|Year||University Policies||University Practices||Student Union Policies||Student Union Practices|
To meet its obligations to the Ontario government, in December 2018, the University of Ottawa (U of O) adopted a new Statement on Free Expression which states:
As an autonomous, self-governing institution whose most fundamental value is that of academic freedom, the University prizes and protects freedom of inquiry and all forms of freedom of expression. It neither seeks to shield its community from controversial or objectionable views nor permits interference with the free expression of the full spectrum of human thought, within the limits that bind the University under Canadian and Ontario law.
All members of the University of Ottawa community — teaching and research faculty, staff, and students, including both individuals and groups — and all visitors to the campus have the right to express their views freely.
The University recognizes that free debate and critique are essential to the pursuit of knowledge. As participants in collegial self-governance, all members of the community are expected to act in accordance with these values and applicable laws, which the university will safeguard by whatever steps it deems necessary. Visitors to the campus must also respect these values, relevant University policies, and applicable laws. Complaints in connection with this policy should be filed with the appropriate internal body as defined in University policies and regulations.
The University of Ottawa’s (U of O’s) Human Rights Office defines “harassment” as follows:
Harassment is engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct which is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome.
The Human Rights Office also provides a definition of discrimination:
Although the Human Rights Code does not provide a definition of discrimination, the notion of discrimination covers unfair treatment on the basis of race, disability, sex or any other personal characteristic. It can take many different forms, can target a single person or a group and can be part of a system.
The Human Rights Office lists protected grounds from discrimination as follows:
The Human Rights Office defines a “poisoned environment” as follows:
Although the term “poisoned environment” is not defined in the Ontario Human Rights Code or Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Ontario Human Rights Commission defines it as an environment “created when comments or actions based on grounds listed in the Code make [a person] feel uncomfortable at work….Sometimes all it takes is one comment to poison the environment.”
U of O’s security fee policy, Policy 28: Use of University of Ottawa Facilities and Services, section 17 gives the U of O discretion in setting security fees as it reserves to the U of O the “the right to determine the number of security guards required [for an event], with costs to be covered by the user.”
U of O’s Communications Services has regulations governing posting on its billboards. One regulation states that, “Persons or groups of persons whose posters compromise the rights or the reputation of another person or group of persons will be denied posting privileges.”
The University of Ottawa defended free expression by publicly opposing efforts by some students at the University to have the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) formally join the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to boycott companies and universities which have dealings with Israeli companies. The BDS issue has been divisive and widespread across North American campuses, and student unions have an obligation to refrain from taking stances on such issues, especially when there is widespread divergence of opinion amongst students themselves. In response to the SFUO vote on the matter, which failed to pass, the University’s president, Jacques Framont, made the following public statement:
For the third time in five months, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) has defeated a motion to support the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) campaign against Israel. Last night at its Board of Administration meeting, the SFUO failed to reach the two-thirds threshold to pass the vote and the motion was defeated.
The SFUO is an independent body from the University of Ottawa. Out of respect for its governance process, the University usually refrains from commenting on SFUO’s business. However, I firmly believe that this issue is divisive and a detriment to an open and welcoming campus environment. By definition, boycotts limit the free exchange of ideas and perspectives and, therefore, run contrary to the core values that guide our University’s core academic mission. Moreover, boycotts create an environment where some members of our community may feel insecure and ostracized. I encourage members of our University community to work together to ensure we have a campus where mutual respect and freedom of expression flourish.
The University of Ottawa will have no part of the BDS movement nor any movement that boycotts academic institutions. We have actively pursued mutually beneficial relationships with leading institutions around the world and will continue to do so to further the advancement of knowledge and the free circulation of ideas, students and faculty members.
As a bilingual and multicultural institution, the University values and encourages freedom of expression, freedom of religion and equality for all. We welcome and embrace open dialogue and the free exchange of ideas from every member of our diverse community.
The University failed to defend the rights of one of its students groups, Students for Life (SFL) when SFL was denied club status by the SFUO (see section 4).
On Friday, March 28, 2014, a lecture was held in the Colonel By Hall at the University of Ottawa. Its purpose was to support the creation of a men's issues awareness society at the University of Ottawa. The focus of the talk entitled "What's Equality got to do with it?", was on how conversations about "rape culture" create unfounded fear in university women and an attitude of hostility towards university men. The lecturer was U of O English Professor Janice Fiamengo.
As Dr. Fiamengo was being introduced, a vuvuzela horn began to be blown and other kinds of noise, like chanting, drumming, banging on desks and singing, prevented the lecturer from being heard. The students involved in this disruption were part of a loosely organized (not ratified) student group, Revolutionary Students Movement (RSM).
