How free speech policies will affect campus dialogue in Ontario
By: Emily MacDonald, Staff Writer
Free speech, a basic right set out in section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is something most Canadians have never known life without.
Premier of Ontario Doug Ford made a promise during his campaign that he was bound to keep: a free speech mandate across all of Ontario’s publicly funded post-secondary schools. This mandate provides the deadline of January 1, 2019, by which time universities and colleges must create a plan to protect free
speech and create a regulated environment for staff and students to voice their ideas and beliefs in a respectful and safe manner. Any post-secondary institution noncompliant with this will risk funding cuts.
According to the Ontario Newsroom, a branch of the government of Ontario website, schools will have to meet a minimum standard to ensure their Free Speech Policy is up to code for campus use. First, it must include a definition of “free speech,” which will provide a guideline for the rest of the policy and ensure everyone is on the same page.
Next, colleges and universities must create principles based on the University of Chicago Statement on Principles of Free Expression. The policy states that post-secondary institutions should be a place for open discussion and inquiry, that the schools should not attempt to “shield students from ideas or opinions that they disagree with or find offensive,” and that although students have the freedom to criticize, they must not interfere with the freedom of others when expressing their views or use speech that violates the law. Hate crime and hate speech will not be tolerated in any schools or in Ontario.
Moving forward, schools will keep their established discipline policies and apply them to students whose actions do not follow the free speech policy, along with a similar system to handle complaints that could start to roll in. Lastly, funding for student groups should be conditional on their compliance with the policy and student unions should adopt the policy as well.
Ford stated: “Our government made a commitment to the people of Ontario to protect free speech on campuses. Promise made, promise kept.” Universities across Ontario have begun to write their policy in wake of the news. The University of Toronto, McMaster University and Wilfrid Laurier University all had policies in place prior to the announcement.
Post-secondary schools across Ontario have released comments stating similar perspectives about the policy. The Council of Ontario Universities states: “We welcome further discussion with the government on how freedom of expression may continue to be protected, and believe any framework must balance the right to free expression with universities’ duty to maintain a civil campus environment, along with physical safety and security for faculty, students and staff.”
The main issue most colleges and universities are having is ensuring campuses remain safe places. Words affect people. With this new policy entering our schools as soon as winter 2019, it’s going to be important to bring back some rules everyone likely learned in kindergarten: be kind with your words and listen to the other side — they might just happen to change your mind.