The Racialized Students’ Collective (RSC) at Ryerson “may have had the right” to prevent two white, first-year journalism students from attending their event, according to a constitutional lawyer.

He says their exclusion from the meeting  — which led to a firestorm of comments across the spectrum as the story went viral  — might have been justified because the right to privacy of those in the meeting would trump the students’ right to report the event.

“If these people have a right to privacy, which I think they would in these sorts of counselling sessions, essentially they’re going to a safe space,” says Brendan Myers Miller, a constitutional lawyer from Calgary.

“The media’s right to access to that is overwritten by that. That expectation of privacy is higher than the right of the press to report.”

Trevor Hewitt and Julia Knope attended an event hosted by the RSC on March 11 to cover it for a class assignment.

When the students arrived to the event, it was explained to them that the meeting was a safe space for marginalized persons.

A safe space in the public realm is where marginalized people can share their views and experiences free of judgment.

The students were asked to leave because they were reporters and were not victims of racialization.

“They said, ‘I’m sorry, this is a safe space for racialized students and if you’re not a racialized student, I’m going to have to ask you to leave,’” said Hewitt.

Organizers for the event said they would be willing to have a discussion with the reporters after the event via email.

Posters advertising the event did not state that it was a safe space.

When asked about it, RSU president Rajean Hoilett stood firm and said the advertisement for the event was clear and intended for racialized students only.

“I think we are talking about semantics. The fact that this space was advertised for racialized students should paint a picture of who should be at the event and have access to that space,” said Hoilett.

Hoilett also confirmed that “the two students were not allowed to attend because they identified as white and not victims of racialization, that and because they identified themselves as reporters.”

The RSU president said that the Racialised Students’ Collective isn’t the only group that holds safe-space meetings on campus.

He lists Rye Pride and the Centre for Women and Trans People as having similar events and says that although the university doesn’t have any policies on safe spaces, it’s a general practice that’s happened on campus before.

“People have been respectful of the spaces in the past and understand the need to have them,” said Hoilett. “All of those spaces are incredibly important for students to talk about their lived experiences.”

The Racialised Students’ Collective is holding its next event on March 31 to discuss reverse racism.

Nitish Bissonauth graduated from the Ryerson School of Journalism in 2015. He was the newsroom manager, line-up editor and a reporter for The Ryersonian. @NBissonauth