Censorship at Ryerson: “Safe(r) Space” policies used to silence students


In March of 2013, the Ryerson Students’ Union denied certification to a student men’s issues group called the Ryerson Association for Equality (RAE). The group’s constitution said its goal was to “create a progressive and constructive voice and lend representation to any and all Ryerson students concerned with the issues of men and boys.”  RAE was allegedly affiliated with two external organizations (A Voice for Men; and the CanadianAssociation for Equality), which the RSU deemed “hate groups”

The RSU’s Board of Directors also amended its policy on women’s issues in March of 2013, to commit the RSU to oppose “the concept of misandry” as well as “Groups, meetings events or initiatives [that] negate the need to centre women’s voices in the struggle for gender equity”.

These events caused the RSU to receive a ‘D’ for its policies and an ‘F’ for its practices in the Justice Centre’s 2013 Campus Freedom Index—making Ryerson’s one of the worst student unions in the country!

More censorship followed in the fall of 2013, when Ryerson student Carter Grant applied to have his student group, Preserving Human Dignity at Ryerson (PHDR), registered in October of 2013. He received an email on October 28 from the RSU informing him that his pro-life group would not be approved.  Campus Groups Administrator Leatrice O’Neill gave no reasons for the refusal, and directed Mr. Grant to speak to RSU President Melissa Palermo, who explained that the union was worried Grant’s student group would prevent some students from feeling “comfortable”, “welcome”, and included”.

Paradoxically, many existing student clubs at Ryerson likely do not make individuals feel “comfortable”, “welcome”, and included”. These clubs are not censored.  For example, the Socialist Fightback Club describes itself as “The Marxist Voice of Labour and Youth” and is devoted to revolutionary politics, promoting militant methods. Students for Justice in Palestine support the rights of Palestinians, while A World In Exile: Ryerson’s Counter Culture Campus Group is an a anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist group.

While  these and other groups could easily make others on campus feel uncomfortable or unwelcome, it is only Mr. Grant’s pro-life club which is facing an arbitrary gag order from the RSU executive.

PHDR has met all of the requirements outlined in the RSU Student Groups Policy. The only reason that the RSU is refusing club status to PHDR is  the content of PHDR’s message, based on RSU’s beliefs that this content would make some students feel uncomfortable.

The Justice Centre is representing Carter Grant and Preserving Human Dignity at Ryerson.  The Justice Centre wrote to RSU President Melissa Palermo on January 16, pointing out that the RSU’s censorship is discriminatory, contrary to freedom of expression, and illegal.  If this decision is not reversed, Carter Grant and Preserving Human Dignity at Ryerson will have no option other than commencing a court action to secure their free expression rights.

Read the full letter here