Manitoba

Student wins fight against U of W after being disciplined for attending anti-mask protest

A University of Winnipeg student won't be forced to sit out the coming academic year after all, following pressure on the institution over disciplinary action it levelled against her for attending an anti-mask protest this spring.

University walks back decision to suspend student for 2021-22 year after pressure from advocacy group

A University of Winnipeg student will get to attend school this fall, despite originally being told by the post-secondary institution she wouldn't be permitted to return due to attending a protest against Manitoba public health orders. (Terry Stapleton/CBC)

A University of Winnipeg student won't be forced to sit out the coming academic year after all, following pressure on the institution over disciplinary action it levelled against her for attending an anti-mask protest this spring.

According to the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, the decision to penalize the student, whose identity hasn't been revealed, was reversed this weekend.

"I am pleased to see that the university has reversed its decision and avoided further unnecessary hardship on this student and legal proceedings," Allison Pejovic, staff lawyer with the Justice Centre who represented the student, said in a statement on Tuesday.

In June, a U of W performance review committee recommended the student not be allowed to enrol in education courses or practicum for 2021-22, according to one of several letters provided to media by the Justice Centre.

Hundreds of people gather at The Forks for an anti-mask rally on April 17. Many of them returned April 25 for another gathering to protest Manitoba's public health restrictions. (CBC)

That first letter, signed by U of W dean of education Laurie-Ann Hellsten, suggested the university would consider whether to allow the student to re-enrol or not come May 2022.

The letter doesn't specifically state anything about her attendance at an anti-mask protest as the basis for the discipline. Instead, it goes into the standard grounds for reviewing the performance of a student.

She then reached out to the Justice Centre, which has represented seven rural Manitoba churches in a legal challenge of provincial health orders. 

In one letter, the centre suggests the principal at the school where the student was doing her practicum became aware of her participation in the Winnipeg protest on April 25, which was against gathering rules at the time. The student then received a call from someone with the U of W education faculty saying she was under review for attending the protest.

The centre wrote the U of W demanding the student be reinstated or face legal action.

Over the weekend, the U of W issued a warning to the student but walked back its original decision.

A letter signed by Hellsten on Saturday says the review committee "retains serious concerns" over the student's participation in an anti-mask rally in violation of provincial orders and university health and safety rules, but would allow her to enrol next year after all.

"The University of Winnipeg has a duty to respect the charter rights of its students," Pejovic said in a statement on Tuesday.

"Expelling a student for exercising her constitutional freedoms of expression and assembly is an egregious violation of the [Charter of Rights and Freedoms]."

A U of W spokesperson said the university is unable to comment on matters involving individual students.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bryce Hoye

Journalist

Bryce Hoye is a multi-platform Manitoba journalist covering news, science, justice, health, 2SLGBTQ issues and other community stories. He has a background in wildlife biology and occasionally works for CBC's Quirks & Quarks and Front Burner. He won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award for a 2017 feature on the history of the fur trade. He is also Prairie rep for outCBC.

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