“Bullshit” allegation against MUN student activist, says civil liberties expert

Jim Turk.

Jim Turk, director of Toronto Metropolitan University’s Centre for Free Expression, told Ricochet in April 2022 that “no university should be attempting to restrict basic expressive freedom rights that citizens have in Canada, and students shouldn’t have to hire a lawyer and go to court to have their expressive freedom rights upheld.”

Turk reviewed the investigator’s report and said that “the whole thing is loaded against him in ways that are inappropriate,” and that Memorial’s treatment of me could deter students from participating in protest at a formative time and place in their lives for political and civic engagement.

Turk stated that universities’ weaponization of student conduct policies to silence dissent represents a serious attack on free expression.

Turk also stated that my protest action in December is “exactly” what silent protest is. “Freedom of expression is about the right to express yourself and being able to hear what you want to hear,” he said.

Regarding myself, Turk said, “He was expressing himself but he was not preventing the audience from hearing what was going on in any way. So it seems to me that’s precisely within the bounds of what the code of conduct allows.”

“Effective protest always makes people feel uncomfortable. It’s when that protest crosses the line and inflicts bodily harm on them or prevents people from speaking or people from hearing that it crosses the line at the university. But he did none of those things” Turk said.

McDougall told Horwood that my actions “crossed a line” when I “slapped something on the podium while Timmons was talking,” and when I “violated her personal space, contrary to COVID protocols [and] took a selfie while doing it, the purpose of which could only be to humiliate, intimidate, or try to show domination over, Timmons.”

Turk called this allegation “bullshit,” and stated that activists always document their protests. My lawyer Kyle Rees also questioned the credibility of McDougall’s claim and asked in his letter to Browne, “Has there ever been a protest where people did not take pictures? Protests that were not documented? How would we know about political struggle but for those who document same?”

Turk said that he does not see any evidence in the investigation that my protest represents discrimination against women. “Targeting her, a case of one, is not a way of proving a general implication that he’s some sort of misogynist,” Turk said.

Turk also said that Timmons’ allegation that my protest against her is personal does not hold up to scrutiny as I have repeatedly criticized the university administration’s fiscal policies, including tuition fee increases, under Timmons’ leadership and also under the leadership of former President Gary Kachanoski.

“Is he ever attacking her except in relation to her role in pushing this policy?” Turk asked. “Personal attacks, it seems to me, would be saying she’s a terrible mother […] or she’s a violent person — not going after her because she’s the president of the university or because of the policy that the university is pursuing.”

Turk disputed Horwood’s conclusion that my protest “was only conducted for the purpose of tormenting or otherwise harassing Timmons.”

“I take it that if Timmons called for a reduction in student fees, Matt would be praising her,” he said. “I mean, that’s the test. If it’s personal, he’ll attack her no matter what she does. But if he’s attacking her because of her policy position, that ipso facto doesn’t make it a personal attack, I don’t think.”

Turk said that universities’ creation and use of codes of conduct to silence dissent is a generational battle with flashpoints in other provinces.

“The test of a student code of conduct, for me, is: is it consistent with the fundamental values reflected in our Charter with regard to freedom of expression?” said Turk. “And stopping people from protesting when it’s not violent or not stopping events from happening would be inconsistent with our Charter protections for freedom of assembly, for freedom of expression.”

Turk said that “one of the purposes of the university is to help people become more effective, engaged citizens in a democratic society, which means modeling the kind of behaviour and values that we have as a society.”

“Our Charter claims one of the fundamental freedoms in Canada is freedom of expression, so you certainly wouldn’t want a university being a model for more repression of freedom of expression than is a general citizen’s right on a street corner in the town in which the university is located,” said Turk.

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.

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