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The University of Guelph’s Mission Statement says the core value of the University is “the pursuit of truth”, and the University is “animated by a spirit of free and open inquiry, collaboration, and mutual respect.”
The University of Guelph Policy Statement on Freedom of Expression reads, in part:
On our University campuses, various forms of expression may be used, including peaceful assembly.
Universities are unique institutions. Few others carry the weighty responsibility to preserve, advance and disseminate knowledge for current and future generations. Given this responsibility, universities must be places for open discussion and free enquiry, as topics deemed controversial and that give rise to or are likely to give rise to disagreement or discomfort are often introduced, debated and analyzed. Debate or deliberation ought not to be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral or wrong-headed. In such instances, a balance must be struck among the principles of free inquiry, a commitment to diversity and inclusion, and the protection of human rights.
Freedom of expression is exercised in a society where laws exist, values collide and interests compete. While members of the University and broader community are free to criticize, contest and even condemn views expressed by others, they may not use expression as a direct attack that has the effect of preventing others from exercising the same freedom to express their views. Freedom of expression does not extend to that which is prohibited by law, including but not limited to hate speech or incitement of violence, harassment or discrimination, or violation of an individual’s right to privacy.
This freedom is never without its limits since it is expressed within our University community, which espouses values of mutual respect, civil discourse, inclusion and the highest standards of human equality. It is expected that all members of the University community will support and enrich these values.
The University retains the ability to reasonably manage the time, place and manner of expression, and the use of University resources by members of the University community and the general public. The University reserves the right to restrict expression that it reasonably believes violates laws, creates safety concerns or disrupts the normal functioning of the University. Administrative decisions in this regard should not be made lightly and, when necessary, will be considered in a manner consistent with the University’s commitment to freedom of expression.
This policy applies to all members of the University of Guelph community as well as guests and visitors to campus. The University has existing policies and procedures including but not limited to the Human Rights Policy and Procedures, Policy on Non-academic Misconduct and Student Organization Policy that inform and support this policy. This policy does not amend or negate duties and obligations to and of the University as stated in other University policies or in collective agreements between the University and employee groups, including those regarding the University’s commitment to academic freedom.
Section 4 of the University’s Human Rights Policy states:
The University acknowledges that situations arise in which there is a perceived conflict between academic freedom and human rights. A violation of either freedom is of grave concern to the University. With respect to the interplay of human rights protection and the practice of academic freedom, it is the position of the University that discussion of controversial issues in or out of the classroom is not a violation of this Policy.
Academic freedom entails the right of all University community members to make statements that challenge and may even offend the sensibilities, ideas and beliefs of others. On the other hand, academic freedom does not entail a right to discriminate against or harass individuals on grounds protected by the Code and this Policy.
The University outlines its definition of discrimination and harassment, as well as how to address these issues in the document Discrimination Awareness: creating a university free from discrimination and harassment:
Discriminatory comments or conduct can lead to a poisoned environment. A series of discriminatory statements or incidents or an extreme single statement or incident can create a poisoned environment for individuals. Such conduct can affect everyone’s environment. A poisoned environment is characterized by condonation [sic] of, or participation in, such matters as: pinups, language or graffiti that demeans groups on the basis of prohibited grounds identified either by the Ontario Human Rights Code or by the University’s policy; failure to implement special programs; and the failure to review and change policies, practices and procedures that discriminate on any ground prohibited by the University’s policy.
Discrimination Awareness: creating a university free from discrimination and harassment also outlines that:
Harassment is determined by the impact of the behaviour on the person being harassed, rather than the intent of the harasser and by whether a reasonable person could conclude that the behaviour is harassment.
One of the ways the university encourages students to oppose harassment is to “refuse to go along with harassment masked as humour/academic debate.”
The University of Guelph Office of Diversity and Human Rights is described as being able to “listen, help you assess your situation and explore options to remedy the situation,” but does not itself officially reprimand discrimination or harassment. According to Human Rights at the University of Guelph, the role of the Office includes “bringing to the attention of persons with supervisory responsibilities any University policy, procedure or practice that appears to discriminate against an individual or a group based on prohibited grounds;” as well as contributing to a “fact-finding team” comprised of both staff and students to help address the situation. The document suggests that the University prefers conflict resolution involving arbitration and mediation to settle problems of discrimination.
On February 20, 2018, the registered student group Life Choice applied to hold a tabling event at the University. This event was to feature a “free speech board” and encourage passers-by to respond to the question “What do you think about sex-selective abortion?” by writing their thoughts on a sticky note and placing it on the board. Life Choice applied to also share resources and information with students who engaged with the display.
On February 28, 2018, Life Choice was notified by Student Risk Management that its application to hold the event had been rejected. Student Risk Management requested numerous changes be made to the event, and that Life Choice answer numerous questions including “how the information will be displayed” and “how will you handle if someone is triggered by these conversations”. Life Choice submitted their responses and further details about the event to Student Risk Management on March 1, 2018. Student Risk Management did not respond to this second application and the event was unable to proceed as planned.
