Freedom of speech in crisis at Dal: report

According to the 2012 Campus Freedom Index, the state of liberty at Dalhousie sucks.

The report, published by Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), grades 35 Canadian schools on the actions of both the administration and the Dal Student Union (DSU), as well as their principles and policies.

One of the report’s authors is a former Dal student. Michael Kennedy was executive director of the Dal Liberty Society before graduating in 2011.

 

These are Dal’s marks:

 

 

Source: Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms

 

Dalhousie in theory

In order to get an “A” under the ‘principles and policies’ criteria, a university must include a “clear and unequivocal commitment to free speech on campus, set out in its mission, vision, or policy documents.” There must be an anti-disruption policy that “makes it clear that the university will not condone students (or other people) engaging in the blocking, obstruction, suppression or interruption of speech with which they disagree.”

The report found that many policies at Dal lacked clarity in supporting free speech. For example, the JCCF took umbrage at Dal’s ‘Accomodation Policy for Students, among other policies, because of its rules regarding discrimination. The policy, found in Section 8 of the Dalhousie University Regulations, states:

“The University is obliged to make every reasonable effort short of undue hardship to take substantial, timely and meaningful measures to eliminate or reduce the discriminatory effects of the learning and community environment…”

The report argues that this policy could “open the door to complaints about ‘discriminatory’ speech, and the censorship of speech that does not lead to ‘a learning environment and community free from prohibited discrimination,’” because the word ‘discriminatory’ leaves room for interpretation.

The report also singles out a webpage that instructs students to “not laugh at sexist, racist, heterosexists or otherwise demeaning humour.”

The DSU fared no better: the report gave it an F. According to the report, the ‘Society Policy’ provides “no protection for campus free speech, and give virtually unlimited discretion to the DSU to censor content as they see fit.”

 

Dalhousie in real life

Dal has seen its fair share of free speech controversy in recent years, mostly concerning controversial speakers at events or debates.

The earliest mentioned in the report is a cancellation of a debate about racial diversity in 2007 featuring Jared Taylor, who is a controversial advocate of racial segregation.

In 2010, a speech by UK MP George Galloway was cancelled in part due to Dal requesting extra security fees for the event, and he eventually spoke at St. Andrew’s Church.

Last year, the room where a debate on abortion was to be held was vandalized, and stink bombs were set off during the event. The university did not find those who were involved.

These events resulted in an F on the report.

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What it means

Some have alleged serious flaws with the study.

Adam Awad, the national chairman of the Canadian Federation of Students, told *The National Post* that the methodology was not sufficiently explained to give credence to the JRCC’s findings.

Aaron Beale, the DSU VP (academic external), says some DSU policies criticized have been changed since the index was published. For example, the campaign allowance.

Kennedy acknowledges that changes in policies may have warranted an upgrade.

“Next year, in the 2013 report, we’ll include an update,” he says, “if it is true that Dal changed its policies.”

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Daniel Boltinsky

Daniel currently serves as the Gazette's Copy Editor. He was the News Editor for Volume 145.