Ryerson President puts manners on student union

BY Jim Byset

The Canadian Association for Equality (CAFE) has become used to opposition. Since its formation they have come under sustained and unprovoked attack from those who wish to maintain control of the political gender discourse in Canada. Their opponents have ranged from bit-part, anarchist politicians to prominent feminists and, of course, ideologically driven student unions. CAFE, in insisting upon a more inclusive, civil debate, has been ridiculously labelled as a hate group. This message, however, has lost almost all traction over the last year or so; indeed it seems that only those convinced of their own ignorance still believe this sham. The overwhelming majority within the Canadian media now accept the quite obvious fact that CAFE are neither a hate group, nor composed of misogynists. And that message is spreading.

Yesterday’s announcement from Ryerson University President Sheldon Levy, that the university will absorb the cost of the extra security for CAFE’s upcoming  event is not only extremely welcome but a recognition of CAFE’s status as an organization dedicated to expanding the debate on gender issues – particularly as they pertain to men. In a statement released to the National Post, Levy described the ludicrous imposition of a “security fee” as a “barrier to freedom of expression.”

Levy’s announcement comes as a stinging rebuke to those within the Ryerson Student Union (RSU) who, in an act of malice designed to stifle free speech, levied the unprecedented fee on CAFE for extra security at the event. The lecture, featuring YouTube sensation Karen Straughan, is slated for February 6 and was put into jeopardy when RSU called a meeting between CAFE representatives and Ryerson security, just days away from the event. At the meeting RSU told CAFE that they believed that there was a security risk at the original venue of Mattamy Athletic Centre. Consequently, they decided to move the event to the Chang School of Continuing Education to a far smaller room – and to hand CAFE a bill for $1,600. As has been widely reported, this act was a transparent attempt to disrupt the event and cause financial damage to CAFE. Neither Ryerson nor RSU have divulged any information to the media relating to these supposed security threats.

It is clear that RSU feel that bullying and harassment are legitimate forms of direct action. However, the timing of Levy’s announcement is extremely serendipitous; RSU is in the midst of annual elections and Levy’s decision will act not only as a reminder to RSU as to who is really in charge at the university, but also as a stiff object lesson. Silencing those you regard as your opponents is never acceptable. Levy’s remarks – that ‘the cost was a barrier to freedom of expression’ will no doubt anger those within the student union – but in truth, it should shame them.

RSU need to reflect upon their actions. The idea that freedom of expression is a right that applies only to those with whom we agree is deranged, and ultimately dangerous not only to the reputation of Ryerson University – but also to Canadian society. It is worrying that Rajean Holiett, who has in the past made grossly inaccurate, incendiary statements regarding the MHRM, is likely to win the RSU presidential race. It was Holiett who was instrumental in denying three Ryerson students the right to form a men’s issues group at Ryerson in March of last year. Holiett, speaking to Ryerson University Television (RUTV), pointedly referred to CAFE’s men’s group at UofT, as something he didn’t want to see at Ryerson. “They, like, talk about rape in very problematic ways and blame survivors and rape victims for their raping. These are things that we didn’t want to bring to our campus; I didn’t think that student union resources were best spent on these kinds of conversations.” If Holiett is successful in landing the top job in RSU, it is likely that Ryerson will see RSU attempt an even more draconian clampdown on free speech there.

However, with Levy’s effective denouncement of RSU’s anti-free speech antics and the growing recognition that CAFE and the wider MHRM are in fact legitimate, it is unlikely that Holiett et al will find a receptive audience for further repressive actions. It would be better for all involved if they simply stopped, and tried listening. It is, after all, how we learn things.

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