Queen’s to implement new free speech policy before January

Policy will undergo a two-week public comment period in November

Ontarian institutions have until Jan. 1 to comply with the province’s free speech policy.
Ontarian institutions have until Jan. 1 to comply with the province’s free speech policy.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

The University expects a new free speech policy by mid-December, weeks before the Ford government’s January 2019 deadline.

In a written statement to The Journal, the University stated Principal Daniel Woolf’s office is developing the new free speech policy with a first draft to be completed shortly. 

After Woolf finishes the initial draft, it will undergo a consultation and advisory process, including input from the Senate and Board of Trustees, followed by a two-week public comment period in mid-November. 

The University also stated the process would be completed by mid-December in an effort to provide it to the public before the January deadline. It added the policy will define free speech and other “paths of recourse.” 

The Office of the Premier published a news release on Aug. 30 stating new policies must “comply with a free speech policy that meets a minimum standard prescribed by the government and based on best practices from around the world.”

The Ford government requires each policy to include a definition of freedom of speech and all institutions to apply existing student disciplinary measures to “students whose actions are contrary to the policy.” They cite “ongoing disruptive protesting that significantly interferes with the ability of an event to proceed” as an example. 

Institutions must make student groups’ compliance with the policy a condition for continued financial support and recognition, and encourage student unions to adopt policies that align with the free speech policy. 

Colleges and universities will use existing structures to address complaints and ensure compliance, with any unresolved complaints directed to the Ontario Ombudsman. 

If any universities or colleges don’t create a policy or fail to follow and report on policies after they’re implemented, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities may decrease their operating grant funding, depending on the severity of the non-compliances. 

Starting in September 2019, universities and colleges must also publish annual reports on the progress of the policies. 

The Office of the Premier used the University of Chicago’s Statement on Principles of Free Expression as a model for the expected policies, which includes principles such as, “universities and colleges should be places for open discussion and free inquiry,” and “the university [or] college should not attempt to shield students from ideas or opinions that they disagree with or find offensive.”

The statement also mandates that “while members of the university [or] 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” and “speech that violates the law is not allowed.” 

In a statement to The Journal, the University expressed that “free speech centers on the respectful and informed exchange of ideas … Hate speech as defined by the Criminal Code of Canada is prohibited on campus.” 

The University will address any student behaviours that conflict with the policy through things like the Student Code of Conduct, Human Rights legislation, and any other laws or structures already existent at Queen’s.

Going forward, the University will also use other existing structures to address occurences including protests—which its maintain are still allowed—barring acts of vandalism. 

For example, the University will use the Interim Policy on the Booking, Use, and Cancellation of Bookings in University Space to scope out potential risks in certain events. 

When groups or individuals book events on campus, the University will use the policy to determine what kind of safety conditions and requirements are necessary for the event. The University could also refuse access to those who don’t meet the requirements of the policy.   

Over the past year, Queen’s experienced tension around free speech on campus, including the Jordan Peterson protests and recent debates surrounding the controversial Liberty Lecture series featuring Conrad Black.

In an opinion piece published by The Globe and Mail titled, “Why we invited Jordan Peterson to discuss compelled speech,” Principal Wolfe argued for importance of free speech on campus.  

“Freedom of speech and the goals of diversity and inclusion are entirely compatible and often mutually strengthening,” he wrote. “Those who challenge, giving opponents the right and a platform on which to speak, are conflating two different issues and setting a dangerous precedent.”

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