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Student tears down ‘free speech wall’ in atrium

A new wall has replaced the one torn down. (Photo by Shamit Tushakiran)

A “free speech wall” was destroyed early Tuesday morning after it caused tension among Carleton students.

At 1:15 a.m., seventh-year human rights student Arun Smith posted a message to his Facebook wall, claiming responsibility for the act.

“If everyone speaks freely we end up simply reinforcing the hierarchies that are created in our society,” Smith said in explanation.

The display was a movable two-by-four metre paper-covered board set up by Carleton Students for Liberty (CSFL). Students were encouraged to write anything they wanted on the paper. Campus co-ordinator for the CSFL Ian CoKehyeng said that the display was erected to promote free speech.

“Basically this free speech wall is everything you’re allowed to say outside campus, you’re allowed to say here,” he said.

Members of the GLBTQ community took offence after some students wrote comments such as “abortion is murder” and “traditional marriage is awesome.”

“When you say abortion is murder you’re directly attacking someone who’s had abortions. When you say “traditional marriage is awesome” you’re directly attacking people who are in same-sex relationships,” GBLTQ Centre volunteer Riley Evans said.

CoKehyeng said he believes the situation boils down to the concept that “speech rights end where feelings begin.”

“Under what circumstances can we ban people’s opinions?” he asked. “We feel that university is supposed to be an area of discourse and free thought, but it’s actually the opposite. We have less free speech on campus.”

Smith disagreed, and said he believes the term “free speech” has become a cliché. He maintains that questions need to be asked about what the term really means.

“If [free speech] is inalienable, where does it come from, and who guarantees that? What does ‘free speech’ actually mean?” Smith said.

CoKehyeng agreed with Smith on this point and said he believes a serious discussion needs to be had about defining free speech.

“But what’s going on at Carleton University is not this debate. Everyone is having a knee-jerk reaction. Every opinion they disagree with or find offensive, it’s not dealt with by discussion or debate, it’s automatically ‘censor this’ or ‘censor that,’ and I just want to change that attitude,” he continued.

While CoKehyeng said he believes Canada’s policies on hate speech “aren’t compatible with a free society” he maintained that the display is in strict compliance with the law.

After observing the wall, student affairs director Ryan Flannagan agreed with CoKehyeng.

“While the university never officially approved this activity, we did have an interest in ensuring certain key issues were being addressed,” Flannagan said via email.

CoKehyeng said the wall was both paid for and inspired by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, who recently ranked Carleton poorly for free speech in a report about freedom on Canadian university campuses.

Though director of campus security Allan Burns would not comment on the situation, he said an investigation is ongoing.

CoKehyeng said he will be seeking compensation for the display, which he estimated to have cost around $150.

Smith responded by saying that if another wall goes up, another wall will be torn down.

CSFL put up a new wall in the same spot Tuesday afternoon.

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