The RSU denying club status to a group that opposes abortion and euthanasia has caught the eye of a national organization. The group has promised to keep fighting against the RSU’s decision. By Jake Scott
The decision to deny club status to a pro-life student group on campus by the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) goes against freedom of speech, according to Ryerson president Sheldon Levy and the chair of the Canadian Council for Religious Freedom (CCRF), Gregory Korz.
“I personally find it disturbing anytime we limit someone’s freedom of speech even though I might not like to hear it, even if it upsets me,” Levy said. “The strength of freedom of speech is not that I give freedom of speech to those that I like to hear, but that the strength of it is that you give [it to] those you wish you did not have to listen to.”
The group Students for Life at Ryerson (SFLR) was rejected for club status because their mandate goes against the RSU’s women’s issues policy, which was adopted in 2012.
Without club status, SFLR won’t receive funding from the RSU or a dedicated space in the Student Campus Centre. RSU President Rajean Hoilett says this isn’t infringing on anyone’s right to freedom of speech.
“Just because they are not recognized by the RSU as a student group does not mean that they can’t continue to have the conversations that they want to have or continue to do work on or off campus,” Hoilett said. “It just means that simply the Ryerson Students’ Union, as per our policies, has chosen not to provide student group recognition to this specific group.”
SFLR would be able to operate in an unofficial capacity. They could put up posters and promote their campaigns, but out of their own pocket. Hoilett says this is reasonable.
Korz, a supporter of SFLR, disagrees.
“They have to learn that they can’t just have people around who happen to agree with what they’re saying,” Korz said. CCRF emailed Levy and the RSU, among others, condemning the decision and asking university administration to step in.
“[The RSU] has done something that flies in the face of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and basic religious freedom,” Korz said.
However, university administration will not be stepping in, according to Levy.
“First of all whatever the student union does, they’re independent, it has nothing to do with the university,” Levy said. “So we’re writing back [to CCRF] and saying that in a nutshell that RSU is RSU and we have a senate policy that supports academic freedom, and as long as they follow the practice of anyone on campus with regard to following policy and being respectful, they could have their say.”
While Levy and Korz appear to have overlapping opinions regarding freedom of speech, Korz is adamant that the university is accountable and not just the RSU.
“The RSU is a creature of the university, and the administration runs that university, so ultimately they are going to be held responsible if the student union doesn’t behave in a legal fashion,” Korz said.
If Ryerson doesn’t step in and allow SFLR club status, the CCRF will feature the university in its annual white rose and black thorn awards. These are given by the CCRF to the best and worst institutions for religious freedom, according to Korz.
“If they don’t feel they can accommodate people of faith then they’ll have to deal with the reputation of being a bigoted university,” said Korz.
While the CCRF does not typically pursue legal action in these kinds of issues, Korz says other groups may take aim at the RSU.
“I understand just from reading that there is another group, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), who might be taking some legal action on that,” Korz said.
This has yet to be confirmed by The Eyeopener, but Hoilett says he isn’t concerned about litigation.
“We’ve already sought legal counsel and judges have ruled on very similar issues in court that say we are within our right to deny groups,” he said.