Calgary organization criticizes Carleton, CUSA on free speech

Carleton University and its undergraduate student union received failing grades for not promoting free speech by a Calgary-based think-tank.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) is a registered charity that aims to “defend the constitutional freedoms of Canadians” through legal action, according to its website.

The organization gave Carleton and the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA) failing grades in a recent report on free speech on university campuses, that saw many other universities and student unions criticized for limiting free speech.

Both grades related to how CUSA and the university dealt with Carleton Lifeline, an anti-abortion group that was on campus.

John Carpay and Michael Kennedy of the JCCF wrote the report that awarded letter grades to 35 Canadian universities based on the state of free speech on their campuses.

Carpay was a Wildrose candidate in the most recent provincial elections in Alberta.

Kennedy described the current state of free speech on Canadian campuses as “abysmal” and expresses concerns that universities may not be fulfilling their role.

“The university, of all places, should be the place where you can speak your mind and not be worried about somebody trying to censor that speech,” Kennedy said.

“There’s a lot of room for improvement. The average mark for universities and student unions on their actions was a ‘D,’” Carpay said.

Student unions and universities were graded separately, based on their policies, as well as their actions. The report found that while many universities and student unions passed in terms of their written policies, their actions did not reflect those ideals.

In the report, CUSA received failing grades for both student union policies and principles, and student union actions and practices.

The report attributed the failing grade to CUSA denying Carleton Lifeline funding and official club status because the group’s constitution conflicted with CUSA’s Discrimination on Campus Policy, Nov. 11, 2010.

“We would like to see [CUSA] tackle some of these policies that deny resources and space to pro-life groups on campus, for example . . . because CUSA has one of the worst reputations of upholding free speech,” Kennedy said.

The report’s findings “are not fully representative of the current state of affairs at Carleton University and the Carleton University Students’ Association,” CUSA president Alexander Golovko said via email.

However, Golovko said he does see the report as an opportunity to improve campus life at Carleton.

“My team and I are always striving to ensure that there are open and accessible debates on issues that matter to students. At the same time, these results show us that there is still work to be done and I am confident that my team and I are up to the task,” Golovko said.

“We are always reviewing our policies to ensure that they are reflective and representative of the needs and interests of our students,” Golovko said.

At the university level, Carleton receives a failing grade for university actions and practices. The report attributes this to how Carleton had members of Carleton Lifeline arrested on campus for trespassing after refusing to remove a graphic display on Oct. 4, 2010.

“Carleton is one of the worst universities. It has one of the worst reputations for free expression,” Kennedy said.

Carleton has declined to comment on the report’s findings at this time, according to media-relations co-ordinator Chris Cline.