Last month, I published an article attempting to link the “F*ck Safe Space” t-shirt scandal at Carleton University to the well-executed right-wing takeover of their undergraduate Student Union (CUSA) three years ago.
The article was later picked up by Rabble.ca, subsequently receiving over 25,000 views, as well as hundreds of shares on Twitter and Facebook.
It also landed me with a cease-and-desist letter threatening to sue me for upwards of 1 million dollars in general and punitive damages if I failed to remove my post. The letter was sent from CUSA on behalf of their interests and that of their former president, Alexander Golovko. Golovko is presently an employee of Carleton University as well as a staffer for Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson’s re-election campaign.
Rabble.ca received the same threat, as did Jarrah Hodge for simply linking to my article on her site gender-focus.com.
A few days later, the Leveller, one of Carleton’s student newspapers, broke the story of the threats, and they also eventually chose to publish the letter in its entirety. It has since been covered by the Charlatan and the Fulcrum, two other student newspapers in the Ottawa region.
The threats sparked rightful indignation from Carleton students of all sides of the political spectrum, leading to the creation of the (hilarious) #DontSueMeCUSA hashtag, and an open letter from a former CUSA councillor and a former CASG representative refuting CUSA’s claims that my article was “absolutely false, defamatory, and factually baseless”.
While I refused to remove the article and stand by what I wrote, I have been relatively silent on the issue since receiving the letter on September 11th. It arrived right before leaving on a roadtrip and starting a new job, and as much as I knew their grumblings held no legal ground, I still thought it wise to keep quiet and hope that everything would fall into place with little haste.
But it remained a cloud over my head, even pushing me to take the extreme (by my standards anyways) measure of setting my twitter account to private as I was kinda a wee bit creeped out by their lawyers perusing through my various social network profiles. Consider this a public service announcement for all legal interns: if you’re going to visit a potential target’s LinkedIn page, make sure you do it from a fake account or get a premium one so that they are not notified that you’re snooping around.
CUSA councillors pushed their executive to explain their actions, and while their current president Folarin Odunayo tried to downplay the significance of the letter, citing that it was in no way a “threat”, he nevertheless refused to commit that his executive would drop any and all potential lawsuits against myself, Rabble and Hodge.
My assumption is that they have begun to understand that legal strong-arming bloggers and media is extremely poor form and that the further they push the issue, the greater it will draw attention to my original piece. However, without a firm commitment or mandate that they will drop all legal shenanigans, I would not put it past them to wait a few months or years — say Summer 2015 or 2016 — to begin their dubious judicious misadventures against us.
Right now, they are well aware that the heat is on them for their lacklustre reaction to the shirts as well as their misguided attempts at legal intimidation. So much so that the statement they put out after it was revealed that they were trying to sue bloggers was 130% longer than their original statement on the shirts themselves. It actually made it to their website whereas the latter was limited to appearing on their Facebook page. It would be a much “smarter” idea to sue us when “F*ck Safe Space” is a distant memory and their members aren’t on campus to keep their litigious leanings in check.
I would really prefer to not have a cloud hanging over my head at the thought of needing to lawyer to defend the right to fair comment, but until CUSA councillors mandate their executive to drop any and all threats against myself, Rabble and Hodge, the cloud will remain.
In the meantime, imma keep on writing. I’ll call ’em as I see ’em, and refuse to be pushed into a corner. Conservative ideologies don’t exist in bubbles, they derive from an impressively interwoven tapestry that is getting stronger every year. They have the means to thwart mass social movements, political dissent, divergent economic theories and anybody who gets in their way. And their power grows stronger the more we are stripped of our words and voices. Above all, we cannot let that happen.
So with that, it’s probably worth noting that despite calling my article “baseless”, CUSA voted down a motion to condemn the “F*ck Safe Space” shirts, and their Club Commissioner has reignited controversy by posting the same message on his Facebook.
If that combined with their legal threats don’t prove my original point, nothing will.