Premiere Doug Ford
Ford speaks during his 2018 Campaign. Photo: CC, via Flickr
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Universities must comply or risk losing funding

Winter 2019 will be the first semester in which Ontario universities will be required to follow the Ford government’s new free speech policies or risk losing out on provincial funding.

Doug Ford’s Conservative government first implemented the policy last year, intending to address a perceived crisis of free speech on campus. However, the move has faced backlash by academic organizations who claim it erodes the independence of educational institutions.

“There is no free speech crisis on Ontario campuses. This is an ideological fiction advanced by the government to justify interference in the academic governance and autonomy of Ontario’s universities and colleges.” states the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) and the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) in a joint statement.

The University of Ottawa passed a compliant policy in December, now known as Academic Policy 121. The policy states that all students have a right to free expression on campus, and the university  will not “seek to shield its community from controversial or objectionable views.”

The university has historically maintained a similar, but informal policy on free speech. However, Policy 121 gives the administration new powers to punish individuals and organizations who interfere in the free speech of others.

The OCUFA statement continues, “Threatening to discipline students, staff and faculty actually limits expression rights on campus, especially for systemically marginalized groups. Members of the campus community may be discouraged from speaking up for fear of being disciplined.”

Policy 121 states that it does not “permit interference with the free expression of the full spectrum of human thought.”

Jeremy Cavenaugh, a third-year international economics major, believes that the non-interference element means the policy is inherently hypocritical.

“If the school won’t let you yell at a Nazi then you don’t really have a free speech policy, you just have a pro-Nazi policy.”

“When you have people who publicly prop up the Jewish conspiracy—well that isn’t an idea that deserves protection,” he says, in reference to Faith Goldy’s appearances on university campuses.

Policy 121 does allow the banning of hate speech but does not elaborate on if or how this will be enforced.  

Other students were more supportive of the move.

“When you have people pulling fire alarms and barricading doors instead of arguing, you have a free speech problem,” says Allen Ramsey, a second-year Telfer business student.  “Some of these speakers, are saying the dumbest shit—it isn’t hard to prove them wrong politely. When you riot, you are just sort of giving them legitimacy and causing property damage.”

The specifics of Policy 121’s enforcement mechanisms on campus are still not known. The province has committed to an annual review of all publicly funded schools to ensure compliance with the Conservative party’s plan.