New Brunswick

College says anti-government talk not allowed on campus, cancels seniors meeting

A seniors advocate says she is outraged a public meeting she helped organize at the community college in Dieppe was abruptly cancelled by the college because it would allegedly violate a college policy against anti-government protest.

Cecile Cassista 'shocked' by Dieppe community college's veto of meeting to discuss extramural care's future

A meeting organized by seniors groups to discuss changes in extramural care was cancelled by the community college in Dieppe, which felt it wouldn't respect a policy against anti-government expression. (Google Maps )

A seniors advocate says she is outraged a public meeting she helped organize at the community college in Dieppe was abruptly cancelled by the college because it would violate its policy against anti-government protest.

Cecile Cassista, the executive director of  the Coalition for Seniors' and Nursing Home Residents' Rights, said she and the Association Francophone des Aînés du Nouveau-Brunswick had organized a public meeting at the college to discuss concerns over the Liberal government's decision to privatize the management of extramural nursing and Tele-Care services.

But on Monday morning, the group received an email from a college administrator saying their reservation for space was cancelled.

'Absolutely unacceptable'

An email in French from Janice Brun, head of services for the college, said that as a government agency, the college can not allow activities on its premises that are against government policy or have any demonstrations.

"It was quite a surprise to us this morning," Cassista said of the email.

Cecile Cassista, executive director of the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents' Rights, says she was shocked that college administrators in Dieppe wouldn't allow her group to hold a public education meeting. (CBC)

Seniors are among those affected by provincial plans to turn the management of extramural care over to Medavie.

Cassista said the meeting at the community college was meant to educate the public about the issue, not protest against the government's decision.

She added that the college is a publicly funded institution, so her group should be entitled to give presentations there.

"This has been well-known for weeks, so for them to do what they're doing is just absolutely unacceptable," she said.

College responds 

Reached by telephone Monday, Brun declined to comment and referred the issue to the college's director of communications, Johanne Lise Landry.

In response, CBC News received an emailed statement from Sylvio Boudreau, vice-president of the college.

So there's really a legal obligation on the part of the community college that if facilities are available to the public, that only in the most extreme circumstances would they restrict who could book these facilities.- Geoff Martin, Mount A political science professor

In French, he said that after an article published in L'Acadie Nouvelle on the seniors group's tour of the province, campus management decided to verify the college's internal policy on room rentals to make sure it was "well respected," he said.

The  policy states that the community college recognizes people's right to express their opinions, it requires anyone who rents a space to be neutral with respect to ideological, political and religious matters.

In light of the policy, the college decided to cancel the group's rental, Boudreau said.

Nevertheless, the college plans to review the policy internally since it wants to be an open institution that hosts community organizations on its premises.

He said no one from the college would be giving interviews on the matter.

Obligated to provide space

Geoff Martin, a political science professor at Mount Allison University, said the college is obligated to give community groups space because it is a public institution.

"As far as I know, the college system is a unit of the provincial government, which means the public has Charter rights connected to the college system," he said, explaining that under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, people have the right to oppose the government of the day and to do so in public facilities.

"So there's really a legal obligation on the part of the community college that if facilities are available to the public, that only in the most extreme circumstances would they restrict who could book these facilities."

He said he doubts that the college will try to sustain the policy once it garners public attention.

About the Author

Sarah Petz

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Sarah Petz is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. She was previously based at CBC New Brunswick. Her career has taken her across three provinces and includes a stint in East Africa. In 2017, she was part of a team of reporters and editors nominated for a National Newspaper Award for a feature on the Port of Saint John in New Brunswick. She can be reached at sarah.petz@cbc.ca.