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Simon Fraser University (SFU) has a Statement on Respectful Debate by SFU President Andrew Petter on its website:
Public universities play a unique role in Canadian society: they are places in which people should feel free to exchange ideas, beliefs and opinions. Controversy, conflict, and criticism are inherent to this role. Yet universities also aspire to foster an environment that promotes civility and respects human dignity.
…Universities operate on the principle that freedom of speech is a core component of intellectual enquiry and is central to the pursuit of knowledge. The value universities place on free expression does not imply their endorsement of views that are expressed….
… when disputes arise in our university around major social and political issues, we should err on the side of tolerating free speech. Provided such speech does not overstep legal boundaries, it should not be censored even though it may be provocative or offensive…
…I therefore urge all members of the university community to redouble their efforts to create a culture that celebrates robust and vigorous debate within an academic milieu characterized by reason, tolerance, and mutual respect. Freedom of speech is a precious right and, as such, we have a duty to do all we can to ensure that is exercised responsibly and with civility.
SFU’s Values and Commitments page states “We are an open, inclusive university whose foundation is intellectual and academic freedom. Our scholarship unites teaching and research: we celebrate discovery, diversity and dialogue.”
SFU's Code of Academic Integrity and Good Conduct states in its preamble that “Simon Fraser University is committed to creating a scholarly community characterized by honesty, civility, diversity, free inquiry, mutual respect, individual safety and freedom from harassment and discrimination” (Section 1.1). It further states:
1.2 Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community. This Code shall not be construed so as to unreasonably limit peaceful assemblies, demonstrations or the free expression of ideas.
The Code also prohibits disruption, stating:
4.2.1 Disruptive or Dangerous Behaviour
SFU’s Human Rights Policy prohibits discrimination and harassment. Section 2.2 of this Human Rights Policy reaffirms the University’s commitment to academic freedom:
2.2 This Policy will not be interpreted, administered, or applied to infringe the academic freedom of any member of the University community. Academic freedom is the freedom to examine, question, teach, and learn and it involves the right to investigate, speculate, and comment without reference to prescribed doctrine as well as the right to criticize the University and society at large. The frank discussion of controversial ideas, the pursuit and publication of controversial research, and the study and teaching of material with controversial content do not constitute discrimination.
SFU recognizes the value of free speech in one of its annual awards. The Sterling Prize aims to “recognize work which provokes, and/or contributes to the understanding of controversy.”
The Sterling Prize was set up through an endowment by Nora and Ted Sterling: “This is an unusual venture in a world in which controversy is discouraged rather than encouraged,” they said. “We hope, that by providing a substantial reward for creative, unconventional effort, it will contribute to works of this nature gaining both a forum and a degree of respectability."
In October 2019, SFU committed to hiring four full-time Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion staff members.
In November 2019, a panel discussion entitled “How Media Bias Shapes the Gender Identity Debate” with panellists Meghan Murphy, Jonathan Kay, Anna Slatz, and moderator Lindsay Shepherd was set to occur on the SFU campus. The event was organized by SFU professor Mark Collard and a local feminist group.. Many SFU campus groups called for the cancellation of the event, such as the Graduate Student Society, Simon Fraser Student Society, and Teaching Support Staff Union.
As written about in the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship newsletter by SFU professors Mark Collard and Rachel Altman,
For several weeks, SFU’s campus safety unit believed that the event could proceed safely. However, two days prior to the event, Mark was informed by the unit’s director, Tim Marron, that his team’s assessment had changed. Mr. Marron reported that, at a meeting the previous day, CATA [the Coalition Against Trans Antagonism] had stated that they intended to engage in direct action, including physical disruption, property damage, and fire alarm activation. Mr. Marron explained that his team had concluded that the probability of the event’s ending in violence was now very high. Based on this revised risk assessment, Mark decided to cancel the room booking, which meant that the other organizers had to scramble to find a new venue.
SFU administration did not attempt to reach out to the organizers to re-book the event on campus with heightened security protocol.
In early February of 2013, the SFU campus club Lifeline booked space for a pro-life display on campus, approved by SFU to take place on March 18. Suddenly, on the afternoon of March 15, SFU cancelled the club’s scheduled event, based on complaints received by the University about the display’s controversial content. University administrators said it might be “necessary” to set up the display with signs facing inwards so that nobody walking by could see the display.
