KINGSTON, ONTARIO: On the evening of Tuesday April 2, a student “free speech wall” on campus at Queen’s University was shut down by the university’s Assistant Dean for Student Affairs, Arig Girgrah.
The free speech wall had been erected by the student group Queen’s Students for Liberty earlier that day, inside the John Deutsch University Centre. Queen’s Students for Liberty had booked that space in March, and the wall was scheduled to stand from 11:00 a.m. Tuesday April 2 until 5:00 p.m. on Friday, April 5. The Queen’s Free Speech Wall is part of a campaign to raise awareness about free expression rights in Canada and is co-sponsored by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.
At approximately 8:20 p.m. (EST) two campus security officers arrived at the University Centre, where four members of the Queen’s Students for Liberty were manning the wall. The campus security officers acted on the instructions of Ms. Girgrah, who told the students that the paper canvas on the wall was being removed due to “offensive content.” Ms. Girgrah refused to provide any examples of what she considered “offensive”, and refused further explanation.
A request by the students to keep the canvas, which was the club’s property, was ignored by the officers.
Queen’s Students for Liberty have recorded a video of the incident, which has been posted on-line and is available at this link.
Earlier on Tuesday, at 4:17PM, the president of the student union (Queen’s Alma Mater Society) Doug Johnson told the Queen’s Students for Liberty club that they needed to remove certain unspecified messages from the wall, claiming that they violated the University’s Code of Conduct and Harassment/Discrimination Policy. Like Ms. Girgrah, Mr. Johnson did not indicate which comments he thought were in violation of university policy. Without indicating which comments were offensive or why they violated university policy, Mr. Johnson nevertheless threatened to cancel the remainder of the club’s space booking if the club did not comply with his unspecified request.
The university has thus far refused to return the paper canvass to its owners, the Queen’s Students For Liberty campus club. A complaint has been lodged with the Kingston Police Service over the theft of this display by campus security.
“I am dismayed with the gross violation of free speech that we saw committed by Queen’s last night” said Jeffrey Waligun, President of Queen’s Students for Liberty. “It is one thing for a lone hooligan to vandalize a display as was seen at Carleton University. It is far more disturbing when the university itself becomes the hooligan.”
Prior to the wall being shut down at 8:20 p.m., members of Queen’s Students for Liberty invited students, faculty and community members to express their thoughts and opinions on the wall, as an exercise of their free expression rights. They handed out information about the state of free speech at Canadian public universities, measured in the JCCF’s 2012 Campus Freedom Index.
Campus security did not bar the student group from putting up new walls at their display, which the club reserved until April 5. The club plans to put more canvas up today, so as to continue their efforts to educate students about free speech rights on campus.
The Queen’s Free Speech Wall is part of a national campaign sponsored by the Justice Centre to build free speech walls at campuses across the country. The Justice Centre launched this campaign at Carleton University, where the Carleton Students for Liberty built a free speech wall in January. Within 24 hours of the wall being built at a public location on campus, a seventh-year Carleton human rights student vandalized and removed the wall because he did not agree with some of the viewpoints being expressed.
“The actions Ms. Girgrah and of the Queen’s University administration are illegal,” stated lawyer and Justice Centre president John Carpay.
“The contract between tuition-paying students and their university gives students the legal right to express their views on campus, whether individually or as a club. As long as opinions are expressed in a peaceful manner, neither Queen’s university nor the student union has any right to censor speech based on its content, as has been done here” continued Carpay.
The 2012 Campus Freedom Index gave Queen’s University a ‘C’ for its written policies and a ‘D’ for its actions with respect to campus speech. The student union (Alma Mater Society) received a ‘D’ for its policies and a ‘B’ for its actions.