Update (December 2, 2016 at 7:45 p.m.):
This article has been updated to include information regarding the relationship between the JCCF and UTMSFL. The JCCF is currently serving as UTMSFL’s legal counsel.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom, an organization based in Alberta, has released a report giving UTSU and UTMSU grades of F in terms of their policies and practices.
The JCCF currently serves as UTMSFL’s legal council in their lawsuit against UTMSU, as reported in The Medium last winter.
The organization has published this report annually since 2011. It bases its measurement on the assessment of “the free speech climate on Canadian university campuses,” and grades administrators and student unions using a five-letter scale from A to F.
In their assessment of student union practices, out of the 60 student unions surveyed, only York Federation of Students received an A grade, while UTMSU, Ryerson Students’ Union, and University of Victoria Student Society all received an F.
“By restricting free expression through both policies and practices, [UTMSU, the Ryerson Students’ Union, and The University of Victory Student Society] are the worst in Canada,” read the report.
The report also referred to the rejection of UTMSU to renew the club status of Students for Life.
Michael Kennedy, the co-writer of the report, stated in an email to The Medium that “rejecting Students for Life because of its ‘stance on abortion’ is a violation of those students’ free expression rights, and their human right to be free from discrimination on the basis of their political views.”
UTMSU’s president, Nour Alideeb, told The Medium in an email that the union “shall defend the individual rights of students regardless of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, citizenship, class ancestry, and mental or physical abilities.”
She said that the policies and bylaws of UTMSU, that are created by students, will remain as they are unless a full-time or part-time undergraduate student comes forward with their concerns about the policies.
Alideeb also told The Medium that an investigation should rather be taking place about the “authenticity” of the JCCF.
“Clearly, [JCCF’s] political agenda is motivated by something personal by its founder,” wrote Alideeb.
In an email to The Medium, UTSU’s president, Jasmine Wong Denike stated that “most of the recent incidents described in the report involved the UTMSU, not the UTSU,” explaining that the report criticized UTSU’s election rules, which were rewritten last year.
The report also criticized the anti-discrimination policies of UTSU, which states that the “UTSU will not allocate resources, space, recognition, or funding to any student group who seeks to promote [racism, sexism, xenophobia, ableism, ageism, queerphobia, transphobia and discrimination based on status],” and, “UTSU will not fund, rent or loan any space on campus to an event involving a group or a person representing the aforementioned beliefs.”
Denike clarified that having anti-discrimination policies should not be considered “controversial” if applied fairly.
“Free speech is vitally important, especially on campus,” wrote Denike. “But we also need to be conscious of how hateful speech can undermine free speech. Often, hate speech will be defended as free speech, and that is what we need to put a stop to.”
Kennedy told The Medium that for the grades to improve regarding the practices, UTMSU could change the decision of denying Student for Life’s club status, and that both UTSU and UTMSU could “make clear that past practices of censoring speech they disagree with were wrong, and furthermore, will not be repeated.”
JCCF didn’t give A to any unions regarding the policies, and gave a B to four unions, including the Carleton University Student Association and the University of Saskatchewan Student Union. An F grade was given to 15 unions, among which were York Federation of Students, the Students’ Society of McGill University, and the University of British Columbia Student Association.
UTSU and UTMSU received D grades in 2014 and 2015 for their policies, and received F grades all three years for their practices.