The students contacted JCCF on the evening of March 15. On Monday morning, the JCCF promptly sent a legal warning to SFU President Andrew Petter, which can be viewed here. The club’s event was re-scheduled for April 10 and 11, and took place without any censorship on the part of the university.
On November 7, 2011, a pro-life club set up a display on SFU’s Burnaby campus. The display, known as the Genocide Awareness Project (GAP), included pictures comparing abortion to various historical genocides. The club followed the SFU’s rules and procedures in anticipation of the event, submitting a plan to set up their display at a high-traffic location at Convocation Mall. The setup would have included enough space to walk in front of, but also behind, the pictures, enabling passers-by to avoid the graphic images if they didn’t want to view them. After giving initial approval for the event, SFU demanded that the display’s signs be set up in a circle facing inwards, so that passers-by would not see the signs.
The president of SFU Lifeline wrote to the student newspaper in defence of students’ rights to display materials without obstructions, noting the University’s discrimination against the club purely on the basis of the contents of the club’s campus display:
We submitted a set-up plan (which we followed) to the administration, which allowed a path through Convocation Mall behind the signs so that people could avoid them. This plan was rejected by the administration on the grounds that students could come upon the display inadvertently. They requested that we obscure the signs in some way, much like saying we could have our freedom of speech on the condition that we whispered. We declined to submit another plan because to comply with demands to obstruct our display would be to accept an infringement on our right to free speech.
The pro-life club refused to compromise its display, and proceeded based on the plan originally approved by SFU. Opponents blocked the students’ signs using university property, namely: large portable blackboards on wheels. Rather than upholding the students’ free expression rights, campus security asked the pro-life students to turn the signs inward. Security knowingly condoned the physical blocking and obstruction of the students’ display.
No Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) governance document (By-Laws, Constitution, or Board Policies) makes any reference to the right of free expression.
In December 2019, the SFSS voted in favour of implementing Issues Policy IP:1 Reproductive Rights, a policy which states that the SFSS opposes:
As per SFSS Elections and Referenda Policy CP-4: Approval of Campaign Materials, “All Campaign Literature must be approved by the Independent Electoral Commission
(IEC)” and “Campaign Materials must not be defamatory or discriminatory.”
After passing Issues Policy IP:1 Reproductive Rights in December 2019, the SFSS revoked club status and defunded the pro-life club SFU Lifeline in February 2020. SFU Lifeline’s club mandate was “SFU Lifeline advocates for pre-born children, whose human rights are violated by abortion, which is legal in all 9 months of pregnancy in Canada. We are dedicated to raising awareness about this issue, and providing women with the support and resources they need to make a life-affirming choice that respects both mother and child.”
The SFSS released a statement in February 2020 indirectly addressing the defunding of the club: “The SFSS recognizes students’ right to freedom of expression. However, the SFSS will not recognize as an internal club or provide resources to groups who do not demonstrate their respect and commitment to the principals [sic] set out in IP:1 Reproductive Rights.”
SFU Lifeline thus lost their access to room booking privileges, funding, and other student union resources.
In the fall of 2019, in response to the “How Media Bias Shapes the Gender Identity Debate” panel discussion planned on the SFU campus, SFSS president Giovanni HoSang released an SFSS statement reading “This event should not be given a platform to spread their message of hate and discrimination, making the LGBTQ2IA+ community and marginalized folks on our campus feel unsafe. SFU needs to do better and cancel the event.”
The statement also said: “The Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) Board of Directors condemns the transphobic event that Simon Fraser University (SFU) is hosting. SFU speaks about this event being a debate on gender identity in a recent statement; however, it is our stance that this is about transphobic reductionism and hatred.”
On December 7, 2015, a representative of the Gender and Women’s Studies Student Union (GWSSU) posted an open letter condemning the student group Advocacy for Men and Boys (SFUAMB), for a lecture they held on November 8 on campus. The event, “Toxic Masculinity & TOXIC FEMININITY,” was promoted with posters showing a biohazard sign over a venus symbol. The open letter alleges the poster is “offensive, hostile, and aggressive.”
The issue was discussed at the December 10 meeting of the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS). During the meeting, Kathleen Yang, VP External Relations and chair of the Advocacy Committee, noted that the SFSS board of directors would be addressing the issue once they return from their holiday on January 4. “I shall be following up with our staff and committee members accordingly to ensure clarity in the future,” she said.
According to the student newspaper, the Peak, Yang also made comments suggesting the SFUAMB could be subject to revocation of club status if the club acted or presented itself as “anti-feminist.”