Wall for freedom of speech removed

Poster promoted hate speech, University says

The poster, pictured above, was confiscated Tuesday by the University.
The poster, pictured above, was confiscated Tuesday by the University.
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Queen’s Students for Liberty (QSL) have filed a complaint with Kingston Police after Queen’s administration removed a Free Speech Wall as part of a campaign hosted by the club on Tuesday.

Students were encouraged to express their opinions by writing on the poster, which was erected in the lower ceileidh of the JDUC around 1 p.m. on Tuesday.

The poster, which was three and a half by eight feet long, was confiscated by Campus Security at 8:20 p.m. on Tuesday, following instructions by Queen’s Student Affairs and AMS President Doug Johnson.

In a statement released yesterday, Johnson said the poster included comments that violated Queen’s Code of Conduct, specifically its harassment and discrimination policy, by featuring “several phrases [that] were identified by the [Student Life Centre] that denigrated individuals based on race or religion, and alienated them from a space intended to be inclusive for all Queen’s students.”

According to the policy, racism is defined as “negative valuing, stereotyping, and discriminatory treatment of individuals and groups on the basis of their race.”

The policy prohibits racism in the form of “hate literature, graffiti, racial slurs and jokes, derogatory remarks and gestures, and physical attacks.”

The campaign, known as the Queen’s Free Speech Wall, was co-sponsored by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom (JCCF), in an effort to promote free speech at Queen’s.

JCCF is a Calgary-based centre that seeks to defend constitutional freedom for Canadians through litigation and education, according to their website.

The centre co-sponsored a Free Speech Wall event at Carleton University in January, which was vandalized by a student in response to homophobic comments written on the board.

Prior to its removal on Tuesday, students had written things like racial slurs and religious insults.

Other students had written “you can take back your actions but not your words,” “I’m appalled that I chose to come here … this is sad.” The statement “hate speech is not free speech” was written in black across the poster.

“While many events have potential for controversy, the AMS always allocates space on good faith and with the understanding that events must follow the code of conduct, unless it has explicit reason to suspect otherwise, which in this case it did not,” Taylor Mann, AMS communications officer, told the Journal via email.

According to a statement released by QSL representative Tyler Lively, AMS president Doug Johnson had sent club members an e-mail at 4:17 p.m. on Tuesday requesting them to remove unspecified offensive material from the poster.

Lively said he and other QSL members weren’t warned that the poster would be forcibly removed.

Michael Kennedy, JCCF’s communications coordinator, said the University’s actions violated student’s freedom of expression.

“You can’t take away someone’s right to free speech because you feel offended or somebody feels hurt or somebody dislikes or disagrees with somebody’s opinion, because that’s the whole point,” he said.

JCCF President and lawyer John Carpay, who is providing legal counsel to members of QSL, said that Campus Security acted illegally by taking down the poster.

“The canvas is the property of the club [as] they paid for it,” Carpay said. “The onus is on the University to justify why they were entitled to take it in the first place and why they were entitled to hang on to it.”

He added that Johnson failed to provide concrete evidence of hate speech to support removing the poster.

“The University refuses to even discuss anything aside from some vague allegation that it might violate some policy [and] that’s not good enough,” he said. “They need to provide the specifics and if they are not able to do that, they have no legal basis for hanging on to what is not their property.”

A complaint was filed with Kingston Police at 10 p.m. on Tuesday by QSL members, accusing Campus Security of theft. The complaint is in the process of being assigned and will undergo investigation.

Carpay said his clients haven’t determined whether they plan to take further legal action. He added that the University has not been formally contacted regarding the matter.

Despite their claims, Queen’s Provost Alan Harrison echoed Johnson, saying that the poster constitutes hate speech.

“We do not regard this as a [violation] of free speech as we believe even free speech has its limits and that’s an opinion shared by the Supreme Court of Canada,” he said. “That’s our position and they are fully at liberty to take issue with that.”

He added that Campus Security didn’t steal the poster.

“We took it down,” he said. “We are in the process of returning it to its rightful owners.”

A new poster has been erected in the JDUC for the event; however, QSL members were told by Johnson that comments would be supervised.

Samar Bushnaq, who read the original poster prior to it being removed, said the derogatory comments reflect a systemic problem at Queen’s.

“It needs to be acknowledged more widely that this exists,” Bushnaq, ArtSci ’14, said. “I chose this school and I love it but slowly throughout the years there are so many opinions that have come across to me that are so shocking.”

Bushnaq, who is an international student from Jordan, said she was personally affected by the comments.

“I am affected not just because of wherever I come from but just as a part of this Queen’s community,” she said. “You want it to be a community that recognizes everyone on an equal basis.”

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