Controversial story has Dawson paper worried about censorship
MONTREAL (CUP) – Student newspaper editors at Dawson College say they’re worried about censorship after they published a critical article about a student union staff member.
The article, which ran in the Oct. 1 issue of the Plant, the college’s student newspaper, accused the executive director of the Dawson Student Union (DSU), Margo Dunnet, of overstepping her authority and refusing to pass on information to student union executives.
Gregory Sheppard, DSU’s vice-president communications and media has asked them to send a copy of the paper to the student union before it goes to print.
“They would gain the ability to edit anything they wanted, and they would get the final say,” said Denise Audette, managing editor.
But Sheppard said the student union isn’t trying to censor the paper.
“Because we are the publishers of The Plant, we would be legally liable if a libel suit is brought against them,” Sheppard wrote in an email. “If we would find something that would be objectionable in our view, we would submit a written request to withdraw or edit the article or passage in question.”
He added that “The Plant will always have final say over what is ultimately published.”
Gage Michael Wheatley, news editor at the Plant and writer of the article at hand, said they support the student union, but need the ability to be critical.
“We want them to know what they’re doing . . . and be liable for what they’re doing,” he said.
The Plant is currently funded by the student union, and is considered a “special club.” The paper’s constitution, part of the student union’s regulations, is currently under review; a new constitution has been drafted and still requires approval from both newspaper editors and student union executives.
Wheatley said he is worried that amendments being proposed to this new constitution by the student union will further strip the newspaper of its independence. He said the Plant may be required to adhere to the union’s “solidarity” policy, which prohibits DSU executives and staff members from expressing opinions publicly that contradict the opinions of the majority of executives.
But Sheppard dissagrees. “It states explicitly in the Plant’s draft constitution that neither the DSU, nor the College, has a right to censor or edit The Plant.”
Wheatley said he believes these changes are related to the article about Dunnet.
Dunnet, who is not a student at the college, stepped down around the same time as the article was published.
At a meeting Oct. 14, DSU executive secretary Christopher Monette said the article had “forced her to resign.”
However other executives quickly contradicted him, saying her resignation was unrelated to the article, and had come before it was published.
According to Wheatley, DSU president Carl Perks also told him the resignation came Oct. 6.
At the same meeting DSU executives defended Dunnet’s work, with Monette calling it a “smear campaign.”
“She’s a good friend to many of us,” said Sheppard. He took issue with the Plant’s claim that Dunnet had withheld access to email accounts from DSU executives.
“We always take her opinions into account because she has good opinions, she’s been working in student politics for a very long time.”
When contacted by the Canadian University Press, Dunnet confirmed that she had resigned but refused to speak further on the matter.
Dunnet was previously an executive with the Simon Fraser Student Society in Burnaby, B.C. In 2006 she was impeached with several other executives at a special general meeting after concerns were raised, including over the way a staff member had been fired.
The dismissed executives took legal action in an attempt to have the impeachment overturned, but the British Columbia Supreme Court rejected their request.