A discrimination and harassment complaint lodged against a first-year University of Saskatchewan (U of S) law student has been withdrawn. The student was instructed to provide personal opinions and viewpoints in a mandatory classroom forum on racism and colonialism, which were then deemed disrespectful by the course instructor and removed after having been widely circulated within the College of Law allegedly in violation of the student’s intellectual property and privacy rights.
In a mandatory first year law course called “Kwayeskastasowin: Setting Things Right”, law students are taught about Critical Race Theory, intersectionality, “White Fragility” and the course covers topics such as “How to be an anti-racist”. Students are required to describe how they were harmed by colonialism and oppression and what they could do to change the legal profession. In graded assignments, law students are required to post answers viewable by other students on a private classroom forum. In this case, the law student’s answers presented a dissenting view, and were removed by his instructor based on claims that the posts were harmful. Prior to removal however, the comments were somehow circulated to persons outside of the class, ostensibly for the purpose of shaming and smearing the reputation of the student in question.
A student from outside the course was able to review the comments which were circulated and subsequently filed a complaint alleging that they were “disrespectful”, “anti-Indigenous” and “racist”, without specifying how the comments were any of these things. The U of S permitted the complaint to proceed to a dispute resolution process and required the student to respond to the vague allegations of discrimination and harassment made against him.
Justice Centre lawyers demanded that the U of S dismiss the complaint and warned that forcing students to defend their course-related contributions, even some that another would find offensive, through a formal complaints process was contrary to the principle of freedom of expression and academic freedom. The U of S refused to dismiss the complaint against the first-year student.
However, the complainant has now withdrawn the complaint, without explanation.
“State-funded western institutions of higher learning, such the U of S are built on the foundations of freedom of thought, speech and inquiry, and the right, in pursuit of those goals, to dissent from prevailing orthodoxies. Critical thinking skills, debate over controversial and sensitive topics, and even dissenting opinions should be part of a well-rounded education,” states Andre Memauri, lawyer at the Justice Centre.
“The University cannot perform its function without vigorously defending the right to think independently and to speak openly. We are disappointed that the U of S refused to dismiss the complaint outright and are concerned that discrimination and harassment policies may be used to silence dissenting opinions on campus,” adds Mr. Memauri.