2019 Essay Contest: Should Universities Police Student Behaviour At Private Events?

“There will be blood on all of our hands” were the words of London, Ont., Mayor Ed Holder at a city council meeting earlier this year, manifesting his desire to put an end to “Fake Homecoming” or “FOCO” — an unsanctioned annual street party tied to Western University. Mayor Holder wants Western to impose “extremely clear, extremely strong academic sanctions” on students who partake in dangerous or illegal behaviour at FOCO, even up to suspension or expulsion, by expanding the reach of its student code of conduct.

This is not the first time a university has been tempted to expand its student code to include off-campus behaviour at private events. In 2008, twin brothers Keith and Steven Pridgen were reprimanded under the University of Calgary’s student code for creating a Facebook group about their legal studies professor, a group entitled “I no longer fear Hell, I took a course with Aruna Mitra.” The university found the Pridgen brothers to be guilty of “non-academic misconduct,” placed them on probation for six months and accused them of defaming Mitra. Steven Pridgen had called Mitra “lazy,” and Keith Pridgen wrote a celebratory post after finding out Mitra wouldn’t be teaching again at the university. In the end, an Alberta judge ruled that the university had violated the Pridgens’ Charter right to free expression, notably declaring that “the University is not a Charter-free zone.”

In another case, Masuma Khan, a student executive at Dalhousie University who in late 2017 was accused of discrimination for posting anti-white remarks on her personal Facebook page. The posts prompted the university to open a disciplinary investigation, though Dalhousie ultimately bowed to public pressure and reversed this decision.

Other universities believe that off-campus student behaviour at private events unaffiliated with the school, is not within the jurisdiction of the university. In 2011, a University of British Columbia (UBC) student was caught on video at the infamous Vancouver Stanley Cup riot stealing two pairs of pants from a formalwear store. After being named and shamed on social media, many called on UBC to expel her. The university however, declined to expel her or to impose any disciplinary action, stating it was leaving the consequences of her looting to the police and the courts.

The question for the Justice Centre’s 2019 Essay Contest is:

Should universities police student behaviour at private events?


1st – $2,000
2nd – $1,000
3rd – $500


This contest is open to students enrolled at a Canadian post-secondary institution as of September 15, 2019.

Length, format, and evaluation criteria

The essay must include no more than 2,500 words, and should be submitted in PDF or Word format using the form below, or emailed to essaycontest@jccf.ca. Judges will be drawn from among the members of the Justice Centre’s Advisory Council, Board of Directors and legal network. The quality of the writing, and persuasiveness of argument, will be the central criteria considered by the judges.


Deadline Extended – Essays must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on Thursday, November 14, 2019.

The contest submission deadline has passed. Thank you for your interest. Please try again next year.


2018 Winners

We received many thoughtful, well-written arguments, addressing the question, “Should Canadians be required by law to use gender-neutral pronouns,” from a variety of viewpoints.

The winners of the 2018 Essay Contest are:

1st Prize – Edward Strahlendorf, Queen’s University BA Honours (Philosophy)

2nd Prize – Hudi Krauss, University of Ottawa Faculty of Law

3rd Prize – Tina Praass, Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Social Work