|Year||University Policies||University Practices||Student Union Policies||Student Union Practices|
GRADE EXPLANATION: The university earns an C for its policies. There is no clearly stated commitment to free speech. The university has an anti-disruption policy which prohibits students (and other people) from blocking, obstructing, disrupting or interrupting speech (e.g. events, displays) on campus. The university does not have any speech code. The university provides funding and other resources to groups, departments, committees, commissions or other bodies that engage in ideological advocacy. The University earns an F for its practices. The university charged one of its student groups $17,500 in security fees to proceed with their display, and failed to prevent or prosecute protesters who disrupted and vandalized the student group's educational materials.
The University of Alberta’s (U of A) Code of Student Behaviour states in its Introduction (section 30.1):
The University is defined by tradition as a community of people dedicated to the pursuit of truth and advancement of knowledge, and as a place where there is freedom to teach, freedom to engage in research, freedom to create, freedom to learn, freedom to study, freedom to speak, freedom to associate, freedom to write and to publish. There is a concomitant obligation upon all members of the University community to respect these freedoms when they are exercised by others. For these freedoms to exist, it is essential to maintain an atmosphere in which the safety, the security, and the inherent dignity of each member of the community are recognized.
The Introduction also states that “[n]othing in this Code shall be construed to prohibit peaceful assemblies and demonstrations, or lawful picketing, or to inhibit free speech.”
The Code of Student Behaviour also includes a section dealing with the registration of student groups. Section 30.8.2 reads:
30.8.2(1) To be eligible for registration a group must be able to provide, upon request, satisfactory evidence of the following:
30.8.2(1) a That the group's stated purposes, goals or activities are consistent with the philosophy of the University as stated in 30.1.
Section 30.3.4 of the University of Alberta’s Code of Student Behaviour prohibits speech that might promote “Inappropriate Behaviour,” as well as the disruption of “University-related functions” including events by students and student/faculty groups:
30.3.4(1) b No Student shall, by action, words, written material, or by any means whatsoever, obstruct University Activities or University-related Functions.
30.3.4(1) c No Student shall use words that incite others to behaviour that is inappropriate to members of the University Community, whether or not in connection with a demonstration, rally or picketing.
The University of Alberta Residence Community Standards Policy affirms the freedoms recognized in the Code of Student Behaviour (“the freedom to create, learn, study, associate, speak and write, and the associated obligations to respect these freedoms exercised by others”) and also states that, “Every individual is equal in worth and dignity and possesses the same rights and opportunities, free from discrimination and harassment.”
The University of Alberta has no formal policy explicitly empowering security officials to charge fees to students for holding events on controversial subject matter. However, the University’s practice of charging $17,500 to a campus pro-life club in order to hold an event on campus implies an internal or unwritten procedure for enabling such fees.
The University of Alberta funds a Provost's Fellow in Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Policy to coordinate implementation of the University’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan states in its Preamble that “We value academic freedom, and welcome and support a diversity of perspectives.” The Provost’s Fellow also coordinates voluntary trainings for University of Alberta faculty, students and staff, on topics including “Creating Inclusive Workplaces,” “From Bias Awareness To Action,” and “EDI: What is it and why does it matter?”
On January 11, 2016, the student group UAlberta Pro-Life applied for University authorization to set up a stationary educational display on campus on February 23 and 24, 2016. On February 12, only eleven days prior to the scheduled event, the University of Alberta notified the students that they would need to pay $17,500 in “security fees” to proceed with their peaceful educational display. In its communication, the University demanded that pro-life students pay for the wages of security guards and police, and costs of barricading the venue, and pay for the potential misconduct of people who would violate the University’s Code of Student Behaviour by obstructing and disrupting the display. Unable to pay $17,500, UAlberta Pro-Life was forced to cancel its planned event in February 2016.
In March of 2015, UAlberta Pro-Life held a similar event, which (then) President Indira Samarasekera supported through a public statement that the University must facilitate and protect the peaceful expression of all views, regardless of popularity. In defiance of the President’s clear statement about free expression and the rule of law, a student-led mob blockaded and obstructed the club’s display, in violation of the Code of Student Behaviour. Although the University had advance notice that a mob was being organized to obstruct the display, and although Dr. Samarasekera had warned that any misbehaviour would be investigated and prosecuted, the University of Alberta Protective Services (UAPS) did nothing to stop the blockade of the club’s display. UAPS did not photograph or seek to identify any blockading student, even though the Code clearly prohibits students from disrupting or obstructing University-related functions.
On March 11, 2015, UAlberta Pro-Life filed a formal complaint with UAPS against the disruptive students pursuant to the Code of Student Behaviour. It took UAPS over eight months to release a decision in regard to the complaint. In its November 30, 2015 decision, UAPS confirmed that the University would neither charge nor prosecute the students who disrupted, blocked and obstructed the March 2015 display on campus.
On December 18, 2015, the Justice Centre wrote to the University of Alberta Office of Student Conduct and Accountability to appeal the UAPS Decision. On February 4, 2016, the Office of Student Conduct and Accountability dismissed the appeal.
