Freedom of expression on campus
By Wei Wu, Contributor
On Oct. 30, pro-life demonstrators stood by L.R. Wilson Hall carrying signs with images of aborted fetuses. It is not clear whether the demonstrators were students at McMaster, or whether they had connections to any existing clubs.
According to Michael Coutu, a student at McMaster, the demonstrators exposed passersby to their signs and distributed pamphlets, which contained graphic images of aborted fetuses. Coutu is concerned about whether the demonstrators received clearance to be on campus.
“Although they were not particularly loud or disruptive, I still found the images and rhetoric being spread very concerning and ill-advised,” said Coutu.
Students have raised their concerns online regarding the contrast between the Oct. 30 situation to the May 11 protest during May at Mac, in which student activists were ticketed for trespassing during a peaceful protest that criticized McMaster regarding a range of issues. One of the issues was sexual abuse within student organizations such as the Maroons.
Initially, the May at Mac demonstrators did not provide identification when asked to do so by security and were asked to leave. However, some of these individuals returned and continued their demonstration later on, which resulted in them being ticketed for trespassing.
Mac Daily News released an update after May 11, stating that university security had been working with limited information at the time. According to this update, security had approached the May at Mac protestors because of complaints from community members about the protestors’ pamphlets, which included “unsubstantiated allegations” made against a named McMaster student. Still, the update referred to the method of ticketing as “regrettable and unfortunate”. The university stated they would take steps to rescind tickets and clear them from the students’ records.
The juxtaposition between how the university approached the protests of May 11 and Oct. 30 — initially issuing trespassing tickets and charges for one group but not the other — raises questions regarding the limits of protesting on campus and the types of images that are allowed to be publicized on campus.
In a statement on freedom of expression, McMaster University clearly states that it supports the freedom of expression of all its members, as well as freedom of association and peaceful assembly for all of its members. The university affirms that members of the McMaster community have the right to exchange ideas, challenge received wisdom, engage in respectful debate, discuss controversial issues and engage in peaceful protest.
So long as students do not infringe on the rights and freedoms of others, students are free to host and participate in demonstrations at McMaster. Members of the McMaster community are not required to obtain permission from the university administration in order to protest or demonstrate on campus.
Although the demonstration on Oct. 30 touched upon a highly sensitive topic that some individuals may have found deeply disturbing, university policy protects the right to share their beliefs and engage in public discourse at McMaster.
“Other images, even though we might not agree with them, we might not find them agreeable, would be allowed and permitted. That’s part of the freedoms of expression the university campus has,” said Gord Arbeau, McMaster’s Director of Communications, adding that he did not know about the pro-life demonstration.
McMaster maintains that it supports freedom of expression and peaceful protests on campus.