The University of Ottawa is an interesting place, or at least it is a place that generates a lot of attention. Most notably, a scheduled talk by Ann Coulter was canceled in the spring amid student protest, and after the university had warned Coulter she could be jailed if she didn’t watch her mouth. In late April, a freedom of information request revealed support for allegations that U of O administrators spied on and attempted to cancel a talk by Burmese human-rights activist Ka Hsaw Wa in 2007. Then there is the former lecturer accused of being a terrorist and Denis Rancourt, the physics professor who was fired after giving everyone in at least one of his classes an A+. Rancourt has also alleged the university spied on him.
And, just this week, student Marc Kelly was acquitted for trespassing on university property. At the time of his February arrest Kelly had been banned from the campus, but for reasons the university has yet to fully explain. In fact it was the second time in the past few years that Kelly was apprehended after U of O officials called police. The first time was after he had attempted to videotape a senate meeting back in 2008. He was charged with disturbing the peace, but the Crown ultimately dropped the case.
Despite being cleared of criminal charges, Kelly remains banned from the university and will be completing his degree at Carleton University, though he will officially remain a U of O student. It is a curious case. Judge L. Girault of Provincial Offenses Court in Ottawa ruled that even though the Student Appeals Centre, where Kelly was arrested, is located in the middle of the university, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa is the legal occupier of the space and therefore has the right to determine who can and cannot enter. The ruling should help clarify the relationship between universities and students’ unions.