Free expression on campuses across Ontario will soon become regulated, controlled, and policed by the Ontario government. The BUFA Executive strongly opposes this provincial directive, which was imposed without consultation with the university communities nor due consideration of its likely consequences.
Effective January 1, 2019, each university and college in Ontario has been directed by the Office of the Premier to develop, implement, and comply with a free speech policy. The government requires that the policy be based on principles inherent in the University of Chicago Principles on Free Expression, including such facets as funding and recognition of student groups conditional upon their compliance with the policy, and students subject to disciplinary measures if the policy is contravened. Failure to comply with the new directive by any post-secondary institution may result in penalties such as funding cuts.
The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) has been also directed by the government to undertake research on free speech, monitor progress on this issue, review and assess each institution’s annual report, and provide advice to the Minister on these matters going forward. How HEQCO will meet this new mandate is not clear, given its own self-declared mission as an informative advisory council.
Both the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) and the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) oppose these government directives. In a statement released in October, OCUFA states categorically that “There is no free speech crisis on Ontario Campuses . . . this intervention is not just unnecessary, it is harmful”. There are already existing rules and legislation that cover free expression, but also prohibit hate speech. The BUFA Executive concurs with both the CAUT and OCUFA positions and strongly supports the efforts by OCUFA to convince the provincial government to withdraw this directive and work with the universities to continue to assure that free expression is safeguarded. This goal can be achieved without the threat of financial penalties imposed by the government for violating this speech directive which was undertaken without consultation or appreciation of its implications.
Please contact BUFA if you have any questions or you believe your academic freedom rights have been violated.
Michelle Webber, Ph.D.
President, Brock University Faculty Association
1812 Sir Isaac Brock Way, MC D402
St. Catharines, ON L2S 3A1
Phone: (905) 688-5550 ext. 4411