The Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA) held an emergency meeting Jan 27 to condemn human rights student Arun Smith for tearing down a free-speech wall erected by campus group Carleton Students for Liberty (CSFL).
In a draft motion obtained by Xtra, CUSA urges the Carleton Academic Student Government (CASG) to impeach Smith as a departmental representative. An emergency CASG meeting will take place Jan 29.
Smith did not attend the CUSA meeting, calling it “a kangaroo court.”
Smith, who coordinates Carleton’s Challenge Homophobia and Transphobia campaign, received national attention for tearing down the free-speech wall in the early morning hours of Jan 22.
Messages written on the wall that Smith took offence to included “Traditional marriage is awesome” and “Abortion is murder.”
CSFL erected a second wall soon after.
Smith says it is no coincidence that the wall appeared on the first day of Campus Pride Week. “When we allow people in positions of power and social privilege to speak freely, we silence people in marginalized or minority communities,” he says. “We have to take action against that.”
Cara Zwibel, director of the fundamental freedoms program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, says free speech on campus should always be encouraged.
“We need to remember and be aware of the fact that free speech has been crucial to minority groups and voices that are typically silenced,” she says.
Smith says Carleton administration is considering the act a category one, the lowest rating for an offence. The maximum penalty is a 48-hour expulsion from campus. “We’re talking about $35 worth of wood,” he says.
Ryan Flannagan, Carleton’s director of student affairs, did not respond to a request for comment.
Erica Butler, coordinator for Carleton’s GLBTQ Centre, says she is not sure how she feels about Smith’s actions, but she is uncomfortable with the free-speech wall.
“From my position as a service centre coordinator, there was a lot of triggering stuff on that wall,” she says. “It was unfortunate to watch the students that I deal with reacting to that wall. I can certainly see why Arun reached the level of frustration that he did.”
One message on the second wall reads, “Israel is the only civilized country in the Middle East.”
Butler considers the post racist and brought her concern to equity services.
“They said there was nothing they could do,” Butler says. “That’s been frustrating to observe, the lack of Carleton’s commitment to enforce its own policies.”
Smith calls this post “pure racism. It’s Islamaphobia; it’s anti-Arab sentiment.”
Zwibel says all messages should stay on the wall, no matter how inflammatory they may be.
“The response to speech you don’t like is more speech,” Zwibel says. “Students who disagree with that comment about Israel and students who think it’s racist should express themselves on the wall.”
CSFL did not respond to a request for comment; however, campus coordinator Ian CoKehyeng told Carleton’s newspaper, The Charlatan, that the controversy can be summed up as free speech ending where feelings begin.
“Under what circumstances can we ban people’s opinions?” CoKehyeng asks. “We feel that university is supposed to be an area of discourse and free thought, but it’s actually the opposite. We have less free speech on campus.”
Smith and Butler are seeking election to CUSA this week as faculty of arts and social sciences councillors.