|Year||University Policies||University Practices||Student Union Policies||Student Union Practices|
To meet its obligations mandated by the Ontario government, in 2018, York University (York) passed a new Free Speech Statement of Policy which states:
York University reaffirms its commitment to provide an environment conducive to freedom of enquiry and expression where all members of the community may learn, teach, work and live, free from prejudice, inequality and discrimination based on race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability.
A range of York policies reflect the right of all community members and invited guests to express their views within the law without fear of intimidation or harassment. To guarantee this right, it is recognized that community members may be exposed to ideas or opinions they find disagreeable or offensive. Freedom of speech is not absolute and does not protect expression that constitutes hate speech, harassment, threats, discrimination or otherwise violates the law.
Consequently, the University will not tolerate members of our community or guests engaging in threatening speech or actions which violates York’s commitments to ensure the safety of community members, as noted in various policies such as Disruptive and/or Harassing Behaviour in Academic Situations, Racism, Sexual Violence which address the priority of community safety and the harm that can arise from some forms of expression. These policies also provide recourse for those affected by such speech.
All persons having access to and use of University property must comply with York’s policies and the laws of Canada, which circumscribe where, when and how speech may be permitted. Students, for example, are responsible for upholding an atmosphere of civility, diversity, equity and respect in their interactions with others, and should strive to make the campus safe, support the dignity of individuals and groups, and uphold individual and collective rights and responsibilities. The autonomy and responsibility of student groups over activities they organize or sponsor, and the development of their own policies in relation to freedom of speech and expression, are also affirmed.
As per York’s Code of Student Rights & Responsibilities (Code), students have “The right to participate in activities for students at the University, without harassment, intimidation, discrimination, disruption or acts of violence”, and “The responsibility not to disrupt or interfere with University activities (e.g. academic activities such as classes, University programs, student co-curricular activities and tabling).”
The Code also affirms students have “The right to freedom of inquiry, expression and assembly on campus”, “The right to engage and participate in dialogue and to examine diverse views and ideas”, and “The responsibility to uphold an atmosphere of civility, honesty, equity and respect for others, thereby valuing the inherent diversity in our community.”
York publishes a Hate Propaganda Policy that states:
York University reaffirms its commitment to provide an environment conducive to freedom of enquiry and expression where all members of the community may learn, teach, work and live, free from prejudice, inequality and discrimination based on grounds enumerated in the Ontario Human Rights Code. In such an environment there is no place for hate propaganda.
York’s Guidelines on Acceptance and Display of Commemorative Art Work outlines the procedures by which the institution may accept pieces of art that commemorate a historical figure or event. In determining whether to accept a piece of work, the policy states that administrators must consider “[w]hether the work or the individual or event it commemorates is so controversial as to engender activity which would compromise the work, the facilities or the activities of the University.”
York’s policy on the Temporary Use of University Space states:
Those requesting the use of space are responsible for making necessary arrangements with York University Security, Parking and Transportation Services for any special security services. Costs associated with such security arrangements will be charged to the user of the facilities.
York University’s Centre for Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion has a mandate that states the Centre:
...promotes and builds a respectful, equitable, diverse and inclusive university community. We strive to be a leader in providing accessible, impartial, non-adversarial, and confidential programs and services that uphold human rights, facilitate equitable access to opportunities, and champion diversity and inclusion.
There are no recent cases of the University failing to uphold free expression rights on campus.
The York Federation of Students (YFS) does not list a commitment to free expression as a Pillar of their organization.
Article 2, Section 4 of the YFS Constitution enables the Union to take stances on political/policy issues on behalf of its members:
To bring together undergraduate students from across the campus to discuss and take common, democratic positions on questions affecting students.
Section 5.6 (e) of the YFS By-laws, outlining the job description of the Vice President Equity, states the Vice President Equity:
iii. shall be responsible for ensuring that all Directors and Staff receive anti-oppression training within five months of the elected term; and
Section 10.13 (e) of the By-laws, covering campaigning regulations, gives sweeping power to the CRO in regards to the approval of materials: “All campaign material and/or advertisement need approval by the CRO in advance of posting or distribution.”
The YFS is currently developing an “Equity Handbook” designed to “empower students to see the power we hold as students in breaking the cycles of inequity on our campuses and in our communities.”
