A report by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms was critical of the Memorial University of Newfoundland Students’ Union (MUNSU) in its annual report on “campus freedom.” The report, entitled the “2013 Campus Freedom Index” gave MUNSU an “F” grade in free speech practices.
The index graded both free speech “policies” and “practices” of 45 universities across Canada, of which more than half failed. In addition to the “F” in free speech practices, MUNSU received a “D” in policy, in contrast to MUN’s administration, which received a “B” in both categories. MUNSU is not in bad company; other university students’ unions to fail both categories include McGill, Queen’s, Ryerson, University of British Columbia, University of Calgary, University of Victoria, and York University.
The Campus Freedom Index cited the justification for MUNSU’s grade as its 2007 refusal to ratify the pro-life advocacy group, “MUN Students for Life” as an official Memorial club. MUN Students for Life has been inactive since MUNSU’s refusal, and no other pro-life group has been ratified by MUNSU in the time in-between.
It also criticizes the broadness of MUNSU’s policies regarding discrimination in official clubs. It states “MUNSU will not ratify any group that the council considers to be of a homophobic, racist, ageist, sexist or otherwise discriminatory nature.” The report continues, saying “This empowers student politicians to censor any speech they deem to be ‘discriminatory’ by forcing restrictions on a club, or denying ratification entirely. The term ‘discriminatory’ is not only vague and subjective, but also very broad.”
The report attributes MUNSU’s decision not to ratify the pro-life group not to its previously stated policies, but to its connection with the Canadian Federation of Students. It says “It should be noted that this particular provision was not used in order to ban the pro-life club MUN for Life [sic]; that particular ban was based on MUN’s association with the Canadian Federation of Students, which holds a pro-choice stance in its Declaration of Student Rights and does not allow member Student Unions to endorse opposite stances.”
Of the 2007 decision, MUNSU Director of External Affairs Candace Simms said “MUNSU affirms the necessity of free speech in a democratic society; however, it is also the responsibility of the elected Board of Directors to ensure members feel safe and welcome on our campus. As a result, MUNSU reviews clubs and societies on an annual basis, and groups that infringe on the rights of members or contravene the policies and bylaws voted on by the Board cannot be ratified.”