Canadian Civil Liberties Association Director of Fundamental Freedoms Cara Zwibel said in an article in ricochet that Memorial University’s interim sanctions against Barter (me) have been “extreme” and that there’s a “decent argument” Memorial has violated my Charter rights.
Zwibel said that universities’ weaponization of student conduct policies to silence dissent represents a serious attack on free expression.
Zwibel disagreed with Chief Risk Officer Greg McDougall’s and President Vianne Timmons’ framing of the issue. She said what she sees in the investigator’s report about my behaviour “doesn’t jump out […] as being intimidating or threatening.”
While my actions may have been “annoying and irritating, and frustrating for someone in the administration who feels like they’re constantly being criticized,” she saif, “I think that’s sort of what the job is about.”
If the university has a case against me based on a pattern of behaviour that amounts to harassment, and my protest was “the straw that broke the camel’s back… this doesn’t seem like a particularly strong case to me” said Zqibel.
Zwibel stated that while the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects freedom of expression “in very broad terms,” any form of expression involving violence is treated differently. “Once you start to say this is violence, or this makes me unsafe, there’s just no application here,” she explained.
“And you see elements of that in [Barter’s] case, where it seems that some of the university administration is saying, we’re all for protest but that’s not what this is — it’s something different. And that line between intimidation and when acts are experienced as threatening to people, there’s a really subjective element to it. And I think it’s a problem here.”
Zwibel stated, “I was surprised this was a hill that the university would choose to die on.”
“It may have been experienced by people at the particular event as intimidating or threatening in some ways, but it seems like a relatively low key way of protesting.”
“And certainly there seems to be some suggestion [that] this wasn’t the right time or the right place, and it wasn’t relevant. That’s not really how protest works; the individual or the cause that you’re protesting against doesn’t get to tell you where and when you can make your case.”
“There are questions around the extent to which the Charter applies to universities, and whether they’re part of government in this context,” sayd Zwibel. “I think in this context there’s probably a decent argument that the Charter is directly engaged, but […] certainly there were some procedural fairness issues that came up here, and the fact that he was subjected to some sanctions before there was any investigation.
“If he had come onto campus with a knife or some other egregious act, I could understand that step being taken, but this is not that,” Zwibel said, adding that my partial ban from campus and having to submit to surveillance are “fairly extreme sanctions.”
Zwibel warned that it is not just the code itself that needs to be revisited, but the implementation process as well.
“It seems to me that maybe there should be a different process in place when the complainant is a member of the administration. I think I had always thought of these codes of conduct as a way to protect students from other students, but there’s a different power dynamic at play when you have a member of the administration involved.”
She warned that any time the code is invoked, the university is sending a message, and that targeting student protestors could have a “chilling effect” on freedom of expression at universities.
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.