As per Operations Policy #16 – Club Ratification Policy:
1.0 Requirements for Ratification
The YFS will ratify clubs in accordance with established guidelines as outlined below.
1.1 The objectives and activities of groups seeking recognition should be seen as attempting to contribute to, but not limited to, educational, recreational, social or cultural values of the York University Community.
1.2 All applications for club ratification must agree to all YFS policies, by-laws and the constitution.
1.4 YFS ratified clubs must be open to all York University students. This inclusive policy is all encompassing and reflects on every aspect of club policy.
1.5 The YFS will not support clubs that partake in activities that are against the law of Ontario and Canada.
1.6 The YFS does not support, promote or fund activities that are discriminatory as defined by the Ontario Human Rights Code and YFS policies.
1.7 The YFS will not ratify any groups that practice any form of coercive (persistent mental, social and emotional pressure to join the group) techniques of their membership or potential membership, nor any student groups who are found to be associated with an outside body who practices coercion, or knowingly violates any of the procedures listed above.
The YFS does not take positions on issues outside its mandate.
On November 20, 2019, an event titled “Reservists on Duty: Hear from former Israeli Defence Force (IDF) soldiers” was hosted at York University. The event was partially disrupted by the pro-Palestine York University group Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA), and fights broke out that caught the attention of provincial media and politicians. The IDF event was ultimately carried out as planned. However, following the event, the YFS released a statement that read:
A large number of York University students, community members, and student clubs organized a lawful, non-violent counter demonstration. The peaceful protesters were met with hostile event attendees who were verbally and physically abusive to a number of students. The Jewish Defense League (JDL), a far-right group widely considered a terrorist organization, was present with the intention of confronting pro-Palestinian supporters. Muslim students attending the protest were harassed by a number of JDL members who attempted to forcefully remove their scarves. One event attendee stole a Palestinian flag and later returned it to security after urinating on it.
Despite an increased presence of both York Security and Toronto Police Services, there was a lack of intervention by them to fully protect the students, staff, and community members who were actively being threatened, harassed, and attacked. We are incredibly outraged by the lack of response by the university, along with their failure to protect the students, staff, and community members that were present. We are disappointed by the lack of accountability on the part of York University administration. York’s senior administration and campus security were aware of this event and the potential violence faced by their students - and yet, remained complicit.
...It is deeply concerning that York’s senior administrators allowed this event to take place...We the students demand that the university take immediate action to ensure that known members of the JDL, and other organizations that are complicit in violent and harmful behaviour, are no longer allowed on our campus.
In January of 2016, in response to demands from Hillel at York, a Jewish students’ group, and requests from York University’s president, to remove a controversial banner from York’s Student Centre (administered by the YFS), YFS executives defended the legitimacy of posting such a banner at the Student Centre:
It is the view of the York University Student Centre and the York Federation of Students that this artwork is not hateful and is the artist’s depiction of the resistance to the occupation of Palestinian land
Gayle McFadden, VP operations of YFS
On February 29, 2008, the York University Society for Bio-Ethical Awareness planned to host an event titled “Abortion: A woman’s right or moral wrong?” The event was to feature Jose Ruba of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Awareness debating Michael Payton, member of the student group FreeSAY. It was to take place in the Student Centre, a hall operated by the YFS.
The event was cancelled by YFS merely hours before it was set to begin. YFS Executives justified the action, saying “abortion is not an issue to debate” and that the debate was comparable to “debating whether a man can beat his wife.” The event was rescheduled to take place at Curtis Lecture Hall on York’s Keele campus, a space operated by York University, rather than the YFS. The debate took place successfully on March 18.
In February 2008, the YFS led a delegation of students to McMaster University to protest the University’s decision to censor a controversial promotional poster for the campus’s annual Israeli Apartheid Week event. The decision to send students to protest at McMaster indicates apparent inconsistencies in YFS’ position on free speech. As one article read:
The YFS joined other Toronto students unions in condemning McMaster University and the McMaster Students Union for censoring a poster featuring the controversial phrase “Israeli Apartheid” and a graphic, violent image. At the rally, the Toronto unions accused the University and students union of shutting down free speech at McMaster. They called on McMaster University and the students’ union to allow for absolute free political speech on the campus.
[YFS VP for Equity] Massa doesn’t see the connection between the two incidents. She said that the censorship at McMaster was about a political issue while the York [abortion] debate would have amounted to “hate speech.”