By Angela Hennessy and Ramisha Farooq
On Sept. 24, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) rated the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) as one of the second worst student unions in the country for failing to uphold free expression rights on campus.
In the JCCF’s 2013 Campus Freedom Index, the RSU received a ‘D’ and ‘F’ letter grade for their implementation of policies and practices on campus.
“Ryerson got an F because the Ryerson Students’ Union denied official club certification to a group of students who were trying to start a men’s issues group,” said Michael Kennedy, communications and development coordinator and co-author of the campus freedom index
Using a five-tier grading scale— A, B, C, D and F—the campus freedom index grades universities and student unions on the application of constitutional policies on campus.
According to their website, the JCCF conducts research, education training and advocacy in order to narrow the gap in income, wealth and power. Their missions include bringing together people from universities and unions, along with other community organizations, to pursue equality and democracy.
“The RSU certainly stand with a lot of student unions who have banned clubs because of their views, and that’s what the Ryerson Students’ Union did,” Kennedy said.
In March 2013, the RSU denied certification to a men’s issues group because it was allegedly affiliated with two external organizations, A Voice for Men and the Canadian Association for Equality.
The RSU deemed both organizations “hate groups” and denied the group ratification.
Rajean Hoilett, vice-president for equity at the RSU, has said that they are not considering the idea of ratifying the men’s group because it would seclude women from certain spaces on campus.
“We looked at other campuses, such as U of T, where men’s groups conversations were being had and they were becoming unsafe spaces for women and women-identified folk,” said Hoilett.
Fifty-one per cent of Canadian universities fail to uphold free expression rights on their campuses.
The RSU tied for second with unions at Brandon University, McGill University, Queen’s University and the University of Manitoba. These universities all earned a ‘D’ and ‘F’ grade – only slightly better
Folks have freedom of speech, but that comes with a limit than the worst three schools.
Kennedy did, however, mention that the Ryerson administration received an ‘A’ in terms of university policies.
In order to receive an ‘A’ grade, a student union must have a stated commitment to free speech on campus set out in its mission, vision, or policy documents and written policies which expressly protect diversity of opinion and prevent the student union executive from discriminating against a club.
“As a students’ union it is important to maintain a safe space and we understand that folks have freedom of speech, but that comes with a limit and it is not an unheard concept,” said Hoilett.
Kennedy stated that the grades were based on an in-depth analysis of media reports pertaining to the rejection of the men’s group as well as its verdict that passed through the RSU.
This is the third edition of the report.
Their ongoing mission is nation-wide constitutional freedom.