U of O Protection Services personnel were called for and arrived promptly, but the University of Ottawa should have anticipated the need for security previous to the event starting, as similar events in Toronto have resulted in noisy disruptions, the pulling of fire alarms and protest. The noisemakers were appealed to respect the ability of those interested in Fiamengo's talk to hear it, but allowed to stay in the room. Their noise continued unabated for about 30 minutes or more. The speaker and some of the audience relocated to another, smaller room, from which some but not all of those obstructing the talk were excluded. Interruption, taunting, and insults continued. After some of those causing the commotion were induced to leave the room, the fire alarm sounded and everyone was required to evacuate. After a long wait during which the fire alarm could not be resolved, the talk was cancelled. In all, Dr. Fiamengo was able to speak for only about 15 minutes while the audience was unable able to follow her presentation, given the constant interruptions and insults.
RSM made comments concerning Dr. Fiamengo’s presentation that appeared in The Fulcrum, U of O's campus paper:
“We feel that these ideas have no place on our campus and refuse to legitimize them by allowing them space to organize,” a representative for the RSM wrote. “As was demonstrated, campus security will not protect our community from events that are harmful to men, women, and trans people in the community, so we decided to stand up for what we feel is right.…[Student’s] have a right to decide what does and does not happen here.…I [a protestor at the event] felt like at a time when we’re really trying to make sure that everyone feels safe on campus, this was a very counterproductive speech that creates an unsafe atmosphere for many students and pushes back the progress that we’ve been trying to achieve.”
U of O president Allan Rock made the following comments to the Fulcrum about the incident:
I don’t know that we’ve gotten more flack than other universities…From what I know, what happened here happened at the University of Toronto. I don’t know what happened, I don’t know how the fire alarm got pulled, and I guess the matter is under investigation.
Meanwhile, I was happy to see that [Dr. Fiamengo] had a platform to speak from…She seems to have elicited interest from those in attendance, and the university is a great place for vigorous discussion of controversial views. I’m glad there was such a discussion.
On February 5th, 2014, the University of Ottawa Liberty Society erected a free speech wall inside the University Centre of the U of O, sponsored by the JCCF. One student of the RSM monopolized the entire wall by repeatedly writing “Hate Speech is Not Free Speech”, leaving no room for other students to write on the wall. Omar Benmedgoul, organizer of the U of O free speech wall event, said of the incident, “They covered the wall entirely in an effort to stop others from being able to write on the wall as well.”
In 2010, the International Free Press Society sponsored a tour for controversial Republican pundit and author Ann Coulter to speak at several university campuses across Canada. Prior to Ms. Coulter’s arrival, a letter signed by U of O academic vice-president François Houle offered Coulter a bleak warning:
…I would, however, like to inform you, or perhaps remind you, that our domestic laws, both provincial and federal, delineate freedom of expression (or “free speech”) in a manner that is somewhat different than the approach taken in the United States. I therefore encourage you to educate yourself, if need be, as to what is acceptable in Canada and to do so before your planned visit here. You will realize that Canadian law puts reasonable limits on the freedom of expression. For example, promoting hatred against any identifiable group would not only be considered inappropriate, but could in fact lead to criminal charges. Outside of the criminal realm, Canadian defamation laws also limit freedom of expression and may differ somewhat from those to which you are accustomed. I therefore ask you, while you are a guest on our campus, to weigh your words with respect and civility in mind. There is a strong tradition in Canada, including at this University, of restraint, respect and consideration in expressing even provocative and controversial opinions and urge you to respect that Canadian tradition while on our campus. Hopefully, you will understand and agree that what may, at first glance, seem like unnecessary restrictions to freedom of expression do, in fact, lead not only to a more civilized discussion, but to a more meaningful, reasoned and intelligent one as well.
Ms. Coulter’s speech, to be held in the U of O’s largest auditorium seating nearly 500, was cancelled due to protests and the risk of physical violence against Ms. Coulter. Ezra Levant, one of the event’s organizers, stated: “The police and the security have advised that it would be physically dangerous for Ann Coulter to proceed with this event and for others to come in.”
It is unresolved who was ultimately responsible for cancelling the event, though Coutler stated that the Ottawa Police shut down the event.
After negative media publicity, the U of O released a statement declaring:
The University of Ottawa has always promoted and defended freedom of expression... For that reason, we did not at any time oppose Ann Coulter's appearance. Whether it is Ann Coulter or any other speaker, diverse views have always been and continue to be welcome on our campus.
U of O President Allan Rock stated that the University is a “safe and democratic environment for the expression of views, and we will keep it that way."
The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) operates a Centre for Equity and Human Rights (CEHR), which processes and investigates discrimination complaints from students in accordance with the Ontario Human Rights Code.
The Centre for Equity and Human Rights defines “discrimination” and “harassment” as the following:
Discrimination means making a distinction between certain individuals or groups based on a prohibited ground of discrimination as defined by the Ontario Human Rights Code.
Harassment as defined by the Code is a form of discrimination based on protected grounds. It designates unwanted physical or verbal conduct reasonably understood as offensive or humiliating. This behaviour can create a negative or hostile living and learning environment (“poisoned environment”), which can interfere with your studies.
