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The University of Guelph Vision is to “promote open learning.”
The University of Guelph passed a Free Speech Policy upon the request of the Ontario government following the implementation of new requirements for universities to protect free expression on campus. The Policy reads:
Freedom of expression has been, and continues to be, vital to the academic mission of the University of Guelph.
Universities are places for the advancement and dissemination of knowledge, where ideas are presented and discussed. Excellence in research, scholarship, teaching and learning require the examination and consideration of diverse ideas, methods, beliefs and perspectives.
This website provides information about the University of Guelph’s freedom of expression policy statement.
The website also contains answers to frequently asked questions and provides links to other U of G policies and practices that provide context and helped inform the development of our freedom of expression policy statement.
The University of Guelph is committed to values of diversity, inclusivity, civility and respect, as well as to freedom of expression.
The University of Guelph’s Non-Academic Misconduct policy states:
You have the RIGHT to an environment where the inherent worth of all individuals is respected, regardless of race, sex, national or ethnic origin, religion, age, sexual orientation or mental or physical disability.
You have the RESPONSIBIL ITY to respect the diversity that exists in the University community. The University views actions that undermine the dignity and worth of any individual or group based on the above grounds to be particularly grievous.
The policy also states:
You have the RIGHT to an environment that, while safeguarding dissent, is free from interference and disruption. You have the RESPONSIBILITY not to interfere with the normal functioning of the University, nor to intimidate, interfere with, threaten or otherwise obstruct any activity organized by the University, including classes, or to hinder other members of the University community from being able to carry on their legitimate activities, including their ability to speak or associate with others.
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.
Discrimination is defined in Section 6 of this Policy as:
A distinction, whether intentional or not, but based on grounds relating to personal characteristics of the individual or group, which has the effect of imposing burdens, obligations or disadvantages on such individuals or groups not imposed upon others, or which withholds or limits access to opportunities, benefits, and advantages available to other members of society.
Harassment has been defined as engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.
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.”
Discrimination Awareness was prepared by the Office of Diversity and Human Rights whose duties are outlined as follows:
The Office 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 protestors attending).
The University of Guelph has two student unions. The Central Student Association (CSA) governs the undergraduate student body.
The Central Student Association (CSA) held a rally in Branion Plaza on Oct. 22 express its desire to ban bottled water from the University of Guelph campus. The CSA wants the university to stop the sale of bottled water on campus after a 2012 referendum was held in which 78 per cent of students polled voted against its continued sale. Some students disagree with the CSA's stance on bottled water, which is based largely on environmental concerns, which some argue is outside the CSA's mandate.
The Policy Manual states:
The C.S.A. 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 a normal part of life. Central to this commitment is the belief that it is the right of each C.S.A. staff member or volunteer to work in an environment free from harassment and discrimination and where each individual is treated with respect…
The Policy Manual also defines harassment. It states that:
Harassment is defined as any direct or indirect attention or conduct (oral, written, graphic or physical) by an individual or group who knows, or ought reasonably to know, that such attention or conduct is unwelcome/unwanted, offensive or intimidating.” (Appendix D, Section 13)
The Clubs Handbook requires that a representative of all clubs attend “anti-oppression training” in order to have and maintain club certification. A transcript of one such anti-oppression training workshop taking place in April 2016 is available here.
Bylaw 2 prevents slander against another candidate (s. 8). The campaign limit for Executive candidates is $200, for the Board of Directors $75, and for referenda $300 (s. 10). It further states that “all campaign material must be authorized by signature of the CEO before material can be printed or used”
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.
The Bylaws grant the Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) sweeping powers to regulate the conduct and campaigns of candidates during election periods. During the 2013 election period, for example, the CEO instituted “Appendix A: Canvassing Etiquette Guide for Residence,” which was not publicly posted. It bans residence campaigning, except for four hours over two days per week; requires ID to be worn by candidates which is provided by the CSA; and bans representatives from campaigning on behalf of candidates. The Appendix also notes that any infractions on the accounts of “gender, race, class, ability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, and age” will “jeopardize their participation in the election. Thus, candidates are encouraged to produce tasteful images.”
The “2013 CSA Winter General Elections All-Candidates Package,” specifies exactly how many posters are permitted in each area of the school. Additionally, when candidates send emails through list-servs, they are charged four cents per recipient of the list-serv, and this amount counts towards candidates’ election expenses.
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.