UBC Students’ Right to Protest is Protected by Charter

PEN Canada press release


TORONTO, December 4, 2014 – PEN Canada is concerned about the tone and content of a message recently sent by a University of British Columbia administrator to over two hundred international students in the university’s forestry department.

The email cautioned the students about participating in recent protests on Burnaby Mountain over the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, warning that for students with study permits an arrest “would mean an immediate end to your studies at UBC and could also mean immediate deportation.”

Subsequently, a UBC spokesperson clarified that, while an arrest might cause immigration issues, students are free to protest as they see fit, and that UBC does not direct the actions of students off campus when they are engaged as private citizens in non-university activity. The university also stated that it would not take disciplinary action against students involved in the protests.

“One of the things that makes Canada a safe haven for free speech is the fact that we afford the same rights to everyone within our borders, regardless of their citizenship,” said William Kowalski, Chair of PEN Canada’s Canadian Issues Committee. “When we start denying Charter rights to people based on their citizenship, we are saying that only Canadian citizens deserve these protections, which undermines our position that this is in fact a basic human right.”

PEN Canada considers that both the original email and clarification were a missed opportunity for positive messaging to the international community about the Charter right of all people resident in Canada, including international students, to lawful protest and freedom of expression.

PEN Canada is a nonpartisan organization of writers that works with others to defend freedom of expression as a basic human right at home and abroad. PEN Canada promotes literature, fights censorship, helps free persecuted writers from prison, and assists writers living in exile in Canada. PEN Canada is the Canadian centre of PEN International, a community of writers that operates on five continents and in over 100 countries.

For further information please contact Brendan de Caires: bdecaires@pencanada.ca, 416-703-8448 ext. 21