Vancouver student newspaper says school board policy unfairly restricts its freedom of expression

The Griffins’ Nest, an independent student newspaper based at Vancouver's Eric Hamber Secondary School, is calling on the Vancouver School Board (VSB) to amend some of its new policies.

The group believes the policies infringe on its rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and will have a big impact on what stories it can publish.

“It’s kind of ridiculous how much they’re willing to really suspend or how much they’re willing to sacrifice in lieu of students’ voices,” said Stephen Kosar, one of the newspaper’s student executive editors.

He said the school board has given the organization a hard time for previous stories it has published, most notably one that critiques the board’s decision to end a special education program.

Now, he said, the board has implemented new policies that can control club-related communication and social media.

Kosar's team is now worried this could limit their freedom of expression.

“It’s very clear these policies are inspired by us. I mean, as the people who, for fun, monitor the district’s agenda, we can’t think of anything else that might have – besides ourselves – that would have initiated a policy like this,” said Spencer Izen, the newspaper’s student editor-in-chief.

In a statement, the VSB said, in part, that its “administrative procedures do not contravene the Charter.”

"The district does not agree that there has been any censorship, or that the procedures in question are directed to censoring one student newspaper. The procedures are in place to ensure consistency amongst the hundreds of student clubs in the district,” the statement reads.

“I’ve heard that line," said Izen. "We’ve heard that from the Vancouver School District during their May 11 meeting.”

“That’s really not the case. A lot of those policies are really not what’s being employed,” he added.

Meghan McDermott of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) said this is the first time a case like this was brought to her attention.

“All of these laws are always subject to our Charter rights just by virtue of them being in our constitution. They’re a primary source of law. And they will always override the ability of any state official,” she told CTV News.

“It’s nice to know that they’re thinking about how the Charter plays into this," she continued. "Obviously, having consistency is, across organizations, a key goal for any particular policy. We would just question, you know, what’s the need for this one then?”

The BCCLA and the Canadian Association of Journalists wrote an open letter calling on the board to amend its policies as the organizations fear other school districts will follow suit.

“It’s also scary to think about how this can have a domino effect and encourage other public school districts to take a similar approach to how they treat their students,” said McDermott.

The VSB said it will be meeting with the students to hear their concerns, and while the students say they're hopeful for change, they expect more resistance from the board in the months to come.