Photo: Zena Salem

Senate vote to approve Ryerson free speech statement postponed amid student protest

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By Maggie Macintosh and Zena Salem 

The meeting in which the Ryerson University Senate was expected to vote on the university’s draft statement on free expression was adjourned with no vote following a heated discussion about free speech between student activists and the members of Senate.

Members of the Black Liberation Collective (BLC) and Indigenous Students Rising at Ryerson interrupted the Senate meeting on Nov. 6 when Senate started talking about the updated statement. The student activists chanted, “Whose campus? Our campus!” as they carried bed sheets displaying the words “Ryerson is in bed with Ford” into the meeting.

BLC co-founder Josh Lamers demanded university president Mohamed Lachemi and the Senate scrap the university’s statement altogether and take a stance against Ontario premier Doug Ford.

“Many of you will try to argue there is no choice [but to vote to approve the statement]…well there is a choice to be oppositional,” Lamers said.

Lamers and others, including ISR representative Olson Crow, talked about the university’s lack of support toward Black and Indigenous students at Ryerson.

“When we’re talking about free speech here, it sure looks like free speech for fascists, neo-Nazis, holocaust deniers, free speech for settlers and white folks. What I don’t see is free speech for Black students, Indigenous students,” said Crow.

If passed, this statement could prevent marginalized students from standing up for themselves, Lamers said.

“We can’t debate peoples’ humanities,” he added.

Socialist Fightback at Ryerson, who was also in attendance, has previously called Ryerson’s draft statement a part of Ford’s “anti-protest law.”

The Ford government announced all publicly-funded universities had to create a statement on free expression in line with the government’s criteria before January 2019—or face operational funding cuts.

 

“When we’re talking about free speech here, it sure looks like free speech for fascists, neo-Nazis, holocaust deniers, free speech for settlers and white folks. What I don’t see is free speech for Black students, Indigenous students”

 

The announcement was made at the end of August, while Ryerson administration was already in the process of updating the university’s statement on free expression. The Senate started reviewing the university’s current statement on free expression, which was published in 2010, back in June 2017.

The draft statement states that community members cannot obstruct or interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or loathe. It also states Ryerson may “reasonably regulate” the time, place and manner of expression if it disrupts ordinary activities on campus.

“How does this benefit students?” Lamers asked Senate repeatedly. Before he got an answer, Lachemi adjourned the meeting.

Lila Pine, the director of Saagajiwe research centre at Ryerson and an associate professor of new media, said it was disappointing to watch the president end the meeting early.

Pine said it was ridiculous that a meeting about free expression was cancelled as a result of students expressing themselves, adding that “the students did an amazing job.”

As Senate members got up to leave, various faculty members and students with Socialist Fightback lined up to speak their thoughts in opposition to the statement.

Lachemi, the chair of the Senate, and a handful of other Senate members left before the handful of community members had finished speaking.

Senate member Dave Mason stuck around to hear everything people had to say in opposition to the statement. He said that he doubted the Senate would have voted in favour of the statement in its current form if they had ended up voting on it at the meeting.

“I’m not happy with the policy at all,” Mason said. “It doesn’t talk about protecting people, it talks about preventing [protest].”

It is unclear if the Senate will resume the discussion at their next meeting.

Comments

  1. Just to clarify: the Ford government is pushing universities to enact *policies*, not just “statements” as suggested above.
    See here:
    https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-doug-ford-says-ontario-postsecondary-schools-will-require-free-speech/

    The Ryerson document being debated tonight is a statement of the university’s senate, NOT a policy document, so on its own it doesn’t meet the demands of the Ford government.

    And the thing Ford says was just a verbal warning — not (thank goodness) a law as suggested above.

    I think these are meaningful differences.

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