University to discuss drafting freedom of expression guidelines

Ryerson, McMaster draft guidelines for student protests, freedom of expression in response to controversial speakers

Image supplied by: By Iain Sherriff-Scott
Queen's Principal Daniel Woolf 

Early in March, McMaster University released drafted guidelines for freedom of expression and acceptable protest on campus. The guidelines followed controversial University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson’s speech on campus from the year before.

In response to Peterson’s visit and the protest that followed, McMaster established a “committee on protest and freedom of expression,” to set guidelines for student dissent and protest safety. 

Just last week, Ryerson University’s senate announced it had drafted an update to the University’s statement on freedom of expression. The university is currently asking for community feedback on the potential changes.

The move to change Ryerson’s statement comes after a panel discussion called “The Stifling of Free Speech” was canceled last August. The discussion was set to feature Peterson as a speaker. 

According to The Eyeopener, James Turk, the director of Ryerson’s Centre for Free Expression said the cancellation of last year’s event “played a key role in the decision to review Ryerson’s free speech statement.”

When asked if Queen’s would pursue similar guidelines, Principal Daniel Woolf told The Journal “we are aware of the guidelines at other institutions and senior administration will be discussing over the coming weeks whether such a document, in addition to those mentioned above, is warranted at this time.”

McMaster’s committee report states “as an academic community, it is crucial that McMaster’s campus is a place where a diverse range of opinions and perspectives can be held.”

“The temptation to ‘shut down’ or prevent events from occurring is troubling. Censorship is not an option,” the report continues. “There are very narrow grounds under which McMaster should restrict or stop a speaker or an event.” 

The guidelines also state specifically that “chanting, blowing horns or whistles, or making other sustained or repeated noise in a manner which substantially interferes with the speaker’s communication is not permitted, whether inside or outside the meeting.” 

In March, Peterson’s lecture at Queen’s sparked a protest which saw demonstrators attempt to disrupt the event through similar means; actions which would violate McMaster’s new guidelines. 

Woolf explained that currently, guidelines for protests and controversial speakers is defined in accordance to the Interim Policy on the Booking, Use, and Cancellation of Bookings in University Space.

The current policy asserts “the university is committed to providing an environment conducive to academic freedom, freedom of enquiry, expression, and open dialogue and debate.”

“It is also committed to providing and maintaining a safe campus environment in which members of the university community have the right to study, work, and conduct their activities free of intimidation and harassment,” the policy read.

Woolf stressed “informed debate and protest are both legitimate forms of expression. The university expects that in either activity, students will remain respectful, and behave within the confines of the law and the student code of conduct.”


freedom of expression, Jordan Peterson, mcmaster, Protest, Ryerson

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