|Year||University Policies||University Practices||Student Union Policies||Student Union Practices|
The University of Calgary published its Statement on Free Expression in December 2019. It reads, in part:
All members of the University have the right of free expression, which means the freedom to investigate, comment, listen, gather, challenge and critique subject to the law and, on our campuses, to University policies and procedures related to the functioning of the University. Thus, we may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the institution.
The University does not attempt to shield any of its members from debates or opinions that they may disagree with or that are perceived to be unwelcome, controversial, offensive, unwise, immoral, or objectionable, nor should debates or deliberations in these instances be suppressed. It is for individuals, not the institution, to make those judgments for themselves and to act not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas they oppose.
Free expression is subject to limitations imposed by law and, on our campuses, by University policies and procedures related to the functioning of the University. Expression that constitutes hate speech, a genuine threat or harassment, discrimination, defamation, an unjustified invasion of privacy or reveals confidential information are examples of expression that are prohibited by law.
The right to free expression does include the freedom to critique and contest the expression of others – but it does not extend to efforts to obstruct or prevent the free expression of others. In research, teaching, learning, and other settings, the University expects that the freedom to critique and contest the expression of others will be exercised in a manner that is in keeping with the University’s environment of respect and civility.
While all members of the University community have the right to free expression, this does not imply that the University endorses opinions and views expressed by its members.
The Student Non-Academic Misconduct Policy, Appendix 1: Prohibited Conduct, states under Item 3, “Protection of University Functions, Activities and Services”:
A Student shall not:
Examples of functions, activities and services include:
iii. field trips,
vii. residence and food services, and
viii. governance meetings and judicial hearings.
The University of Calgary has a Space Allocation Policy which states in section 4.1 that “[s]pace will be allocated in accordance with University strategic planning documents and industry best practice.” It also states that “The University recognizes that spontaneous Demonstrations or other types of Special Events may arise. The University reserves the right to direct, limit or terminate these gatherings or activities.”
In March of 2010, University of Calgary Provost Alan Harrison publicly defended the right of controversial American speaker and author Ann Coulter to speak at the University of Calgary, stating in a media interview:
… the purpose of a University is to encourage and promote the free exchange of ideas. To do anything other than that is to go against everything that the University stands for.... It’s not our job to determine in advance what she might or might not say and whether that is the promotion of hatred.
If we try to suppress people’s views simply because we don’t agree with them we are doing two things. We are acting contrary to what a University stands for and also frankly, we are providing increased publicity for the person who is spreading those views. That’s not our purpose. Our purpose is to give her the same respect as everybody else deserves.
As I’ve said we’re about the free exchange of ideas and we’re not about anything else. We’re not about trying to restrict what people’s rights to either state their opinions or demonstrate against those stating their opinion, as long as those demonstrations are peaceful.
The university’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Protected Disclosure has a mandate that includes “Upholding and facilitating the university campus as a place for creative, respectful, constructive debate or dialogue about controversial issues in a safe environment; supporting healthy conflict” and “Developing an integrated strategic plan to continue building a welcoming and inclusive campus community.”
In October of 2014, the University’s Active Living department, which manages intramural sports for the University, decided to ban team names that are considered “offensive, sexist, racist or that refer to the use of drugs and alcohol.” The decision came after complaints from students that some of the names were offensive to them. Some of the banned team names include:
In January of 2011, the Board of Governors (the University’s highest authority) upheld a decision that students were guilty of “non-academic misconduct” for having defied the University of Calgary’s demand that they set up their pro-life display with signs facing inwards, such that no passers-by would be able to see the signs. Seven students, represented by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, commenced an action in the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench to overturn this Board of Governors decision (Wilson et al. v. University of Calgary).
