Upon reflection, I have decided to release the conclusion section of the investigative report that could be precedent-setting in how students protest at Memorial University. The recommendations made by the investigator have dire implications to the entire student body, specifically what locations are acceptable for protest. Students have the right to protest without fear of repercussions from Memorial University’s top brass.
I received an email from the general counsel for MUN about my recent story that published sections of the investigator’s report. It stated, “We demand that the post be immediately removed.” They also demanded that I not publish any more of the report. In the email, MUN threatened to release findings of my case at an undisclosed point of time. They argued, “Mr. Barter is coming perilously close to waiving his privacy, and in future, the findings of that report may be released by the university.”
Therefore, MUN has not only served notice to students that they can be put through the bureaucratic student code of conduct process for protest actions and be punished severely before the process even begins, which is contrary to any notion of natural justice, but now they are also considering setting a new precedent of releasing the findings for the purpose of embarrassing and maligning the student being investigated. This creates a chilling effect, causing students to be afraid to speak out and protest.
In her report, the investigator strongly argued against the unfair campus ban I have been subjected to for over three months. I agree with the investigator that the draconian interim measure of banning me from campus was unwarranted and should be removed immediately. It was an attempt by the administration to punish me for my work as a student journalist and activist.
Unfortunately, the investigator reached the wrong decision in whether I was at fault for my silent, peaceful protest. MUN selected the investigator without giving me any input on who it will be. The investigator was limited and selective in who they interviewed; they did not interview representatives of the MUN Students’ Union as was suggested. The investigator also focused on extraneous information. In her report, the investigator recommended that I be sanctioned for including “personal attacks” in my protests and “disrupting” an event. However, I am strongly opposed to the findings and recommended sanctions of the report as it goes against fundamental freedoms. MUN should not restrict freedom of expression and the press.
Even if the investigator were right that I did something wrong (I did not!), the draconian interim measures I have been subject to are already so punitive they are worse than the recommended sanctions. Hence, I suggest MUN not impose any more punishments.
It will be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador if necessary. MUN lost its right to sanction me for protesting when they did not sanction me for earlier protests, including being a part of the group of students who presented former President Gary Kachanoski with a large pink slip and storming a Board of Regents meeting.
It does not make sense that Chief Risk Officer Greg McDougall was the complainant. Although Greg McDougall did view pictures of the event, he was not even in the room when my protest action took place. Either Greg McDougall is the snitch of MUN, or he is targeting me. Suppose a person slips and falls on the wet floor at a store resulting in broken bones, and there were no signs indicating that the area was wet. In that case, the person who slipped can sue the store, but someone who witnessed the incident or viewed pictures of it cannot sue the store on behalf of the injured person. If this is how the law works, why should MUN be any different?
The current Student Code of Conduct does not have a definition of “silent,” nor does it have a definition of “disruption.” There are also no criteria for infractions of the Student Code of Conduct. Moreover, if the Student Code of Conduct is ambiguous, meaning unclear or vague, then it should be construed against its drafters, the university, according to the longstanding legal principle of contra proferentem. To sanction a student protest when the code is ambiguous will have a chilling effect on student activism.
There is significant value in protesting at an event where the media is present to communicate a message. Unlike the university administration, students do not have an entire Marketing and Communications department at their disposal.
The administration is making questionable decisions on spending and tuition increases, but students are afraid to protest. The real issue is the university is angry because my protest action was effective. Why would they allocate a significant amount of time to it if it was not? The university seems to be obsessed with me; they regularly monitor my social media accounts and run unwarranted on-campus surveillance.
A troubling part of the investigator’s report is that MUN should demand that I not include “personal attacks” in my future protests. A “personal attack” could be whatever the university administration says it is. I disagree that it was wrong to name the president. The President and Provost bring forward recommendations for the Board of Regents, which merely rubber-stamps them. Essentially, the president has the most power and influence on decisions regarding tuition and the budget of anyone at the university. I chose Timmons for the campaign against tuition hikes because she is the president, not because I have a personal issue with her. The president has specific legal standing, and there are reported decisions with the president’s name. There is significant precedent for naming the president of the university.
Moreover, the investigator recommended that I be prohibited from protesting in a classroom, event, or meeting is a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms Section 2
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly;
Binding me by those terms would even exclude me from participating in organized protest actions with my fellow students.
I will fight this, and, with YOUR help, we will achieve victory for students!
Matt Barter is a fourth-year student in the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty at Memorial University of Newfoundland, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. He enjoys reading thought-provoking articles, walks in nature, and volunteering in the community.