Monday, April 28, 2008

Freedom of speech at UWO [Updated]

Ezra...are you listening? Hello?

The University Students' Council of the University of Western Ontario has shut down a pro-Palestinian student group, without a clear explanation, and confiscated its assets.

This isn't the first time that the good burghers of UWO have tried this sort of thing on. The university has a bit of a history of anti-Arab racism, in fact: it has lost three cases in front of the Ontario Human Rights Commission since 1987, and the UWO Students' Council lost one earlier, in 1985 [see UPDATE, below--DD]. But it seems that this is a beast that will not die.Will the OHRC have to put a stake through its heart?

Could this decision, even though it was ostensibly made by the Clubs Policy Committee of the Students' Council, be tied to the sympathies of its current president, Dr. Paul Davenport, who recently accepted an award from the Jewish National Fund--an organization that the Israeli Supreme Court itself has found to be racist?

Let's stand up for free speech on Canadian campuses. Somebody's got to do it: the speech warriors appear to be too busy at the moment.

Please send politely-worded e-notes to the University Students' Council President Tom Stevenson:
, and/or the USC Vice-President of Student Events officer Sabrina Sdao:

(H/t. *Sigh*)

UPDATE: (April 26) One of the four successful human rights complaints was against the University Students' Council as far back as 1982 for refusing to ratify the student club Canadians for Peace in the Middle East (later Citizens Concerned for the Middle East). The Ontario Human Rights Commission had to be prodded into action, but eventually mediated the situation. The USC apologized, and the club was ratified--in 1985! An account may be found here: scroll down to p.87.

As recently as 2006 the UWO Students' Council de-ratified yet another pro-Palestinian student club, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR). The USC had been harassing the club since 2004, and, as readers will see here, due process is not the way this students' council goes about things. Speech suppression rules at UWO, in fact, unless it's joking about raping a student activist.

UPDATE: (April 28) The University Students Council has officially responded. Herewith their unredacted email sent to me this morning. There are commenters here who might be in a position to reply: in fact, one offered a two-part rebuttal earlier. In any case, the floor's open.

Thank you for your concern regarding the UWO Public Interest Research Group.

Associated with the privileges of being a USC club, club presidents and executives are expected to fulfill their responsibilities to their membership and ultimately, the USC in accordance with the Clubs Policy. This expectation is expressed annually to club presidents at the mandatory Club Executive Training Session. The UWO PIRG was found to be in violation of two aspects of the Clubs Policy, which ultimately led to the decision to de-ratify the club.

Financially, USC policies require all clubs to deposit monies taken in by its members and community members at-large. They are required to deposit money in their USC bank accounts to ensure accountability to their members. As overseers of the system, it is of prime importance to the USC to ensure clubs are accountable to their members, who are the students we represent. On three separate occasions, between September and March, the UWO PIRG did not deposit event admission fee monies into their USC bank account after the approved events were held. To this day, this money cannot be officially accounted for, and despite the notice of potential de-ratification and notice of de-ratification, this student money has yet to be deposited into its USC bank account.

Further, the UWO PIRG was found in violation of the Event & Risk Management guidelines as stated in the Clubs Policy. Several events in an anti-War/Peace Week were endorsed by the UWO PIRG on an online website and on paper flyers. However, no event proposals were submitted to the USC regarding their association with the program, with the exception of one approved event - Marching Orders: A Speaker's Panel. The USC requires event proposals to be submitted in order to ensure the programming occurring is safe and to be able to assist with any event execution necessary. As such, no risk associated with any of the programming could have been proactively mitigated on behalf of the USC, despite the fact that UWO PIRG's club name was used in the promotion of the event, and could have been implicated with responsibility of hosting the event.

As expressed above, the issues surrounding the de-ratification of the UWO PIRG are solely associated with policy infractions and are not associated with the nature of the club itself.

Be assured that the UWO PIRG had significant time to formulate a response to the Clubs Policy Committee (CPC), and that their response was taken into consideration when the final decision was made to de-ratify the club. The UWO PIRG may appeal the CPC's decision, should it chose to exercise that right.

Despite the de-ratification of the UWO PIRG, please note that this group can still operate as a group of students on campus, but they simply are not privy to the privileges of being a USC club.

Thanks again for your concern and please let us know if you have any additional comments or questions.


Tom Stevenson
USC President

Sabrina Sdao
Vice President Student Events

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