civil rights

UBC warns international students not to protest

Observers question accuracy of email that cites expulsion and deportation as possible consequences
Photo: Francesco Lodolo

On a day when two 11-year-old girls were arrested for civil disobedience (though police later claimed the girls were “escorted away” and not arrested) and David Suzuki climbed Burnaby Mountain to loudly lecture police officers for arresting his grandson, the University of British Columbia found itself at the centre of attention.

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An email sent by a university employee has raised questions about whether UBC crossed the line in urging students not to join the expanding Burnaby Mountain protest against the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

Email sent by UBC Forestry Faculty to international students. (Click to enlarge.)

Sent by an employee in the Faculty of Forestry at UBC and addressed to international students, the message included the following passage: “We wanted you to be aware of the serious repercussions which could take place for any student who is here on a study permit and who is arrested. It would mean an immediate end to your studies at UBC and could also mean immediate deportation since this would be considered a criminal conviction.”

The email, which was leaked online by a UBC student, had many observers questioning the legality and factual accuracy of the message.

“On the one hand, you could interpret the email as the university earnestly warning students to take care, but we question some of the wording,” Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, told Ricochet. “Why is it that they’re saying an arrest would be treated as a criminal offence?”

“On the other hand we would question why someone simply being arrested, for anything, without being charged or convicted of breaking any law, would result in expulsion from UBC’s Forestry program.”

Most criticism focused on the second paragraph of the email, which seems to equate an arrest with a criminal conviction, and asserts that an arrest, regardless of context or consequence, would lead to automatic expulsion from the university. It also raises the spectre of possible “immediate deportation,” based on the assertion that an arrest “would be considered a criminal conviction.”

“It’s one thing to give a warning, but warnings need to be accurate,” continued Paterson. “Either it is inaccurate that a simple arrest can result in expulsion, or it is accurate. If it is accurate, that’s a big problem for UBC in terms of their respect for people’s rights, because people can be arrested for all kinds of reasons that aren’t justified. So if people are being expelled merely for arrest, that’s problematic.”

In response to inquiries from Ricochet, UBC spokesperson Susan Danard made the following statement by email:

“UBC is unable to comment on this particular e-mail as we need time to investigate the e-mail, its origins and the author's intent.

However, I can tell you UBC does not direct the actions of students off campus when they are engaged as private citizens in non-university activity. Students are free to protest as they see fit.

An arrest would not affect a student’s ability to remain in university. If an international student has a criminal conviction, it would be up to Canadian immigration authorities to determine their eligibility to remain in Canada.”

The university email comes as B.C. is rocked by the largest and most sustained campaign of civil disobedience since the Clayoquot Sound protests in 1993, which saw almost 1,000 British Columbians arrested.

This time the flashpoint is Burnaby Mountain, through which the Kinder Morgan pipeline is slated to pass. Protesters have vowed to block the work of Kinder Morgan survey crews and boast the support of the Burnaby government and other local elected politicians, such as NDP MP Kennedy Stewart, despite a court injunction barring protesters from the site. So far over 61 people have been arrested.

“At a time when our right to peacefully and democratically express ourselves is under attack at all different levels of government, to see an institution of higher education sending a note like this, which discourages people’s participation in a peaceful activity and threatens to expel them from school, is alarming,” said Mike Hudema, climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace.

The university has promised to follow up with the results of its investigation. It remains to be seen whether the employees involved in sending the email will face disciplinary action.

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