After demonstrating for four hours in the lobby of the Hall Building on Jan. 10, students got what they wanted, including the lifting of a ban of information tables imposed by vice-rector (services), Michael DiGrappa.
The other demand was to hand the CSU control of table reservations.
Students began gathering in the lobby at 12:30 and set up six information tables. “At one point the lobby was filled with students and the atmosphere was festive,” said Rob Green, president of the Concordia Student Union (CSU).
A phone cable was brought down to the lobby, where students called the Vice Rector’s office to ask him about the ban of information tables.
Posters of Boisvert and DiGrappa went up. They stated: “Wanted: The old Dr. Boisvert. If found, please re-explain to him the importance of student free speech in the lobby” and “Why is this man denying your right to free speech? Call him and ask!”
There were many groups present: Hillel, Muslim Student Association (MSA), Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), Frigo Vert, The Women’s Centre, and others. The People’s Potato served food to students in the lobby.
The problem started Jan. 8 when the MSA tried to set up their information table that they had reserved in advance. In order to have an information table, student groups need to fill out a form and it needs to be approved by the Dean of Students’ Office.
Keith Pruden, the assistant of the Dean, told the MSA that DiGrappa had imposed a ban on information tables the same day. The MSA members complained to the CSU. Representatives of the CSU went to see Pruden and he allowed the information table for the day.
After the encounter with Pruden, Sabine Friesinger VP Internal, sent an urgent e-mail to DiGrappa. “He didn’t respond on Monday or Tuesday and we specified that it was an urgent matter. We needed an explanation for why our free speech was denied. Since we didn’t get one, we decided to demonstrate,” said Green.
“I contacted the Dean [Boisvert] on Tuesday and I asked him to speak to Mr. DiGrappa, but I got no response,” added CSU President Rob Green.
“This is not a freedom of speech issue,” said DiGrappa. “The CSU did not give me a chance to respond and I was extremely busy at the beginning of the week.”
DiGrappa imposed the moratorium on the information tables because he had received complaints and he wanted to analyze the situation. He added that the displays in the lobby disturbed people, the people behind the information tables were vocal, the tables impeded circulation and made entry into the building difficult. He also said they were a safety hazard.
There was another reason why the ban was imposed. “The procedures to book tables was not being respected by student groups. They just took the tables and it’s not fair to other student groups. Freedom of speech comes with responsibilities,” added DiGrappa.
Green’s response to DiGrappa’s reasons for the ban: “Absolute hogwash!”
“Even if we have fifty tables down in the lobby, the circulation would not be blocked. When the University had its 25th anniversary they had many more tables [than we have now] in the lobby,” said Green.
“I can only speculate on the reason why the University imposed the ban. I think they want to limit the contact of student groups with political messages to other students,” said Green.
Now that the information tables are in the hands of the CSU, Green is awaiting a written agreement from the administration. He hopes he will have a simple and fair procedure system up and running in the next few days.