The Justice Centre has written a letter to the University of Victoria (UVic) requesting that UVic adhere to its policies in upholding the rule of law on campus and disciplining students that attempt to censor opinions they disagree with through vandalism.
Youth Protecting Youth (YPY), a registered student club is “a group of undergraduate students from the University of Victoria who share a common love and respect for all human life, without regard for gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, level of development, or physical capabilities.”
On the morning of November 16, 2017, YPY members erected a display in an area of the UVic campus known as the “Quad”, consisting of 10,000 small blue and pink flags planted into the ground. The flags represent the approximately 100,000 abortions that occur in Canada annually. The purpose of this and other similar flag displays are to raise awareness of the fact that Canada has no law regulating abortion. YPY had emailed Campus Security to notify them of the event on November 15.
At about noon, UVic students began to gather to protest the display. The protest became larger as time went on, increasing in number and intensity. At approximately 1:30 pm, the crowd of protesting students grew to approximately 30 individuals. Some of the protesting students became verbally aggressive and told YPY members that they would remove the flags themselves if YPY refused to do so. Concerned about the protesting students’ threats, YPY called Campus Security. Many protesting students then began pulling up the flags and putting them in piles.
As the protesting students began to destroy the flag display, two Campus Security officers arrived, but declined to take any action. The officers simply watched as the protesting students dismantled YPY members’ flag display. The officers explained to YPY members that they must remain “neutral” and that they could not take any action to protect the flag display because it could be interpreted as Campus Security taking a position in support of YPY. The officers further explained that intervention could “escalate” the situation.
Unopposed, the protesting students completely destroyed YPY’s flag display.
The Justice Centre’s letter explains that, Campus Security’s claim that if it acted to protect the flag display from student vandalism, it would not be viewed as “neutral” represents a gross misunderstanding of the legal duties of Campus Security to protect the property of students and to respond to violations of UVic’s policies. Campus Security’s job is to uphold the rule of law on campus—which includes protecting student expression—not stand idly by while a mob of bullies vandalize an approved student display.
As the Justice Centre further stated in its letter, freedom of expression is not merely an aspiration or ideal; it is the lifeblood of liberal democracy and the cornerstone of higher education. There should be no greater celebration of, and protection for, freedom of expression, including the expression of minority viewpoints, than at institutions of higher learning, such as UVic. Public educational institutions ought to be a locus of peaceful, vigorous debate where diversity of thought is cultivated, not regressive enclaves of censorship.
YPY has been approved to erect the same flag display on February 22, 2018. In its letter, the Justice Centre requests that, if students threaten to vandalize or disrupt the event on February 22, UVic adhere to its policies and procedures, including protecting free expression on campus and disciplining students that engage in censorship through vandalism.
John Derry, associate director of UVic’s Office of Student Life, Division of Student Affairs, has made a statement apologizing for the miscommunication:
“[The Office of Student Life is] aware of the potential impact when groups like this hold events on campus, and we provided notification to many units across campus but, in this case, did not notify the UVSS in a timely way as we have in the past. This has been corrected and will not happen again.”
This second rendition of the event took place without interruption in the Quad on February 22, 2018.