Queen’s improves free speech grade

AMS handling of Men’s Issues Awareness Society helped bring grade up

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) recently raised the “practicing” grade of the AMS from an F in 2013 to a C in the 2014 Campus Freedom Index.

The Campus Freedom Index measures the state of free speech at Canadian universities by grading the policy and practice of both the administration and the student government.

The recent report gave Queen’s administration a C and an F for their policy and practice respectively, which was the same in the 2013 report. The 2014 report also didn’t change the 2013 grade of student government policy, which was a D.

The report specifically cites certain ambiguities in both administration and student union policies on the definition of discrimination in its justification of the low policy grades.

The report also cited the AMS’s decision to vote down a motion made by a member-at-large to de-ratify the Queen’s Men’s Issues Awareness Society (MIAS). The member-at-large said the motion was made because of “the manner in which [MIAS] members have chosen to publicly undermine feminism and anti-rape culture discourse on campus”.

Although it wasn’t popular with some Queen’s students, the AMS’s action in protecting the MIAS’s freedom of expression was one of the reasons for the rise in the AMS practicing grade in the 2014 index, the report said.

The AMS “Representation Policy” was also cited in the report. The policy states: “The AMS shall not take positions on governmental policy or political issues that do not directly relate to Queen’s University and its students, and commits itself to a general policy of political neutrality regarding such issues.”

Michael Kennedy, communications and development coordinator at JCCF, said the AMS Representation Policy was a “positive note” for the AMS, and he condemned other student unions for taking a “blanket” stance on political issues.

“[Students] who disagree with them feel like they don’t have a voice in the union,” he said.

The report also cited an April 2, 2013 incident where, under instructions from University administration, Campus Security removed a free speech wall in the JDUC put up as part of a Queen’s Students for Liberty (QSFL) project. The project was co-sponsored by the JCCF.

The 2013 report described the incident under the heading of “worst universities” and said the University took down the wall without citing any specific examples of “offensive content” on the wall.

The University said the wall promoted hate speech. Then-AMS President Doug Johnson said the Student Life Centre had identified several phrases on the wall that “denigrated individuals based on race or religion”.

Kennedy said the incident surrounding the Free Speech Wall was the primary reason for the 2013 practicing grade of F given to the University administration and the AMS in 2013.

“Both parties were involved in censoring that student display, which should not have been removed,” he said.

The AMS and the University were unable to comment prior to deadline.

Tyler Lively, QSFL president, said freedom of speech is an international issue. There are people worldwide who have been targeted for expressing their opinions, he said.

“It’s not just to bring attention to it here,” he said. “It’s to bring attention to it around the world.”

Lively said his opinions don’t necessarily reflect those of QSFL.

He added that the policy of the AMS “seems to illustrate the importance of free speech but there needs to be more focus on their actions”.

“For the AMS administration and the University administration to put free speech over public relations — that’s what it all comes down to,” he said.

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