On Nov. 16, members of the Aboriginal Women’s Collective (AWC) at the University of Victoria placed 1,181 small flags on campus. Each flag represented one Indigenous woman who was murdered or went missing between 1980 and 2012.
As a campus club, AWC had previously secured the permission of UVic to set up this flag display, to raise awareness about the lack of respect for the humanity of Indigenous women. After the 1,181 flags had been placed into the ground, some UVic students began to vandalize AWC’s display by pulling the flags out of the ground.
AWC asked campus security to intervene, to prevent their property from being vandalized. But UVic’s campus security officers simply stood by and watched the “protesters” destroy AWC’s display. When AWC asked the two officers why they were not protecting the display from vandalism, the officers said they must remain “neutral,” and that taking action to protect ACW’s display could be interpreted as campus security supporting AWC opinions. Campus security further claimed that protecting AWC property could “escalate” the situation.
By mid-afternoon, all 1,181 flags had been pulled from the ground. The AWC display had been completely destroyed.
The story above never happened.
What did happen at UVic on November 16 was that Youth Protecting Youth (YPY) placed 10,000 pink and blue flags on campus, representing the 100,000 abortions taking place in Canada each year. Substitute “AWC” with “YPY” and change the number of flags, and the above story becomes true.
Would campus security at a university stand by passively and watch the destruction of a peaceful display by Aboriginal women? Of course not. Nor would a university condone the physical disruption and obstruction of a campus gay pride parade.
UVic’s rules prohibit “misappropriating, destroying, defacing, and vandalizing … the property, equipment or assets of other members of the University Community.” UVic’s rules also prohibit “obstructing University Activities or engaging in or demonstrating disruptive behaviour.” Further, section 430 of the Criminal Code of Canada prohibits rendering property (in this case: the flag display) “useless, inoperative or ineffective,” and prohibits interrupting and interfering with the “use and operation” of the flag display.
UVic campus security knowingly condoned violations of UVic’s rules and of the Criminal Code. Deliberately permitting the destruction of YPY’s display is not “neutrality” as claimed by security. Rather, it’s a very partisan act to support illegal behaviour directed at an unpopular minority.
This phenomenon is not new. Throughout history, authorities have always been tempted to pander to the mob, by condoning illegal behaviour that is directed at unpopular minorities.
For example, the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, to de-segregate American schools, was unpopular in the American South. In 1957 in Little Rock, Arkansas a large, jeering and violence-threatening mob surrounded Central High, which until then had been attended only by whites. Siding with the white mob and maintaining his popularity with voters, Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus ordered the Arkansas National Guard to keep the now-famous “Little Rock Nine” Black students out of Central High.
Fortunately, U.S. president Eisenhower grasped the difference between the illegal demands of a mob, and the freedom of minority citizens to exercise their legal rights. Rather than pander to the mob, Eisenhower sent federal troops to Arkansas, to escort the nine Black students into Little Rock Central High. The federal troops protected the black students from the hostile mob, and ensured the Nine’s safe entrance into Central High. Upholding the rule of law, Eisenhower declared: “This challenge must be met, and with such measures as will preserve to the people as a whole their lawfully protected rights, in a climate permitting their free and fair exercise … the troops are there pursuant to law.”
UVic president Jamie Cassels should ponder “the free and fair exercise” of “lawfully protected rights” enjoyed by his students on campus. Expressing your opinions on campus, and listening to speakers, are fundamental legal rights. There is no legal right to silence those you disagree with, by disrupting their speaking engagements, shutting down their events, or pulling their pink and blue flags out of the ground.
What is at stake at UVic and other Canadian universities is the rule of law. Will university officials, including campus security, bravely follow the example of president Eisenhower, and uphold the rule of law? Or will they cower and follow the example of governor Faubus, and enable the mob to trample on the legal rights of minorities?
Calgary lawyer John Carpay is President of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (www.jccf.ca), which acts for university students at UVic and across Canada. This column originally appeared in The Interim, January 12, 2018.