By Jackie Hong
The 2014 Campus Freedom Index lists the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) as the fifth-worst in Canada for upholding freedom of expression but Ryerson University among the best schools for free exchange of ideas. This is the second year the RSU’s ranked in the top 10 worst student unions.
The index is an annual report put together by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), an organization focused on the fundamental freedoms defined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The JCCF gave Ryerson a C for policies and an A for practices. Ryerson got the A because it “defended the open discussion of controversial ideas on campus,” including providing security for a men’s issues discussion and resisting pressure to have a Black Panther leader banned from campus in 2007.
The RSU didn’t do so well, getting a D for policies and F for practices. The report said parts of RSU policy “clearly infringes the expression rights of student groups, particularly religious and political student groups” and “gives discretion to the RSU … to censor speech that is deemed to carry political or religious messages.”
One of the reasons for the RSU’s F for practices was its denial of two group applications in 2013, a men’s issues group and a pro-life group called Preserving Human Dignity at Ryerson (PHDR), according to the report.
“The RSU may not agree with the men’s issues awareness club [but] denying them the privileges other students have in the union is censorship and it’s wrong and it’ll qualify them for the F,” JCCF Communications and Development Coordinator Michael Kennedy said.
RSU President Rajean Hoilett said that the RSU and JCCF have different views on what freedom of expression means.
“While creating freedom of expression, we’re also simultaneously working to make sure the campus is safer and more inclusive,” Hoilett said. “It’s important to prioritize those things over things like freedom of expression, so making sure people don’t mask hate speech for freedom of expression is a really big priority and I think that’s something that gets lost in this report.”
Kennedy, however, said that the JCCF uses the Criminal Code definition of hate speech and that none of the messages by the rejected groups or their affiliates fall into that definition.