“Ryerson is in bed with Ford,” members of the Black Liberation Collective (BLC) shouted Monday as they protested the university’s freedom of expression draft statement.
The BLC, an on-campus advocacy group for black students, gathered at Gould and Victoria Streets, where they urged students to contact the senate to withhold the statement. This effort to stop the statement from moving forward comes ahead of the senate’s decision, which was to be announced Tuesday evening.
Co-founder of the BLC, Josh Lamers, said that his group plans to do everything in its power to stop the freedom of expression draft from being approved.
“The gag order of policy, which is what it really is, is a complete restriction, because what it says is that students can’t stop people who might be rape apologists, people who might be white supremacists, people who might be Holocaust deniers, for example,” said Lamers. “It allows these people to have space on campus and do so freely without students being able to disrupt those spaces.”
On Monday morning, posters were found across campus showing cartoon drawings of Ontario Premier Doug Ford and the Ryerson Ram holding a banner that reads “Anti-black & anti-native, racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, ableism.”
Another poster says “Ryerson & Ford are in bed together,” and shows Ford in a bed underneath a blanket with Ryerson’s logo. The BLC took credit for the posters on its Facebook page, where it also posted an open letter to Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi.
In the letter, the BLC demanded that Lachemi pull the statement before it goes to the senate, and that Ryerson reflect on the restrictions that the statement places on groups like the BLC to fight for freedoms.
In response to this frustration, James Turk, the director of Ryerson’s Centre for Free Expression, said that the revised statement is not much different from the one that Ryerson adopted in 2010.
“The new statement is just a much clearer statement about free expression,” said Turk. “I think it’s a better written and more comprehensive statement than the old one.”
Turk added that similar to the old statement, the revised statement highlights what’s allowed when it comes to free speech on campus.
“It’s more explicit about the right of people to protest than our old statement,” said Turk. ‘But it does draw the line, in the same place the old statement [does] and in the same place like every other university statement in North America does, and that is you can’t prevent somebody else from speaking just because you don’t like it.”
Essentially, Turk said that groups can’t physically prevent other groups from speaking, but they’re encouraged to engage in anti-protests — a sentiment that was also part of the previous statement.
“What they don’t realize is that the principal victims, if you have that kind of thing that whoever has power can shut down the voice that you don’t like, the losers are members of marginalized groups.”
In an interview Monday morning prior to the protest, Lachemi said that Ryerson must have a freedom of expression policy to protect people’s ability to speak about issues that matter to them.
“It’s a university and at the end of the day, it’s a platform where you have to provide enough room for people to express their views.”
But Lamers said that if the statement is approved by the senate, Ryerson will be removing that platform from marginalized groups.
“Ryerson cannot be a social justice-oriented university institution if in fact it is willing to discipline and shun and push out black, Indigenous, queer, trans and women activists. It’s just not possible…”