Free speech or solicitation? Dispute over Langara instructor’s petition

Security asked group campaigning against RBC on campus to move

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By Roy Fang

Langara College instructor Bradley Hughes and student Amaranta MacAllister were asking people in the A Building foyer to sign a petition on March 6 when a security guard asked them to stop and pack up their stand.

Hughes, who was campaigning to have mega bank RBC removed from campus due to its fossil fuel investments, said this was the first time in his 20 years petitioning for various causes at the college that he was told to stop.

“If someone wanted to come and argue with me about why we’re wrong in the hallway, that’s fine,” said Hughes, a Langara physics and astronomy instructor and a member of the Langara International Socialists.

According to the college’s website, RBC On Campus is an educational centre that offers basic banking resources and provides financial advice to the students of Langara.

MacAllister, a Langara history and English student and also a member of the socialists club, said she asked the guard whether there was a specific policy forbidding them from petitioning.

“He told us that we were engaging in solicitation, and that was not allowed at Langara, which I find very interesting,” MacAllister said. “What exactly is RBC doing with their little room in the foyer there?”

Hughes questions restrictions on political action on campus

Langara’s security department did not answer the Voice directly regarding the reasons Hughes and MacAllister were told to pack up and leave.

In an email to the Voice, Ashamdeep Dhillon, Langara’s protective services coordinator, said the group was permitted to set up closer to the cafeteria later in the week where their petition would not make other employees uncomfortable.

A week later, Hughes set up a table to gain more signatures for his petition. This time, a security guard questioned him about what he was doing there but did not ask him to leave.

Hughes said the facilities department, which had always provided him with a table for his campaigns, has never sought proof of permission for his activities.

“The priorities of institutions start to resemble those of the private funders, not an academic institution,” MacAllister said. “The people on campus should be free to discuss what actions this college takes.”

According to Langara’s Premises Use G1001 policy, the college “acknowledges and supports” the use of the premises for social and community-based activities engaging its students, faculty and staff.

In addition, “the use of the college premises with regard to religious, political, social or commercial groups must follow the college’s policies.” The college also maintains the right to manage and restrict the use of its premises at its discretion.

“I just thought it was kind of ridiculous that people on campus aren’t allowed to talk to each other in the hallway unless you have written permission from security,” Hughes said.

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