ryerson (MIAS) is a student group established in 2015 by students at Ryerson “to host discussions and bring social awareness to issues that disproportionately affect men and boys, such as higher rates of suicide, homelessness, workplace injuries and failure in school.” Nearly half of MIAS’ members are women.
On October 19, 2015, MIAS submitted its application to RSU for recognition as a student group. At a meeting with RSU’s Student Group Committee on October 26, RSU told MIAS that there was no need for a men’s issues group. RSU took the position that other groups like the Women and Trans Collective were already addressing many of the issues MIAS sought to focus on. Further, RSU claimed that men have “systemic privilege”, and that a group focused on men’s issues would “harass” women and make them feel “unsafe”.
On October 27, 2015, MIAS was informed that its application for club status had been rejected. MIAS immediately appealed the decision, making numerous changes to its constitution to answer concerns the RSU had listed. These amendments expressly stated MIAS’ pre-existing commitments to remain independent of any external control, to reject all forms of violence and hate speech, to take all precautions for safety at any group functions, and to provide a safe place for discussions free of fear for personal safety. Nevertheless, on January 26, 2016, the RSU Board of Directors voted to reject MIAS’ appeal.
As a result of RSU’s decision to deny club status, MIAS is excluded from RSU club services such as funding, advertising, event approval services, and free room and facility bookings, even though MIAS members are required to pay fees to RSU.
The Justice Centre has filed a court application against RSU on behalf of MIAS. In the court application, MIAS seeks a declaration that the decision of the RSU to deny their application for student group recognition (i) was contrary to the principles of natural justice and procedural fairness, (ii) was tainted by a closed mind and bias, and (iii) was not made in good faith; that it exceeds RSU’s jurisdiction and is contrary to RSU’s own policies and rules; and that it is unreasonable, discriminatory and contrary to fundamental common law values and the values of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, by failing to respect Ryerson University students’ freedom of expression and freedom of association. The outcome of this court application is pending.
On February 23, 2015, the RSU Board of Directors voted to deny club recognition to Students for Life at Ryerson (SFLR), on the grounds that it violated the RSU’s women’s issues policy. The group had applied for club recognition in October of 2014, was denied, and then appealed to the Board of Directors, where it was again denied. The club is now pursuing court action against the University to uphold its free speech rights.
On October 3, 2014, a video created by the group Hamas on Campus was posted by Ryerson student Ofer Ziberman to the RSU’s Facebook page, and subsequently removed by page administrators. The video asserts that several current members of al-Qaeda (including a co-founder) were former members of the Muslim Students’ Association or Students for Justice in Palestine—groups with campus affiliates at campuses across North America. The video was reportedly re-posted by other students, and removed each time. RSU administrators explained later that the video was removed because it was “racist and Islamophobic.” The RSU further stated:
We would like to take this opportunity to remind folks that we have a zero-tolerance policy for hate speech both online and offline … we will continue to delete videos posted on our page that promoted hate speech rooted in, but not limited to, anti-Muslim, anti-Arab and/or anti-Semitic sentiments and/or remarks.
In October of 2013, Ryerson student Carter Grant applied to have his student group, Preserving Human Dignity at Ryerson (PHDR), registered as an official club. He received an email on October 28 from the RSU informing him that his pro-life group would not be approved. Campus Groups Administrator Leatrice O’Neill gave no reasons for the refusal, and directed Mr. Grant to speak to RSU President Melissa Palermo, who explained that the union was worried Grant’s student group would prevent some students from feeling “comfortable”, “welcome”, and included”.
PHDR had met all of the requirements outlined in the Student Groups Policy. The only reason that the RSU refused club status to PHDR is the content of PHDR’s message, based on RSU’s beliefs that this content would make some students feel uncomfortable.
The Justice Centre wrote to RSU President Melissa Palermo on January 16, 2014, pointing out that the RSU’s censorship is discriminatory, contrary to freedom of expression, and illegal. To date the RSU has not granted club status to PHDR.
On March 15, 2013, the Ryerson Student Union (RSU) denied certification to a men’s issues student group because the RSU was worried the student group was affiliated with two external organizations, “A Voice for Men and the Canadian Association for Equality,” they viewed as “in some jurisdictions…a hate group”. The men’s issues group’s constitution said its goal was to “create a progressive and constructive voice and lend representation to any and all Ryerson students concerned with the issues of men and boys.”
In November of 2010, a group of students planned to organize a Soviet Union-themed party. The posters designed to advertise the event were rejected by the RSU. RSU’s then-president Toby Whittfield commented on the incident by explaining that all posters have to “support RSU’s mandate of respect and inclusiveness”. He added: “If it turns out that [the poster] is not part of the mandate, then they shouldn’t be on a board.”