The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench rendered its Judgment on April 1, 2014, ruling it was “unreasonable” for the Board of Governors of the University of Calgary to refuse to hear and fully consider the students' appeal. The Court noted that the University’s decision failed to address many of the arguments that the students had put forward, such as their right to free expression under the Charter, their free expression rights under contract, and administrative law arguments. Regarding the University’s rationale of “safety and security”, the Court said there was no evidence before any of the University’s decision-makers as to exactly what it was about the students’ pro-life display that may cause a threat to the safety and security of those on campus. The Court noted that “there is no indication that having the images turned inwards will somehow alleviate any safety concerns.” It was not reasonable to conclude that there existed a rational connection between the Charter-infringing demand (to turn the signs inwards) and the provision of a safe campus.” The Court further held that the University failed to demonstrate that it took into account the nature and purpose of a university as a forum for the expression of differing views.
On June 17, 2014, the Student Discipline Appeal Committee of the Board of Governors of the University of Calgary voted to allow the appeal of the students who were found guilty, and to remove the charge from the students' files. More information on Wilson is contained at JCCF.ca.
Pro-life students have set up a controversial display on campus twice per year since 2006, for two consecutive days each time.
In the fall of 2010, after Campus Pro-Life had set up its display on campus on nine occasions (each time for two consecutive days), the U of C started demanding a $500 “security fee” that is not demanded of any other campus club wishing to set up a stationary display. In the spring of 2011, the U of C demanded a $1,000 “security fee” from Campus Pro-Life but later accepted $500. In the fall of 2011, the University again demanded $500, and has continued demanding money from this student club.
In 2009, the pro-life students were charged with “trespassing” on their own campus, after they refused to comply with the University’s demand to turn their signs inwards to prevent people from seeing the signs; no other campus groups have been asked to do this with their displays. A trial date was set for November of 2009, but the Crown Prosecutors stayed the charges when the U of C could not point to any rule, policy, bylaw, or regulation that the students were violating.
In the fall of 2007, campus security stood by and watched while some people blocked and disrupted the display, preventing the pro-life students from carrying on dialogue with other students. Campus security did not ask these obstructionists to cease their conduct. Instead, after this incident, the University started demanding that the pro-life students turn their signs inwards. When the students refused to comply with this demand, the University found them guilty of “non-academic misconduct.”
The University has not objected to other disturbing visual images on campus, such as photos of members of the Falun Gong religious sect who were tortured by the Chinese Communist government. The U of C has also condoned a poster campaign to promote the wearing of seatbelts in cars, featuring gory graphic photos showing a person’s face after having gone through a windshield.
It appears that the University of Calgary controls, or at least influences, the booking of space that is nominally the responsibility of the Student Union. In November of 2010, then-President of the Students’ Union Lauren Webber stated that the Student Union was denying Campus Pro-Life equal access to space in MacEwan Hall in order to comply with the University of Calgary’s Use of University Facilities for Non-Academic Purposes policy.
In 2008, the University of Calgary prosecuted and convicted ten students of "non-academic misconduct" for creating the Facebook page, "I no longer fear hell, I took a course with Aruna Mitra."
The students had written on Facebook that Mitra lacked knowledge of the subject matter, that she frequently said "don't quote me on that," and often answered students' questions with "what do you think?" Students described the professor as inept, awful, and "illogically abrasive," and claimed that she said "um" over 260 times during a single class. When students compared the marks they received on an assignment one of the students, Steven Pridgen, wrote "somehow I think she just got lazy and gave everybody a 65 . . . that's what I got. Does anyone know how to apply to have it remarked?" Many students in the class appealed their grades and all succeeded in getting a higher grade.
Eight months after the course was concluded, Keith Pridgen wrote on Facebook that Mitra was no longer teaching at the University of Calgary: "Remember when she told us she was a long-term prof? Well actually she was only sessional and picked up our class at the last moment because another prof wasn't able to do it; Lucky us."
The students were threatened with expulsion unless they wrote an abject letter of apology.
Two of the 10 students, brothers Keith and Steven Pridgen, after failing to have the finding of non-academic misconduct overturned by the University's General Faculties Council or the Board of Governors, took the University of Calgary to Court.
The students were successful, with the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench overturning the University’s finding of guilt, and further declaring that “the University is not a Charter-free zone.” The University appealed the ruling in Pridgen v. University of Calgary to the Alberta Court of Appeal. In May 2012 the appellate court agreed with the Court of Queen’s Bench and affirmed that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the free speech rights of University students on campus.
