The University of Ottawa and Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 2626 have arrived at a legal settlement in a major grievance regarding alleged covert surveillance by the university of several of its members.
CUPE Local 2626 originally filed the grievance in 2009, claiming that the university hired a former undergraduate student to secretly gather information on university senate member and graduate student Joseph Hickey.
Hickey accused the university of attempting to legitimize the practice of collecting information on students’ and CUPE members’ political activities.
“University should be a place to express opinions, where there is room for freedom and support for different political parties,” he said. “I’m concerned students will not be able to express their views on campus.”
According to CUPE 2626 president Felix Grenier, arbitration was filed late last spring when mediation with the employer was unsuccessful.
Then, in September of this year, “the activist-member on which we were relying for proofs of the misbehaviour of the university, decided, in a very strange and unusual decision, that he didn’t want to collaborate anymore with us on this case,” Grenier said.
“So we found ourselves with a very diminished proof in our hand. Nonetheless, we were able to reach a satisfactory agreement with the university, but not to push the issue as far as what we had hoped.”
The university and CUPE 2626 announced Oct. 21 that a settlement had been reached.
Former U of O physics professor Denis Rancourt, who has alleged the university hired a student reporter to spy on his classes, said this decision affects all Canadians.
“It is a concrete example of the degradation of civil and worker rights,” Rancourt said. “It exposes the university and CUPE in their malfeasance against university workplace members.”
“When a student does their graduate studies at a university, they should not have to worry about a spy watching their every move,” said second-year U of O health sciences student Brent Washburn. “Their civil rights are being violated and [they are being] discriminated against.”
Hickey said he has gathered documents and records through an independent access to information request through the information and privacy commissioner of Ontario that indicate university officials denied his graduate school application due to his activist beliefs and released personal information without his consent.
“It’s a sign that the principles of university are eroding,” Hickey said.
“I’m frightened, as a politically active student, that this will affect me and other students negatively.”
According to a press release by CUPE 2626, U of O categorically denied it had participated in covert surveillance.
“We are obviously against any kind of covert surveillance by the employer,” Grenier said.
“Our actions show that we work, in very diverse ways, as an actor for change in our community for more equality and justice,” he said.
The press release said the university stated the person accused of being involved in surveillance was hired as a clerk for filing, correcting documents and putting together dossiers.
Vincent Lamontagne, media relations officer at U of O, said the university could not comment further and must respect confidentiality and its legal obligations regarding the case.
“I am saddened and angered by all such conscious violations of our fundamental rights,” Rancourt said.
“All professionals have a responsibility to uphold, defend, and extend the foundational principles of our society, and it is a terrible breach of professional ethics when those involved do the opposite.”