|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 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.”
The mandate of the Human Rights Office is “[to] provide leadership and expert advice regarding the creation, implementation and evaluation of policies, procedures and practices on inclusion, employment equity, accessibility, prevention of harassment and discrimination and sexual violence.”
U of O’s Policy 28: Use of University of Ottawa Facilities and Services, does not include an anti-disruption policy, and furthermore states:
4.7 The University may refuse access or require Activity participants to leave a University Space if amounts payable for the Activity have not been paid or if the University has reason to believe that the use of the University’s Space, even if previously authorized, or an Activity participant:
In March 2018, 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, U of O 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.
On 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 was blown and chanting, drumming, banging on desks and singing prevented the presenter 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 prior 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 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.
It is unresolved who was ultimately responsible for cancelling the event, though Coulter 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 University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) replaced the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) as the representative student union organization in 2019.
The UOSU does not reference free expression in their Mandate.
The UOSU says in section 1.8 of their Mandate in the Constitution: “The UOSU shall work to decolonize the University of Ottawa.”
The Clubs Code states the UOSU will:
15.3.2 protect recognized student clubs from treatment that is arbitrary or discriminatory
In October 2019, the UOSU declared they were a “pro-choice organization” by passing a motion that read, in part:
UOSU believes in students’ right to free speech. However, it is in violation of our constitution, and moral imperatives, to promote and allow speech with oppressive content that is negatively affecting the student community at large. It is important to know that we are committed to supporting pregnant womxn by providing them with all of the resources they need to make an informed decision; regardless of what that decision may be. We support and celebrate the choices womxn have. Each womxn is unique in their journey and we must not assume that what works for one, works for all. We must work to create avenues through which womxn are no longer oppressed, where they no longer have to fight for their basic human rights.
UOSU’s Electoral Code, section 6, states all physical campaign metrials and all paid online advertisements must be approved by the Chief Electoral Officer prior to being publicized, and cannot be “racist”, “sexist”, “homophobic”, “transphobic”, or “discriminatory.” Candidates are required by the rules to be “respectful” to one another and prohibited from publishing campaign material that is “against” another candidate.
University of Ottawa’s Students for Life (SFL) club was de-ratified in November 2017 under the previous students’ union, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO).
Under the new students’ union, the University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU), the SFL applied to be a club once again, and was approved in October 2019. However, after the UOSU faced backlash from students for awarding club status to the SFL, they revoked SFL’s club status in December 2019, on the basis that the UOSU is a “pro-choice organization.”
Under the previous students’ union, the SFUO, the 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 funding through mandatory SFUO fees.
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.”
In the 2018–19 financial year,* the University of Ottawa received $547,625,000 in taxpayer dollars in the form of government grants. These taxpayer funds accounted for 48.6% of their annual revenue.
*The University of Ottawa did not make their 2019–20 financial statements available by the time of publication of the 2020 Campus Freedom Index.