CALGARY, November 1, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) - Canadian universities fail to protect free speech, most notably when it comes to the rights of pro-life groups on campus, according to the 2012 Campus Freedom Index.
The report released by the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) yesterday says that when it comes to defending Canada’s valuable heritage of campus free speech, “the barbarians are not at the gates. They are inside the walls.”
“While the state of free speech at Canada’s public universities is stifling,” says JCCF President John Carpay, the lead author of the report, “the Campus Freedom Index seeks to empower concerned stakeholders with the factual ammunition to change the status quo in higher education.”
The 2012 Campus Freedom Index is a comprehensive report that examines the policies and actions of universities and student unions across the country to see whether they support the rights of students to express their beliefs on campus in a peaceful manner.
Using a five-tier letter scale—A, B, C, D and F—the Index grades universities and student unions on their stated policies and principles (what they say) and their actions and practices (what they do).
Student unions at the University of Saskatchewan, University of Victoria, University of Calgary, University of Western Ontario, University of Guelph, McGill University, and Lakehead University have all banned campus pro-life groups at different times in recent years, earning them ‘F’s, according to the report.
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The report finds that Canadian universities earn only three ‘A’s, but 28 ‘F’s for their policies and actions.
The University of Toronto, for example, earns a ‘A’ grade for its policies—but is one of 12 Canadian universities to earn an ‘F’ for its actions.
New Brunswick’s St. Thomas University, on the other hand, ranks a ‘B’ for policies and principles and an ‘A’ for actions and practices.
The introduction to the Index states that one of the biggest threats to free speech in Canada comes from universities that condone illegal activities on the part of people who interfere with, and effectively shut down, the events and speeches of people they disagree with.
The authors note that Section 430 of the Criminal Code makes it an offence to obstruct, interrupt or interfere with any person in the lawful use, enjoyment, or operation of property.
“Whether universities themselves restrict controversial and politically incorrect speech, or whether they fail to uphold the rule of law on campus, in both cases the end result is censorship,” the report authors observe.
Moreover, the Index sheds light on the significant role that Canada’s student unions play in damaging the free speech climate on campus. In almost every case that the authors studied, it is student unions which control the registration, certification and resource allocation processes for student groups.
“In this regard,” the authors point out, “it is troubling to report that ten student unions have denied official club certification to student groups based solely on the content of their message, without any misconduct on the part of the club or its members.”
The Index stipulates that to earn an ‘A’ grade, the student union “will have spoken or acted to support freedom of expression for unpopular opinions and beliefs on campus, by rejecting demands to cancel events or otherwise suppress or censor speech. Further, an ‘A’ student union does not advocate for political positions on provincial, federal, or international issues that are not directly related to post-secondary education.”
“These results confirm what many observers have long known,” states report co-author Michael Kennedy, “that higher education in Canada has failed its duty of fostering free inquiry, critical reflection, honest debate, and the pursuit of truth.”
“Universities justify their censorship on grounds of safety and security, believing that people have a right not to be offended by what they see or hear on a university campus, and believing that would-be violent protesters must be appeased by censoring unpopular messages,” states co-author John Carpay.
“The barbarians are inside the walls. Civilizing them will require a concerted effort from all stakeholders in higher education—students, parents, faculty, alumni, donors, and taxpayers,” he concludes.
The 15-page “Campus Freedom Index” is based on a 196-page report, “The State of Campus Free Speech in 2012,” which provides a detailed analysis of the policies and actions of each of Canada’s 35 publicly funded universities. Both reports are available on the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms website.