Free expression is not referenced in the Vision, Mission, Values or 2019-2022 Strategic Plan of the University of Calgary Students’ Union (SU).
The SU has adopted an Acceptable Display Procedure which permits the SU to restrict or prohibit demonstrations, displays and expression that:
(a) Violates University of Calgary or SU policies or procedures, including rules related to harassment, discrimination, and other types of non-academic misconduct;
(g) Contains content that could reasonably be perceived as graphic, violent, or obscene, including content that could reasonably be construed to be explicit, overly suggestive, or intentionally shocking
In their Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Advocacy policy, the SU states they will:
(f) Ensure student representatives and SU staff are provided with education and training on a variety of EDI topics (ex: unconscious bias training) to better equip them to support students;
(l) Advocate that University of Calgary staff who work with students receive cultural sensitivity training, particularly those in counselling and/or crisis management roles
Section 22 of the Elections Policy requires that all campaigning be “positive in nature”.
The SU’s Student Organization Registration Procedure states:
(1) The SU shall not Register a Student Organization that:
(a) Intends to restrict membership or participation based on grounds of discrimination protected under the Canadian Human Rights Act;
(d) Has or intends to violate University of Calgary policies and procedures;
(e) Has or intends to violate federal, provincial, or municipal legislation;
(f) Exists to solicit political contributions for partisan activities
The SU does not take official positions outside of its mandate.
In 2014, the University of Calgary Students' Union defended one of its campus clubs, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) against worldwide calls for sanctions against clubs of this nature, after the club’s former president posted alleged hate speech on her Facebook page. The Gauntlet reported:
Ala’a Hamdan, a fourth-year biology student and former president of the Calgary chapter of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), posted writing on her personal Facebook page this month that members of Calgary United With Israel (CUWI) accused of being hate speech that condones violence against Israelis.
“So be aware of my existence; my body and soul are ready to fight and die,” reads one of Hamdan’s posts. “And if you see my blood coming out of my body please smile and cry of happiness because just then I will lay at peace in my mother’s arms.”
The Students' Union defended the right of SPHR to exist on campus and express its viewpoints. Ben Cannon, Vice-President of Student Life, told the National Post “We believe in the right for a club to express their opinions and to keep the dialogue going on campus...Clubs should be free to state their opinions unless it reaches a level of criminality, at which point it would be for the police to deal with.”
During the 2010-11 academic year, the Students’ Union denied use of the South Courtyard Stage (a prominent, high-traffic area) to Campus Pro-Life for the “Echoes of the Holocaust” event, on the grounds that the visual imagery used in this event is graphic and shocking.
During the same academic year, Campus Pro-Life also encountered difficulties in booking space for “Silent No More,” which involves women speaking publicly about their own experience with abortion. The club was promised the South Courtyard Stage for March 16, 2011, and out-of-province speakers booked their flights for that date. The Students’ Union then declared the South Courtyard Stage would not be available on March 16 after all, and allocated this space to another group on that date. The out-of-province speakers had speaking engagements at other Alberta universities in addition to the University of Calgary and could not re-arrange their schedule, so they lost their only opportunity to use a prominent, high-visibility forum on campus.
At various times, the Students’ Union has placed a sign in front of Campus Pro-Life displays stating “the views expressed are not those of the Students’ Union,” but this is not done in regards to the expression of other student clubs.
In February of 2009, the Students’ Union stripped Campus Pro-Life of its official club status even while admitting that the club had not violated any rule, policy, bylaw or regulation of the Students’ Union or of the University of Calgary. The reason provided by the Students’ Union was the refusal of club members to comply with the University’s demand that they turn their signs inwards so that nobody can see them. The Campus Pro-Life club appealed this decision and was eventually reinstated in June of 2010, when new students were elected to the Students’ Union.
In 1998, the campus Reform Party Club had its club status removed for having left a window open at a club event, a minor violation. The club was reinstated only after threatening a court action against the Students’ Union.