TORONTO, August 31, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – Ontario colleges and universities that don’t have a free-speech policy by January 2019 could face funding cuts, Premier Doug Ford announced Thursday.
“Colleges and universities should be places where students exchange different ideas and opinions in open and respectful debate,” said the Progressive Conservative (PC) premier in an August 30 statement.
“Our government made a commitment to the people of Ontario to protect free speech on campuses. Promise made, promise kept.”
The province’s post-secondary institutions have four months to develop, implement and comply with free speech policies, according to the statement.
The policies must meet a “minimum standard prescribed by the government” and “not only protect free speech but ensure that hate speech, discrimination and other illegal forms of speech are not allowed on campus.”
Colleges and universities must report annually to the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario beginning September 2019, and schools that don’t comply could face funding cuts.
Individual students in violation of free speech policies will be subject to existing campus disciplinary measures, the statement said.
The announcement drew both kudos and complaints, with the Canadian Federation of Students decrying the move as “an unprecedented overstep” by the state into the halls of academe.
“The Ford government has a clear agenda in attacking academic institutions and student groups with this directive,” Nour Alideeb, Chairperson of the Ontario branch of the Canadian Federation of Students told the CBC.
“By threatening to remove funding for our public institutions should they not comply with this highly unusual policy, and by directing institutions to withhold students' unions money should they not do the same, the government is forcing these organizations to pick a side in what is a deeply important public debate.”
Likewise, the official opposition decried the announcement, and questioned where it might lead, reported Canadian Press.
“Ontarians are concerned that Doug Ford’s decree regarding so-called ‘free speech’ rules on campus may parallel the American version of the campus free-speech movement, which opens the door for groups to spew hate on the campuses of post-secondary institutions,” said MPP Chris Glover, opposition critic for colleges and universities critic, in a statement.
“We want to ensure that campuses are safe, welcoming spaces for all – including those who are women, racialized individuals, and those who are LGBTQ2.”
Another commentator dismissed the Tory policy as pandering to the right-wing.
“The politics behind this and the motivations of the premier are quite clear,” Emmett Macfarlane, a political science professor at the University of Waterloo, told Canadian Press. “This plays well with a certain segment of his base.”
Free speech has become a right-wing concern because it’s conservative views that are the lightning rods in campus controversies, Macfarlane pointed out.
The most high profile of these in Ontario concerned Wilfred Laurier University teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd, who was rebuked for playing a clip to her students of professor and free-speech advocate Jordan Peterson.
Peterson himself has been subjected to protestors using white-noise machines, air-horns, yelling, disrupting, or smashing windows in attempts to drown him out at such storied venues as University of Toronto, McMasters, and Queen’s University.
Wilfrid Laurier University’s provost Robert Gordon told the Toronto Globe and Mail his school fully supports the Tory policy.
“We’ve done a lot of work, certainly in the last year, to continue to reaffirm our commitment to free expression,” Gordon said.
And the Alberta-based Justice Center for Constitutional Freedoms agrees the step is unprecedented, but lauded it as moving “in the right direction.”
“This is the first time in Canadian history that any provincial government has moved to protect free speech on campus,” said JCCF president, lawyer John Carpay in a Friday press release.
“The government’s new policy is a significant step towards the Justice Centre’s proposal for legislation to protect freedom of expression on campus,” he said.
The PC government wants the free speech policies based on the University of Chicago Statement on Principles of Free Expression, Carpay pointed out, noting that these include:
- universities and colleges should be places for open discussion and free inquiry;
- they should not attempt to shield students from ideas or opinions that they disagree with or find offensive;
- while members of the university/college are free to criticize and contest views expressed on campus, they may not obstruct or interfere with the freedom of others to express their views.