Queen’s professors talk free speech policy

Profs debate results following Principal office’s release of final version

Queen’s free speech policy came into effect in Dec. 2018. 
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

Since the Principal’s office released its final version of the Ontario government-mandated freedom of expression policy last December, students and faculty have been debating the policy.

Discussions centre around the Province’s requiring post-secondary institutions to implement free speech policies and whether it qualifies as interference in university affairs, in addition to the mandate that student groups comply with the policy or face funding cuts.

Bruce Pardy—a Queen’s law professor who’s invited conservative speakers like Jordan Peterson and Conrad Black to campus—weighed in on the Premier’s motivation for requiring free speech policies at Ontario post-secondary institutions.

“The Ontario government directive would not have been necessary if some Ontario universities had not been overtly hostile towards free speech,” Pardy wrote in an email to The Journal. “Institutions and faculty tend to be sympathetic to the view that free speech should be ‘balanced’ against other values that they support—which is just code for censoring speech they don’t like.”

Pardy said the policy’s two core ideas—the provision that the University won’t restrict the expression of ideas or opinions but also allows freedom to contest ideas or opinions through peaceful assembly, demonstrations, and protests—are sound. He argued that student groups funded or recognized by the University should be subject to the policy.

“Remember, the policy does not limit the content of speech but ensures that limits are not imposed,” Pardy wrote. “Those student groups can engage in whatever debate they wish.”

Gender studies Professor Elizabeth Brulé believes the Premier’s mandate arose from backlash against marginalized groups and efforts to normalize right-wing movements.

“Extreme right conservative groups are claiming that disciplines such as gender studies, cultural studies, and various other groups that advance human rights and social justice are essentially not real disciplines,” she said in an interview with The Journal. “These right-wing groups are claiming these departments force political correctness on students and are curbing freedom of expression.”

Brulé also noted a similarity between Doug Ford’s requirement that Ontario universities implement free speech policies or face funding cuts and US President Donald Trump’s threats against the University of California, Berkeley campus.

The threats were put forward to force the campus to uphold regulations of free expression or be financially sanctioned in 2017.

“It’s no surprise that Doug Ford is following in those footsteps,” she said, adding not all speech is free.

“Not all groups have access to the same platforms for expression as others,” she said. “I think we have to keep that in mind when we’re talking about freedom and freedom of expression.”

As long as the policy allows peaceful assembly, demonstrations, and protests, the University is still upholding the constitutional rights of Canadians, Brulé stated, adding, “That’s an important caveat they’ve included.”

She also expressed concern about the compliancy section of the policy, which states, “Student groups, other than the student governments, are required to comply with this policy in order to be recognized by or receive funding from the University.”

“To include a statement that students have to comply or face monetary sanctions, that’s problematic,” she said.

Meanwhile, Brulé echoed Principal Daniel Woolf and other senators’ concerns over the Ford government’s involvement in University policies, hold that the University has always protected free speech and the updates are an unnecessary intervention.

Pardy also said the Premier’s involvement in the University’s affairs disrespected institutional autonomy.

The policy, Free Expression at Queen’s University, can be found on the University Secretariat and Legal Counsel website.

Corrections

January 18, 2019

This article originally failed to include the accent in Brulé's name.

The Journal regrets the error.

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