A Dalhousie University student says she’s received a number of threats since going public with an ongoing conduct dispute between her and Dalhousie’s Senate Discipline Committee.
Masuma Khan, Vice President Academic and External for the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU), is under investigation for a Facebook post she wrote addressing backlash against the student union’s decision to not celebrate Canada 150.
Over the weekend, Khan’s lawyer Nasha Nijhawan of Nijhawan McMillan Barristers took to social media, posting an example of one of the hate-filled messages being directed towards her client.
A group of 25 employees from Dalhousie’s Schulich Law School signed a letter addressed to Dr. Kevin Hewitt, the Chair of the Dalhousie Senate, asking that the senate allow an environment in which “political speech can flourish.”
The letter does not explicitly mention Khan or a specific incident but pushes for the Dalhousie Senate to not act as police and censor the school’s political speech.
Khan’s original post, which has since been deleted, cited her refusal to stand with “privileged white people” celebrating “over 400 years of genocide.”
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Civil liberties groups voice support for Khan
In a letter to Dalhousie president Richard Florizone, the Ontario Civil Liberties Association says the university is using its disciplinary powers to suppress freedom of speech.
The group is calling on Dalhousie to repeal its policies, which the association says are inconsistent with Canada’s core values of freedom of thought and expression.
The civil liberties group says social media posts are a form of public speech in the so-called digital public square.
“They are off-campus activities as much as a debate in any public venue would be,” Joseph Hickey, executive director of the Ontario Civil Liberties Association, said in the letter.
“We believe that universities have no business interfering with the conduct of its students at such public off-campus venues,” he said. “The legitimate desire for a functional learning environment ought not to be used as a smokescreen to stifle political debate and silence dissent.”
Hickey added: “Dalhousie University must refrain from using the blunt tool of student discipline for indoctrinating students in what to think and feel, and instead must allow open and public debate on controversial matters.”
Arig al Shaibah, Dalhousie’s vice-provost of student affairs, said in a statement that the university’s code of conduct allows students to raise concerns about behaviour they feel negatively impacts their learning environment and experience.
“With complaints of this nature, we engage in efforts to resolve issues through informal, educational and conversational means,” she said last week. “If individuals involved are not agreeable to informal means to resolve matters, the code dictates that the matter must be referred to the senate discipline committee for a hearing.”
— With files from the Canadian Press