The University of Alberta has the capability to ban and remove people from its property. It’s a part of the legislation and bylaws that all universities in Alberta operate under. The institution’s properties are private. The University has its own security force, colloquially known as Campus 5-0. And, to get into the minutiae of policing, the University of Alberta has numerous rules and bylaws governing risk management—an entire department exists to ensure the university is not sued for anything that happens on its property. In order to hold an event such as a barbecue, students have to fill out form after form and make assurances nothing will go wrong. The idea that a university campus is where freedom of expression bubbles forth from an unending fountain of youth and spontaneity is a gross misrepresentation of the regulations, restrictions and general fear of risking funding and attention that encompasses many campuses today. When Occupy Edmonton attempted to hold a protest on the U of A campus last Wednesday, they walked right into this culture of rules, regulations and fear, and were greeted by a wall of police officers preventing the group from even getting on campus.
The U of A is not the first university to remove undesirable protesters from its property. The University of Calgary decided to oust anti-gay protester Bill Whatcott in 2005 and 2008. Whatcott then successfully brought the university to court stating his Charter rights had been violated. And they had. This past November a provincial court ruled Whatcott, a non-student, non-alumni, had his Charter rights violated when he was removed from campus in handcuffs.
The Occupy movement, and those students and faculty attempting public protest, should consider the success of this challenge. Across the country Occupiers have been thrown out of public and private parks. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association is currently working to call attention to the fact the removal of protesters has been done against their Charter right to freedom of assembly and expression and stated their concern in a submission to the UN special rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and association. It looks like universities can be added to that state of concern.
In preventing protesters from gaining access to its property the University may have been attempting to teach protesters a lesson in the rules of proper protest on it’s hallowed grounds, but here’s hoping the administration is forced to do a bit more research into its own responsibility to uphold public discussion even when it doesn’t occur within its own culture of rules and regulations.