President’s Initiative on Open & Respectful Dialogue

Overview

York University is committed to free speech and to ensuring a safe and respectful environment where community members are able to gather and express diverse ideas.

On November 20, 2019, an event and protest took place on the York University Keele campus that resulted in verbal and physical confrontations. As a University that deeply values diversity and inclusion, these incidents are of great concern to us.

This website is intended to keep the community informed of the progress of the work being undertaken in each area.

Principles

The University has clear and strong principles that all groups and individual members of the York community are expected to follow:

Safety is our priority: Every member of the York community must be and feel safe on our campuses. Students,  faculty including  contract faculty, and staff have the right to fully participate in all facets of university life without harassment, intimidation, threats, disruption or acts of violence.

We have no tolerance for discrimination: Targeting any member of the York community based on their race, religion, national origin, or any other identified characteristic is unacceptable and will never be tolerated.

We respect the right to free speech and the free exchange of ideas: York is committed to the fundamental values of free expression, free inquiry and respect for genuine diversity of thought and opinion. It is the right of all community members and invited guests to express their views within the law and without fear of intimidation or harassment.

We are all responsible:  Every group and individual member of the York community must uphold these principles. There is a collective and individual responsibility to protect the rights of every member of the York community to a safe environment in which ideas can be freely exchanged.

To ensure that the University continues to be a community where everyone feels safe to express their view and that all appropriate policies and processes are in place to support this, two reviews are being done and each will produce recommendations.

Latest Communications

Internal Working Group

Our Vice President of Equity, People and Culture and Vice-Provost Students will take a leadership role in a working group to review the events surrounding November 20 and to make recommendations on best practices for ensuring future events are consistent with York University’s principles, policies and procedures.

Actions include:

  • Evaluating policies and procedures relevant to the event/ protest to ensure alignment with best practices
  • Review: Temporary Use of University Space policy
  • Review: Postering guidelines
  • Review: Other relevant policies
  • Developing educative initiatives working with community members that promote respectful dialogue; feature and promote academic explorations that assist students to work across differences and explore difficult and controversial topics to gain a better understanding of the many perspectives; and to build bridges where there is currently conflict.

In conjunction with the work above, the University will undertake a Community Safety Investigation and assist the Toronto Police Services in their investigation.

Independent External Review

The Honourable Thomas A. Cromwell C.C. has been engaged to conduct an independent review to make findings and recommendations with respect to the following:

  1.   the University's role in relation to the planning for the event on November 20, 2019;
  2.   the preparations and security arrangements for the event;
  3.   the University’s policies, procedures and practices governing provision of university space for student events;
  4.   the University policies governing Freedom of Speech on campus; and
  5.   York’s policies, procedures and practices relevant to the safety of all those who attend student events on campus.

Mr. Cromwell was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of Canada in 2008 and retired from Canada’s highest Court on September 21, 2016.   He received law degrees from Queen’s and Oxford, practiced law in Kingston and Toronto and taught law at Dalhousie University.  During his time at Dalhousie, he served as Chair of the Law Faculty Council and Vice-chair of the University Senate.

Work commenced in early January 2020 and is expected no later than March 30, 2020.

For more information see the full announcement.

Interim Actions

Student Groups: Many people present or impacted by the events that occurred on November 20th have communicated concerns to the University. A preliminary internal review led us to conclude that a more immediate intervention is required with the two student groups involved in the events. As a result, privileges to reserve space, table and poster have been temporarily withdrawn for activities for both student groups.

To facilitate a path forward and to restore the withdrawn privileges, both groups have been invited to participate in a facilitated mediation to establish mutually agreed-upon processes and behaviours for future events.

Correspondence related to the student groups can be found here (moved from the Latest Communications section):

  • Dec. 5:   Letters to SAIA (PDF) and Herut (PDF) establishing a path forward to restoring temporarily suspended privileges
  • Dec. 3:   Letters to SAIA (PDF) and Herut (PDF) temporarily suspending privileges

York Federation of Students (YFS): In response to the event, on November 28, 2019, YFS passed a “Motion on Fighting Imperialist Propaganda on Our Campus” which created doubts in the minds of many about whether the YFS promotes a safe and inclusive environment for all to learn, express ideas and dissent. The University requested the YFS confirm no action will be taken on their motion until such time as YFS completes its own process to address the issues with the motion. We have received confirmation from YFS that no action will be taken and that they will undertake a consultation process with their members in January 2020. The University has requested a meeting with YFS early in the new year, in order to better understand their consultation process and how it will resolve widespread concerns about the negative impact of the motion.

Correspondence related to the motion can be found here:

  • Dec. 10: Provost letter to YFS (PDF)
  • Nov. 21: President's statement (PDF)