Premier Ford mandates universities draft free speech protections

Province threatens to cut grant funding to non-compliant universities

Premier Doug Ford in Kingston.
Journal File Photo

On Aug. 30, Premier Doug Ford announced Ontario universities must create policies protecting freedom of speech on all provincially-funded campuses.

Institutions will have until Jan. 1, 2019 to enact and comply with a new free speech policy. According to the Province’s statement, the new rules must meet “a minimum standard prescribed by the government and based on best practices from around the world.”

Universities will be required to produce annual compliance reports to monitor the implementation of the policies. The statement also stated non-compliant institutions would face a reduction in operating grant funding. 

The announcement also nudges Ontario universities to punish students who act against the policy’s guidelines. 

“Students whose actions are contrary to the free speech policy are subject to existing campus student discipline measures,” the province’s statement read.

The move met support in Ford’s cabinet, with the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton supporting the policy.

“Today’s announcement will help protect free speech and foster learning environments that encourage freedom of thought, by making sure that all universities and colleges have a strong, clear and consistent free speech policy,” she said.  

In a statement published the same day as the announcement, Queen’s Principal and Chair of the Council of Ontario Universities, Daniel Woolf said the University  “will work with the government and other stakeholders to ensure that freedom of expression is alive and healthy.”

“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,” Woolf said.

When contacted for a comment on the announcement, AMS Vice-President (University Affairs) Munro Waters said in an email that while academic freedom is valuable to ensure open dialogue, student safety is the Society’s “highest priority.” 

“A safe learning environment is integral for students to feel comfortable as they expand their knowledge during their time at Queen’s,” Waters wrote. “The next steps are still to be determined, but we will do what we can to ensure student voices are heard throughout the process.”

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