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BCCLA condemns university harassment decision

The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has sent a strongly worded letter to senior officials of the University of Victoria condemning the decision of Dr. Penelope Codding, Vice President, Academic and Provost that Lorenzo Bouchard had violated UVic’s harassment policy for expressing his views on campus. The Association is demanding that the university reverse its decision and revise its current harassment policy.

Dr. Codding had accepted an arbitration panel’s finding that Lorenzo Bouchard committed harassment based on the expression of his opinions on aboriginal treaties and ordered that Mr. Bouchard obtain approval of the University prior to distributing any of his opinions on campus and not commit any further harassment.

According to Craig Jones, BCCLA president, the decisions of Dr. Codding and the arbitration panel are a profound attack on the principles of free expression, free inquiry and academic freedom.

“We had hoped that UVic could sufficiently distinguish between harassment and behaviour that, while strident and possibly offensive, could not be reasonably said to prevent members of the university community from participating as equals in the community.”

Jones notes that the decision establishes a code of behaviour, not just for visitors to UVic like Mr. Bouchard, but also for students, staff, and professors.

Mr. Bouchard’s views, adamantly critical of the present B.C. Aboriginal treaty process, were expressed in a newsletter and on a sign carrying the message “Original treaties for only 100 percent Blood Aboriginals”. In addition to the content of his opinions, the conduct the arbitration panel found to constitute harassment included “aggressive eye contact”, “body language used to engage the observer”, extending a hand carrying a copy of his pamphlet to passersby including aboriginal students and violating one aboriginal student’s “right to remain a curious passerby” by looking at her as she walked past.

Mr. Bouchard is familiar to residents of Victoria for his one-man demonstrations at the legislature and the university, among other locations. After UVic’s previous President had refused to prevent Mr. Bouchard from expressing his views, some students complained under UVic’s Harassment Policy. An arbitration panel hearing was ordered after an investigation report concluded that he had violated the policy. The BCCLA had sent a letter to Dr. Codding prior to her decision and other administrators urging them to ignore all the recommendations of the panel, to no avail. The BCCLA is concerned that the Bouchard affair is just another example of a growing trend at university campus in which minority opinions are being squashed. Some further examples of this trend include:

  • UBC’s adminstration placing a heavy financial requirement on a pro-life group that wanted to erect a large anti-abortion display, despite the fact that threats of violence came from those opposed the viewpoints of the group
  • UBC student society executive members destroying a smaller pro-life display erected by the same group
  • UVic’s Student Society denying club status to a pro-life student group on the grounds that the club’s views ran contrary to the society’s “official” pro-choice position

Jones believes that “it’s time to take a hard look at the real lessons students are taught at B.C.’s universities: official intolerance and censorship of unpopular views are increasingly the order of the day.”

The University of Victoria has yet to offer any response to the BCCLA’s concerns in this matter.

Copies of the BCCLA letter, the decisions of Dr. Codding and the arbitration panel and Mr. Bouchard’s newsletter are available from the Association’s office.