• By: Dan Donovan

A hapless response to racism from Jacques Frémont’s ivory tower at uOttawa

On June 11, 2019 Jamal Boyce, a conflict studies and human rights student at the University of Ottawa and vice-president of academic affairs for the program’s student association, was stopped by campus security guards while skateboarding on campus. They started harassing him, repeatedly asking for identification. “If you don’t stop walking off campus, I’m going to arrest you right now . . . for trespass to property,” an officer says in a video taken of the incident.“I’m trespassing how?” Boyce responds. “I’m a student that pays a lot of money to go here . . . you’re actually making me feel really uncomfortable.” Boyce is then surrounded and violently assaulted by five more security guards who put him in handcuffs and force him to sit on the busiest street on campus as his fellow students walk by. Boyce posts on Twitter that,“This wasn’t just humiliating, it was physical, mental, emotional violence. The experience let me know that black students are not members of the (U of O) ‘community.’

Two days later, a 2017 video goes viral showing law professor Amir Attaran and his PhD student Brieanne Olibris, both people of colour, being carded by a belligerent white campus security guard who enters Attaran’s office without permission (their working spaces are connected). Olibris and Attaran tell campus media that the incident highlights the racism, especially anti-Black racism, endemic at the university.

On June 14, 2019 uOttawa president, Jacques Frémont, says the university will hire an external investigator to examine whether larger systemic human rights issues exist on campus. Frémont does not suspend the guards, and three days after the incident, he is unable to answer the very basic question of whether they received anti-racism training. Later that day, an open letter signed by 36 professors is released  calling on the university to “protect Black, Indigenous and racialized students from racist violence on campus.” The Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) caucus of the Association of Professors of the uOttawa release a letter condemning campus racism, saying the incident left them ‘horrified and appalled’ and “runs contrary to the university’s publicly-declared commitment to equality, diversity and human rights.” They demand a public apology for Boyce and the termination of the security officers. The uOttawa Students’ Union (UOSU) also demand a formal apology for Boyce and the abolishment of carding on campus (Policy 33) saying: “There is anti-Black racism present on our campus right now, we stand with (Boyce), and we stand with any other student who has experienced racism on this campus”.

On September 14, 2019 second-year Black student, Wiliston Mason, is carded and pushed by a security guard inside his own residence building. Mason says he tapped his key card to enter his building but the security officer behind the desk demanded identification, “to verify that you live here.” Mason says a white man entered the building moments before him, without tapping his key card, and was not stopped.

In October, the investigation report into the Boyce incident concludes that Boyce faced racial discrimination due to improper training and faulty procedures. Without mentioning his name, Frémont publicly apologizes to Boyce for the first time. “I am deeply sorry for the way you were treated and for the humiliation you experienced.” Frémont won’t say if the officers involved in the incident are still employed by the university.  

On October 7, 2019 over 100 professors and librarians release an open letter to Frémont citing his failure to address systemic racism on campus. They tell him they support the previous letter, signed by the 16 RSGs, the UOSU, the Black Student Leaders Association, the Ontario Public Interest Research Group, CUPE 2626 (which represents teaching and research assistants), Women in Science and Engineering, Association of Professors of the University of Ottawa, the Association of Part-Time Professors of the University of Ottawa, the Graduate Students’ Association of the University of Ottawa, and the University of Ottawa Muslim Students Association demanding that he take action to deal with the systemic discrimination on campus. 

And that is the story of how racism is dealt with from the ivory tower of uOttawa President Jacques Frémont . . . ugh