Contradicting the code

Student group protests ‘Patriot Act’ in draft code of conduct, claim clauses violate right to assembly, demonstration

SONAD secretary Harry Smith says Senate hasn’t had a chance to review responses to the draft code of conduct.
SONAD secretary Harry Smith says Senate hasn’t had a chance to review responses to the draft code of conduct.

Proposed changes to the University’s Code of Conduct are meeting resistance from a group calling the draft the “Queen’s Patriot Act.”

Students for Accessible Education members said they fear specific clauses in the proposed code will infringe on their right to civil disobedience and force students to snitch on their peers.

“I think there’s a certain blindness to the importance that civil disobedience has played in giving us the rights that we have,” said group member Eric de Domenico, ArtSci ’08. “Not all law is just. We’re trying to connect the dots between what people might stand behind in principle and the actions currently being undertaken by the administration and the Senate to outlaw these kinds of activities.” The code, which was last revised in 1991, was placed under review in accordance with a recommendation made in May 2005 by the Senate Committee on Non-Academic Discipline (SONAD).

The recommendation called for a “full examination by the Senate of the systems, responsibility and accountability for the well-being of students and their impact on local neighbourhoods, specifically related to those living off campus.”

The code of conduct was officially placed under review in March of 2006.

Students for Accessible Education are contesting clauses in the draft stipulating that students “refrain from any other unauthorized conduct,” “refrain from engaging in disorderly or disruptive conduct that interferes with the lawful activity of others,” and “report misconduct ... to the appropriate authority or remove themselves from situations where misconduct is occurring.”

Students for Accessible Education wrote a joint statement protesting the draft that was e-mailed to individuals and organizations around campus. The statement calls for SONAD to remove the contested clauses from the proposed code immediately and to abstain from taking further steps to criminalize freedom of speech, freedom of association and political dissent on campus.

The appeal statement claimed the new code could render legitimate acts of protests cause for expulsion if they’re interpreted as “disorderly” or “disruptive.”

“It is redundant and unnecessary, and we can only deduce that it is meant specifically to target political dissent on campus,” the e-mail said. “We must oppose this section of the draft with all we’ve got to ensure it doesn’t pass, since it could restrict (or at least criminalize) some of our more important tactics for pressure change at this university.”

De Domenico said several Queen’s campus and community groups have signed on to endorse the statement, including Queen’s NDP, the Canadian United Student Environmental Network, the Ontario Public Interest Research Group, Queen’s Coalition against Racial and Ethnic Discrimination, Culture Shock, Coalition for Accessible Education and the Queen’s Other Campaign.

Students had the opportunity to submit comments and feedback regarding to the proposed draft of the Code. The deadline for comments was Oct. 19.

Students also had the chance to voice their opinion on the issue at a public town hall meeting hosted by the AMS last week.

De Domenico said panelists at the meeting didn’t address the group’s concerns.

“Our position is that clauses that we have pointed out must be taken out because of the ramifications. We think that we are more passionate about this issue than the people who are drafting this,” he said. “I would be personally ashamed to say that I was at Queen’s and did nothing to stop this document from passing.”

AMS chief prosecutor Jeff Warshafsky said Students for Accessible Education should approach the Senate if they would like to see certain aspects of the draft changed.

“If they want to make sure that that is clearly delineated in the new code, they could have gone out and spoken to the senators,” he said. “I encourage them to do so.”

Warshafsky said he thinks Students for Accessible Education are doing the right thing by making their voices heard.

“I know that Eric made mention of taking this to another level, and I don’t know what that means … as long as what they do is within the current code of conduct, that’s fine with me.”

Harry Smith, SONAD secretary and co-ordinator of dispute resolution, said he believes these concerns are premature because SONAD hasn’t had the opportunity to properly review written submissions responding to the draft code.

“The information presented at the meeting will provide a basis for discussion. We are relying primarily on the written submissions,” he said. “I have not looked at any of the comments in close detail.”

Smith said the draft may change before it’s finalized.

“I’m not trying to defend what is found in the draft student code. Things that are included in the draft may or may not be there at the end,” he said. “This revised student code is much more explicit by what is expected by ways of student conduct. It does try to bring together other policies that are relevant to students.”

Smith said as of now, the decision regarding whether the proposed draft will ultimately be passed is in the Senate’s hands.

“It’s going to be the Senate’s position on the matter and that body will have its final say on the code.”

An informal Senate session to address the code is scheduled for Nov. 15. Students and community members are welcome to attend as visitors. Arrangements can be made through contacting the University Secretariat at 613-533-6095. The final draft of the Code will be sent to Senate in February.

—With files from Kerri MacDonald and Jane Switzer

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