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Free-speech policies now expected to be in place at Ontario post-secondary schools

The sign for York University's Keele Campus, surrounded by fallen leaves, in Toronto on Nov. 6, 2018. CITYNEWS/Tony Fera

Ontario’s post-secondary institutions are now expected to have free-speech policies in place under a controversial provincial rule that officially came into effect this year.

The governing Progressive Conservatives announced last summer that all publicly funded colleges and universities would have until Jan. 1 to develop and implement a free speech policy “that meets a minimum standard prescribed by the government.”

The government said that any institutions that failed to comply could face a cut in funding.

While Ontario’s colleges adopted a universal free-speech policy late last year, the province’s 22 universities have opted to each come up with their own.

Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., says its policy was approved mid-December after the school sought input from stakeholders and the public.

It says the policy, which also upholds the right to engage in peaceful protest about the content of the free expression of others, took effect immediately.

A number of labour and academic groups have raised concerns about the government’s directive, however, saying it will stifle rather than promote free speech.

They say the decision was pushed through with little, if any, consultation and will undermine institutional autonomy.

“This is an ideological fiction advanced by the government to justify interference in the academic governance and autonomy of Ontario’s universities and colleges,” the groups, which include the Canadian Federation of Students, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, said in a statement when the rule was announced.

“This intervention is not just unnecessary, it is harmful. These policies will actually limit the rights of faculty, staff, and students to express themselves and jeopardize the quality of student education and research,” they said, adding staff, students and faculty may be discouraged from speaking up out of fear of being disciplined.