Students voice concerns about fee use, free press at CUSA meeting
Photo: Sam Heaton, courtesy of the Leveller
A panel held at Carleton University to discuss safe space issues on campus was overshadowed by news of a legal threat issued by the Carleton Undergraduate Student Association (CUSA) and former CUSA president Alexander Golovko regarding an article published on Rabble.ca.
The Leveller reported that law firm CazaSaikley sent a letter on Sept. 11 threatening legal action to Mathieu Murphy-Perron, the author of the article, Rabble.ca for publishing the article, and Jarrah Hodge for linking to the article on her blog.
The letter said several of the article’s statements were “absolutely false, defamatory, factually baseless and designed to destroy our clients’ impeccable reputation and cause harm to their families.”
Michael Bückert, vice-president academic of the Carleton Graduate Students’ Association (GSA), was disappointed in how CUSA has handled the issue.
“Instead of making a counter-argument, showing how these previously-reported events are actually not true, they have apparently decided to try to intimidate their critics into silence,” Bückert wrote in an email to the Fulcrum.
The article first appeared Sept. 7 on Murphy-Perron’s blog following the circulation of photos of several Carleton student leaders wearing T-shirts that read “fuck safe space.”
Murphy-Perron argued that the incident was a result of a growing conservative influence at Carleton University. He wrote: “All I can do is weep for the school’s all-too-predictable descent into the poster-child of oppressive bullshit courtesy of the well-calculated right-wing takeover of the student union three years ago.” Hodge posted a link to Murphy-Perron’s article on her own blog Sept. 9.
“It is very disturbing that CUSA is threatening to sue someone for simply linking to an article,” Bückert said. “I also linked to the article on Twitter, are they going to sue me next?”
CUSA published a statement regarding the letter on Sept. 24, which did not name Hodge as one of the recipients of the letter. CUSA president Folarin Odunayo told the Leveller it was a mistaken omission that did not indicate a change in position.
Odunayo also stressed that day at a CUSA council meeting that the union hasn’t initiated any legal action yet. He said everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but “at no point are they entitled to their own facts. I don’t want to be silent because sometimes silence can be almost implicit acceptance.”
At the meeting, CUSA humanities councillor Roy Sengupta asked whether Odunayo found it concerning that “we are essentially reviving the litigation culture of this organization through basically pursuing a private political interest using public resources.”
Odunayo replied: “As of this point, the article in question said a lot of inappropriate things about CUSA’s actions, things that CUSA had done. At some point in the life of an organization or in your life, you must stand up and say something. We’re not going to accept the facts or opinions of some guy who is, quite frankly, irrelevant.”
According to Emily Niles, a University of Ottawa student and campaign organizer of Sustainable SFUO, the move “absolutely threatens independent media efforts.”
Niles wrote in an email to the Fulcrum: “People will be hesitant to deliver the truth or to provide a critical analysis when they could go bankrupt for doing so.”
At the Sept. 24 meeting, some CUSA councillors expressed concern about using student funds to possibly pursue legal action and protect the reputation of a former CUSA president. Golovko no longer serves on CUSA, but works for the university.
According to CUSA’s operating budget for 2013–14, they have set aside $80,000 for legal and professional expenses.
This is far from the first time the association has found itself in a legal dispute.
CUSA was suspended for the duration of the fall semester in 2011 due to an ongoing legal battle with 16 student councillors. In October 2012, the GSA initiated a lawsuit against CUSA because of a disputed health plan. The student group’s latest legal action was in January of this year, when CUSA filed legal proceedings against the GSA claiming they were owed $113,000.
The article has not been removed and no further legal action has been pursued as of the time of publication.
**Update: A letter was issued in response to CazaSaikley’s letter on Oct. 1 defending Murphy-Perron’s statements. The letter argued that Murphy-Perron’s comments fall under his right to fair comment.
“We believe that this letter represents an attempt to silence fair comment criticism of the actions and legacy of various iterations of the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA) executive,” the letter states.
It continues to address the five contentious statements by providing sources. The letter concludes by stating its signees hope to deter “CUSA from their continued frivolous expenditure of student funds.”