In a 2012 issue of the school’s newspaper, The Ontarian, a number of faculty and lecturers submitted a letter regarding Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW). The letter stated:
We are … deeply troubled to learn that one person connected to IAW organizing claims that, because of their involvement, they have been subject to intimidation from University of Guelph personnel. Such behavior is a violation of basic democratic rights including the rights to academic freedom, free speech, free association, and free assembly. Any university official engaging these or similar acts has abdicated his or her responsibilities to students and to intellectual inquiry, has abused their power, and has contravened the university’s mission.
The University has not issued an official response to the letter.
The University protected free speech for one student group, Campus Crusade for Christ, during a January 2004 event where a Guelph Student, Graydon Baker, spoke to students about his religious beliefs as part of an educational campaign sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ, a registered student group. Citing vocal opposition to the planned presentation, the University ordered campus security personnel and Ontario Provincial Police to ensure safety at the event, which was carried out without incident (but with many protesters attending).
The University of Guelph Central Student Association (CSA) does not mention free expression as part of their Mandate or Approach. The CSA emphasizes the promotion of “acceptance, inclusion, safety and a sense of belonging.”
CSA Policy Manual Item 17 – Respect in the Workplace – states:
The CSA is committed to maintaining an open and fair working anti-oppressive environment for each individual involved in the CSA, consistent with the exercise of free speech and with enjoyment of social relationships which are normal part of life. Central to this commitment is the belief that it is the right of each CSA Executive member, Board member, staff member and volunteer to work in an environment free from harassment and discrimination and where each individual is treated with respect.
The CSA Clubs Handbook, Section 3.2.6, dictates that one executive member of each club must undergo Anti-Oppression/Inclusivity training as a precursor to maintaining club status. A transcript of one such anti-oppression training workshop taking place in April 2016 is available here.
As per Policy Manual Appendix G – CSA Electoral Policy, section 2.10, “The CSA Elections Office shall be responsible for the approval of all campaigning material.”
The CSA does not take official stances on issues outside its mandate.
In the 2019-2020 academic year, two student groups had their applications for club status denied by the CSA. One club was church-linked while the other was a volunteer service club. The CSA executive denied both clubs applications on the discriminatory basis of their affiliation with a church. The Justice Centre guided the students in their communications with the CSA, and also sent a letter warning the CSA to immediately rectify its discriminatory treatment of these student groups. The CSA indicated that it would permit the clubs to reapply for club status immediately, and potentially receive pre-approval in advance of the 2020-2021 school year.
The Central Student Association failed to defend free expression against the University's decision to cancel an educational display on campus about abortion, in the 2017-2018 year.
Guelph Atheos, a registered student group under the CSA, was denied resources for holding its “Stone a Heathen” event, in September of 2012. According to an Atheos executive member, this event is held to protest the act of stoning across the world. At this event, students would have been asked to donate money in order to throw a water balloon (which represents a stone) at one of the club volunteers (heathens). Half of the proceeds from the event were planned to go to Amnesty International, which opposes stoning. Indeed, there have been noted instances of student groups partnering with Amnesty International and holding such events on campus.
The CSA prevented Atheos from holding the event on the grounds that it would promote stoning. The Atheos executive notes that this was not a safety issue, but that the CSA did not approve of the message. The CSA did not respond when asked to elaborate on the issue.
In response to an event called a “Life Fair” hosted by the University’s club “Life Choice” in September 2008, the CSA issued a public apology to the students on campus for exposing them to the images and information at the fair, which displayed information and photos about abortion. CSA also revoked the club status of “Life Choice” without undergoing the CSA’s implemented procedure of informing the group that their status was under review on October 1, 2008.
The apology asserted that the CSA was correct in banning the group as it constituted a violation of women’s rights to an educational environment “free of advertisement, entertainment, programming and/or materials which promote violence against women, sexual stereotyping and discrimination.” The apology was issued with listings of information on pro-choice movements and abortion resources.
The apology failed to mention that as a Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) chapter, CSA was obligated to support a new (in 2008) CFS-approved ban of pro-life student groups. In February 2009, after CSA set up a Tribunal of students to decide whether the student group’s ban should continue, the club’s status was reinstated.
During an event hosted in March 2011 by Life Choice, an executive member of the CSA hosted a booth offering pro-choice material and abortion information.
In October 2004 the national umbrella organization of a campus group, Power to Change (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ), launched an advertising campaign across multiple campuses that stated “I agree with _____,” and would give students a link to a religious testimony from a student on their campus. The Guelph campus was linked to a website by the slogan “I agree with Graydon.” The student representing the campaign, Graydon Baker, shared his personal stories about his spirituality with students in open forums on campus. Guelph CSA received a number of complaints from students who were unhappy about CSA “condoning” (by allowing the student group to hold their event) the campaign and who suggested the CSA not allow the club to have the same rights to express their views as other student groups. The CSA responded by suspending the club status of Power to Change. Reports of the incident suggest that the CSA had no policy-backed grounds to decertify the club, so they enforced a fine which Campus Crusade for Christ paid, and then reinstated the club within days. The final event for the campaign, a presentation by Baker on his religious views, took place without interference.
In the 2018–19 financial year,* the University of Guelph received $280,097,000 in taxpayer dollars in the form of government grants. These taxpayer funds accounted for 32.4% of their annual revenue.
*The University of Guelph did not make their 2019–20 financial statements available by the time of publication of the 2020 Campus Freedom Index.