Harassment is generally a “course of conduct”; a pattern of behaviour involving more than one incident. A single incident may be categorized as harassment, though this is assessed on a case-by-case basis.
In the SFUO’s Constitution, Article 8.13.10 details the criteria for a club to be recognized by the SFUO, and therefore receive SFUO Clubs services, such as room and table bookings. Part k of that article requires that “the Club applicant’s constitution does not contain any discriminatory clauses and has no clauses that are contrary to any existing Canadian law.” Part l requires that “the Club applicant’s constitution does not contain any provision for its present or future affiliation with any organization that has discriminatory policies or practices.”
For club events, the SFUO Club Manual Posting Procedures states that “[p]osters may not be sexist, racist, ableist, homphobic, transphobic, or any other wording and imagery deemed offensive by the SFUO.”
The SFUO Club Manual explains the process for getting table materials approved: “Before materials, visuals, etc. can be displayed at a table in the University Centre by a Club, they must be approved by Community Life Services (following Policy 28 of UCU).”
According to the Club Manual, “[b]efore materials, visuals, etc. can be displayed at a table in the University Centre, they must be approved by Community Life Services (following Policy 28 of UCU).”
The SFUO claims the following as part of its mandate:
Recognizing our role as agents of social progress, assisting students in understanding and acting against oppression and injustice and emphasizing the rights and responsibilities of the student. To further this end, we will act against the oppression of women, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered, the disabled, native people, ethnic, religious and linguistics and other disadvantaged groups and causes including our environment on the University of Ottawa campus.
University of Ottawa’s Students for Life (SFL) has been a registered campus club for the past 10 years. During this time, SFL members have peacefully held events and shared their views on life issues. SFL seeks to promote the value of all human life from conception to natural death, and engages other students in discussion and debate, consistent with the purpose of the university.
SFL requested club status in the fall semester of 2017-2018 and received an email on Friday, October 13, 2017, notifying SFL that it had been approved as a club by the SFUO. However, one week later, on Friday, October 20, 2017, SFL received an email from the SFUO stating that SFL had been removed from the SFUO Clubs System. The email stated that the decision to revoke club status was “due to the ways in which your mandate is in contention with the SFUO’s principles.”
This decision to revoke club status follows a prior SFUO decision to censor SFL. On Thursday, September 28, 2017, an executive of the SFUO ordered SFL club members to stop tabling in the Jock Turcot University Centre on campus, despite SFL having used the proper channels to book space for the tabling. SFUO attempted to justify its decision by citing unspecified complaints received about SFL. SFL was further informed that their club goes against unspecified SFUO policy, implying that SFL’s views on life issues could not be expressed there. The SFL members who were tabling were told that University of Ottawa Protection Services would be called if they did not leave the Jock Turcot University Centre, and so they left, less than 45 minutes into their tabling event.
Recognition of club status from the SFUO is crucial for a student group to engage with other students at the University of Ottawa. Without it, students cannot access space and resources available to other student clubs and funded through mandatory SFUO fees.
The Justice Centre’s letter to SFUO concludes:
We demand that the Constitutional Committee of the Board of Administration of the SFUO exercise its authority to correct the unlawful decision, and that the SFUO return club status to SFL and its position in the SFUO Clubs System no later than November 3, 2017.
SFUO has not responded to the Justice Centre’s letter.
In November 2017, and in response to efforts by pro-Palestinian student groups and organizers on campus, the Board of Administrators (BOA) of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) entertained a motion that the SFUO formally join the Boycott, Divestments, Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to impose economic restrictions on companies which do business with Israeli companies. In response to the motion, the BOA decided to amend the language to compel SFUO “to do all in its power to peacefully resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” At the same meeting, the BOA voted to endorse a pro-choice position on abortion, on behalf of all students that are part of SFUO, despite there being wide differences of opinion among students about abortion.
During the March 2010 SFUO elections, Tristan Dénommée was elected VP Finance with a majority of the votes over opponent and incumbent Sarah Jayne King. He won by 114 votes, which given the extremely low voter turnout, was a very wide margin. However, he was disqualified by the SFUO Board of Administration (BOA) “based on accusations of publishing false statements in relation to the personal character or conduct of a candidate; posting in unauthorized locations; and failure to comply [sic] with minor and major penalties.”
After a meeting where Tristan’s appeals were denied, the President of the SFUO, Tyler Steeves, declared: “[I am] disappointed with the decision of the BOA tonight. I was hoping for some sort of acknowledgement that elected candidates are elected and it’s not fair to unelect them,” he said. After intensive protests organized by Tristan’s friends, Tristan was suspended for two weeks from his job as an employee at the SFUO-owned Pivik grocery store. In the words of the blog, Campus Accountability, “....regarding the actions taken by the SFUO to silence dissent...These activities are completely unacceptable, and continue to undermine the democratic rights of the students of the University of Ottawa.”