No Free Speech On Campus

BY Jim Byset

RYERSON STUDENT UNION (RSU) kicked off their annual elections amid a buzz of activity yesterday – while an undercurrent of controversy brews at the former polytechnic. A number of RSU veterans are taking part in this year’s election, which runs until February 5, with Rejean Holliet widely regarded to land the top job of RSU President.  The campus, ordinarily hectic, was especially frenetic in recent days with eager campaign helpers running to and fro, soliciting votes, handing out flyers, all friendly, all smiles. Campus campaigners have mastered that fine art of grabbing the attention of passers-by – BIG smile, tilt head to an almost impossible angle, BIG wave, move towards – but not directly into intended victim’s path – and top it off with a saccharine sweet HI!!! before asking that question – the question that every single pedestrian trying to get somewhere dreads “do you have a minute…?” Some, however, eschew this method and go even further making a veritable pantomime of the approach – doing whatever they can to attract eye contact and spark conversation. Some ask bizarre questions; some make weird noises; some even walk directly into the path of oncoming human traffic.

The cheerleading and glad-handing on campus, while not as polished and somewhat more effusive, still doesn’t differ all that much from the real world, political kind. Just like real world democratic politicking – there is an urgent need to engage the electorate because, obviously, there is a need for votes. There is a need to present the best possible image – to be picture perfect. But just like real world politics – the truth is never pristine; the truth is often hidden behind hyper-managed public images. And those truths, those agendas, are often very, very dirty indeed.

On February 6, the day after elections close, Karen Straughan will speak at Ryerson. Hers is the first in an ambitious series of eight lectures at eight different Canadian universities being promoted by CAFE throughout 2014. Straughan aims to address a number of topics with her time at the lectern, not least of all, free speech on Canadian campuses.

Ryerson achieved national notoriety last year when they summarily dismissed an application for a men’s group at the Toronto campus. Justification for the ban came from RSU President apparent Rajean Holiett – who said in interview with campus newspaper ‘The Ryersonian’ in October 2013 that “what we saw happening at the University of Toronto (UofT) is that these men’s rights groups were creating very problematic and unsafe spaces for women-identified folk on the campus. They would create conversations that blamed female victims and survivors of rape for their rape.” Holiett’s claims are not only extraordinary but are patently untrue. Holiett, to be blunt, is relying on scare tactics to silence the voices of those who oppose the hegemonic  stranglehold on gender discourse at Ryerson, and other Canadian universities.  And, there’s likely more to come.

RSU, again, are choosing to play their UofT trump card, this time citing security concerns because of past flashpoints at the UofT campus – flashpoints that were deliberately created by feminist protestors. CAFE staged a number of academic lectures at UofT that were violently disrupted by feminists – lectures by Dr. Janice Fiamengo and Dr. Warren Farrell being the most notable examples.

And now, with Straughan’s lecture just days away, Ryerson administration and the RSU have smacked CAFE with a $1,600 security fee to host the event and have shifted the venue from the Mattamy Athletic Centre, to a 7th floor room that holds just 100 people at the Chang School for Continuing Education. Both of these moves are deliberately designed to cause as much disruption as possible. RSU, and Ryerson’s administration simply want CAFE to go away. For all of their talk about inclusion, diversity, and equality, RSU is a blinkered, ideologically driven organization that is not interested in propagating a truly inclusive environment. Their modus operandi is to reject criticism – to reject differing points of view – to spread mistruths about those with whom they disagree and ultimately to bully and harass.

RSU and Ryerson administration are aware that CAFE has made significant strides with their efforts at UofT – effectively garnering public and media support behind their efforts. It has reached the point where feminist protestors now longer employ their fascist, bullying tactics. The tide, at least at UofT, has turned.

Yet, this change has come at a cost. It is likely that more radicalized student unions and supine administrations will ape UofT’s example and try to penalize CAFE with ‘security fees.’ Of course, the intent of these fees is extremely transparent – not only to the wider MHRM but CAFE themselves – it is an attempt to cause as much financial damage as possible.

If this is to be avoided then CAFE must take decisive action and if necessary, legal action. A situation must not develop where CAFE or any other group who seek to address men’s issues are singled out for such treatment.

George Bernard Shaw famously said that ‘democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve.’ Of that there is little doubt and the situation is unlikely to change at Ryerson, at least not any time soon. However, it is hoped that by the time the next batch of RSU hopefuls appear next year that the idea of men’s rights is no longer an issue, and that groups like CAFE continue to make further gains on, and off-campus.

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