In its court application, UAlberta Pro-Life seeks a declaration that the decision made by the University of Alberta to impose a $17,500 security fee on the club is illegal and unjustifiably infringes the fundamental Canadian value of freedom of expression, also protected by section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The court application further seeks to prohibit the University from imposing a financial burden on the students as a condition for the exercise of their freedom of speech.
This court application also seeks a declaration that the decision made by the University of Alberta to condone the conduct of students who disrupted and blockaded the University-authorized campus event of UAlberta Pro-Life in March of 2015, is unreasonable and therefore illegal.
This case was heard June 8 and 9, 2017. The Court’s judgment is pending.
In July of 2013, posters were placed around the University of Alberta campus by "Men’s Rights Edmonton” and were later removed by the University’s campus security. The posters were not approved previous to being posted, and Men’s Rights Edmonton was not a registered student group. The “Don’t Be That Girl” poster reads: “Just because you regret a one night stand, doesn’t mean it wasn’t consensual. Lying about sexual assault = a crime.” The poster was designed to raise awareness about allegedly unfounded accusations of sexual assaults. The poster’s graphic and design mimicked a similar campaign launched several years earlier in Vancouver, “Don’t Be That Guy”.
Complaints about the posters were received by the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services, which in turn informed campus security and requested the posters be removed.
In a post to the University of Alberta’s official blog on July 10, 2013, the University’s Provost, Martin Ferguson-Pell, issued the following statement:
I was sorry to learn that posters have been put up by an anonymous person or persons on campus which have angered many in our community.
The content of these posters is offensive to some of our faculty, students, and staff, and the university does not condone the message. We also recognize people have a right to freedom of expression. However, these posters violate our posting policies and procedures and have been removed.
The University of Alberta chose to intervene in the Alberta Court of Appeal against free expression in the case Pridgen v. University of Calgary, supporting the University of Calgary’s unsuccessful attempt to censor criticism of a professor on a Facebook page. The U of A believed, like the University of Calgary, that “institutional autonomy” and “academic freedom” should serve as a license for universities to repudiate their own mission statement (and the condition on which they receive government funding) by censoring the peaceful expression of students on campus. The Alberta Court of Appeal affirmed the Court of Queen’s Bench decisions in Pridgen v. University of Calgary that “the university is not a Charter-free zone.”
GRADE EXPLANATION: The student union earns an F for its policies. The student union does not have an express commitment to free speech on campus; the student union has at least one speech code; the student union’s policies in regard to club certification enable unequal treatment of clubs based on beliefs and opinions; the student union’s rules and regulations for elections and referenda impose unfair restrictions on campaign speech and literature; the student union takes political positions on issues outside its mandate. The student union earns a C for its practices for having not recently censored free speech on campus.
Section 2.0.5 of the University of Alberta Students’ Union Operating Policies requires that posters from students or student groups cannot be approved if they contain material that is “sexist, racist, homophobic, or otherwise defamatory,” as well as “any poster that contains offensive pictures or language” and “any poster that is not written in English or French”
Section 2.0.7(B) states that “[a]ll publications must be in good taste, and relevant to the needs of the student population. Publications that are sexist, racist, homophobic or
otherwise defamatory shall not be permitted.”
The terms “otherwise defamatory,” “in good taste”, and “relevant to the needs of the student population” are very subjective. Such vague terms give discretion to the Executive Committee to determine which messages may be distributed through publications and which may not.
The Students’ Union Political Policies defines “Political policy” as a “directive from Students’ Council to the Executive Committee that sets the direction of the Student’s Union’s advocacy efforts.” It states:
Members of the Executive Committee are responsible for creating and following implementation plans for political policies and must report their progress to the Policy Committee.
Bylaw 2200 requires all candidates in student union election campaigns to have all campaign material, including materials expressive of their beliefs and viewpoints, “approved in form, content, and cost by the Chief Returning Officer (C.R.O.) before they may be used in campaign activities. Further, section 40(2) states:
(2) Candidates and sides wishing to have campaign materials approved shall provide the C.R.O. with:
The same Bylaw 2200 empowers the C.R.O. with the following mandate:
(2) Where a candidate or side contravenes Section 40(1), the offending campaign materials shall be destroyed and the C.R.O. may assess an additional penalty to that candidate or side, as set out in Section 69.
The additional penalties a student might incur if he/she violates this policy are not specified, but any violation of the Bylaws could result in a student being deemed not in good standing with the union (and therefore unable to participate in official events, vote in future union elections, etc.).
Section 9 of Bylaw 5600, Student Groups, states that [t]he Students’ Union may terminate a student group’s registration or suspend a student group’s activities.” This section does not specify or elaborate on what grounds, if any, the Students’ Union may proceed to terminate a group’s registration, giving the Students’ Union unlimited discretion to censor speech it deems to be offensive or controversial.
The Students’ Union takes positions on numerous topics, including stances on affordable housing, public transit, and environmental issues.
The authors are not aware of any instances of the Students’ Union censoring speech on campus, or discriminating against students or student clubs on the basis of belief, opinion, philosophy or expression. The Students’ Union has furthermore stayed silent when a pro-life club had its event disrupted by protesters, and when the same club was subjected to a $17,500 security fee as a condition for holding an event on campus.