Peaceful activist booted off campus
News / August 9, 2010
Free speech issues arise as student activist was escorted twice off campus because of a class project
Abby Wiseman [coordinating editor]
How many security guards does it take to escort one university student armed with nothing but protest flyers, off campus? At Kwantlen, it takes four.
On Wednesday July 28, Emery Warner caught the attention of the usually mellow security guards for handing out flyers that protest Kwantlen’s new catering company, Sodexo.
One week later, Warner has become a subject in local media, and has even become the catalyst of a facebook page called I support Emery Warner and I will fight for free speech at Kwantlen.
One week after the Wednesday that Warner was first booted off campus, he is strolling around the Surrey courtyard, nonchalantly handing out 8×10 pamphlets and casually smoking a cigarette. He is tall and broad shouldered with a deep baritone voice that could rival Barry White’s. Easy to say, Warner sticks out and it would be hard for students not to notice him being escorted off campus. Twice.
“Really we all got picked up when I got picked up and kicked off campus,” said Warner. “It was an assault on all the students here at Kwantlen.”
All this controversy began when the school hired on Sodexo to replace Chartwells.
It came to Warner’s attention that the company is not all salad bars and ready-made sandwiches, but has a history of discrimination, food poisoning and profiting off the U.S. private prison system.
In 2005, Sodexo was sued by a large group of African-American employees who were not receiving due promotions. The case concluded in an $80 million settlement and a promise to comply with diversity guidelines, which a group called Clean Up Sodexo says it’s failing to do.
The questionable past of Sodexo became a topic of discussion in one of Warner’s criminology classes and protesting the company became a class project. Shortly after that, the 8×10 pamphlets started to appear on campus. Jody Gordon, vice-president of student affairs, says she received an email from security wondering if the pamphlets were from the KSA.
Gordon says she was concerned that the flyer would have a negative impact on the KSA-run Grassroots cafe, because it was promoted in the flyer.
“Some people might not agree with the flyer or the content of the flyer, or even the approach. [They] might then turn to the cafe and say that’s unfair, that’s unfair comment,” said Gordon.
Security first approached Warner with Bill Keith and Bassanio Tsang from Sodexo who briefly questioned him about the flyer and asked if they could sit down and talk about the merits of Sodexo. Warner says he stated that he wasn’t interested in negotiating with them and took off to class to write an exam.
After his exam Warner says that security was waiting for him and soon after he was met outside by Gordon.According to Warner, Gordon demanded to see his student ID, which he refused to do.
According to section C.21 under Kwantlen’s student code of conduct, if a student refuses to comply with the reasonable directions of staff and faculty they can be kicked off campus.Refusing to show ID falls under refusing to comply and gave grounds for security to escort Warner off campus.
But before he was kicked off campus, Warner said that Gordon threatened to punish him.
“She said that we’re going to look at disciplinary action within the institution,” says Warner. “She also hinted to taking legal action against me saying that the flyer had been passed on to Sodexo’s legal team.”
The next day, Warner continued to hand out flyers and was immediately approached by security.
“Right off the bat I’m approached by numerous security guards, and this time the issue was very very clear it wasn’t about any identification. They wanted me to stop handing it out, they wanted me to hand over every copy that I had on me and they wanted me to get off school property,” says Warner.
Warner described what happened next as a “rat-race.”
Security followed him around the campus, taking the flyers from the students he was handing them out to.
“That second day it was very clear that my right to freedom of speech was violated,” said Warner. “Post-secondary’s advertise a type of place of free ideas and different ways of doing things, and what I learned otherwise was something quite different. If you speak out about something that they don’t like they’re going to try everything they can to squash that.”
Gordon says that there was no intention of stopping Warner from handing out the flyers, but the issue was merely his unwillingness to identify himself, even though she did admit that a member of the KSA did identify who he was.
Instead, Gordon said she wanted to meet with Warner to see if there was anything she could do to facilitate dialogue between him, Sodexo, and the students.
“My goal was to assist in what I was seeing as maybe somebody who had reached a point where he wasn’t being heard, and this is a place where all voices need to be heard,” said Gordon.
Through all this controversy, Warner has dug his heels in more and is picking up supporters as 70 people rallied in the Grassroots Cafe on Tuesday, Aug. 3.
“I’m not interested in negotiations, it’s quite clear what the demands, are, and Sodexo needs to get out of our school,” says Warner.
Gordon confirmed that after reviewing the securities incident report, no action will be taken against Warner.