Danielle Smith: Court delivers a blow to free speech

Ryerson University is seen in this file photo. Roberto Machado Noa / LightRocket / File / Getty Images

I knew the ideological climate at universities was bad, but read on to discover just how bad it really is.

John Carpay with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms has been fighting a battle on behalf of three student groups. Each group is fighting their university’s students’ union for the right to have club status. Two are pro-life groups, while the other is a men’s rights group.

The reason club status is important is because it allows students to participate in clubs week to recruit new members, book rooms for free, advertise events on campus, host speakers and so on.

Being part of the students’ union is mandatory; all students must pay dues. So, you would think all students would be able to participate in the club of their choice – you would be wrong.

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What possible argument could a students’ union make for disallowing these clubs? The University of Toronto Mississauga UTM Students for Life were told they were refused because of their “stance on abortion.”

Speak for the Weak was denied by the Student Association at Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology because allowing the club would violate “human rights” and constitute “systemic societal oppression.”

I have never heard of anything so ridiculous. I am pro-choice but I have always had staunchly pro-life friends and family members. It makes for some lively conversations but I don’t believe listening to someone make a case for other options for unplanned pregnancies is “systemic societal oppression.”

The Ryerson Men’s Issues Awareness Society is the real headscratcher. The group tries to bring awareness about issues that disproportionately affect boys, such as higher suicide rates, homelessness, workplace injuries and failure in school. It currently has a female president and half of its members are female – and why wouldn’t it?

As women, we all have grandfathers, fathers, brothers, husbands, boyfriends, sons, nephews and male friends that we care about. If there are issues that disproportionately affect them, we should be talking about it. But Ryerson’s students’ union argues that the Women and Trans Collective were already dealing with these issues, and that because men have “systemic privilege,” a club like this couldn’t be allowed because it would “harass” women and make them feel “unsafe.”

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I’d really like to meet the woman who says talking about the fact that men are more likely to be homeless, penniless, living in the rough, begging for food, sleeping in shelters, suffering from PTSD, addiction, mental illness and unable to work makes them – as a woman – feel harassed and unsafe.

I’d like to hear this woman – from her privileged position enrolled in a university – explain how homeless men have a “systemic privilege” which makes her feel so oppressed no one should even be allowed to discuss it.

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Save a bit of outrage for the next part of the story.

All three cases were heard on Jan. 24 and a decision came down on Feb. 26. The court dismissed the case, despite the fact the student unions’ have policy statements saying they support free expression and free association.  (You can find policy statements from all three students’ unions by clicking here, here and here.)

Here’s the thing: If you only allow speech that you agree with and you only allow association that you agree with, there is nothing “free” about it.

I suggested to Carpay that this fact alone may point to an error in law that would give him grounds to appeal. He hasn’t decided on whether to do that, because he isn’t sure it would be successful.

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The court said in its decision, in part, that there is “no entitlement to union club status and official status has nothing to do with freedom to associate or freedom of expression” and that the group “lost little, if anything, from not being an official club on campus.”

If you can’t rely on the courts to uphold your rights to free speech that’s a big problem. But an even bigger problem is these mini-dictators on university students’ unions are the so-called leaders of tomorrow. That’s a thought that makes me feel “unsafe.”

Danielle Smith can be reached at



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