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Report calls U of O and Carleton ‘worst’ in Canada for censoring student opinion

Photo by Sabrina Nemis

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) has ranked the University of Ottawa among the worst in Canada in terms of freedom of expression.

The JCCF recently released its annual Campus Freedom Index, which measures Canadian universities and student unions on their policies and practices regarding freedom of expression. According to the report, 51 per cent of Canadian universities fail to implement and uphold adequate free expression policies.

“Taking an average of universities’ policies and practices, the Campus Freedom Index names Carleton University and the University of Ottawa as the worst universities in Canada for free expression,” the report reads. “Both Carleton and Ottawa have actively censored student speech, earning Ds for their policies and Fs for their practices.”

The index evaluated the state of free speech at 45 public universities and graded them on a five-tier letter scale: A, B, C, D, and F. The U of O received a D for policy and an F for practices. The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) received a D for both policy and practices.

“I would be very intrigued to see the methodology that was used,” said SFUO president Anne-Marie Roy. “I found that a lot of the survey was very biased, so I think the results were definitely skewed because of that. It seems to me that this was coming from a right-wing think-tank. I think it does not acknowledge that there is such a thing as hate speech.”

In order to receive an A grade, a university or student union must “decisively permit the expression of unpopular opinions,” according to the JCCF.

“I think the SFUO and the U of O are working to create spaces where people do feel like they can express their opinions,” said Roy. “However, we do make a point to make sure that most students are feeling safe in those spaces. I think the report doesn’t acknowledge that.”

Because 23 of the 45 evaluated campuses received at least one F, the report stated the majority of Canadian universities are failing to support free expression on their campus.

“With 180 letter grades awarded to 45 campuses, Canada’s universities and student unions receive only six A grades,” the report reads. “Conversely, and troublingly, F grades were earned 32 times: 13 by universities and 19 by student unions.”

The report cited the Ann Coulter incident of March 2010—when the American political commentator’s scheduled speech at the U of O was cancelled after protestors took over the event—as an example of the university’s censorship of free expression on campus.

“The University of Ottawa failed to provide adequate security for a lecture by American author Ann Coulter which forced the cancellation of the club-sponsored event just hours before it was to begin,” the JCCF said. “The university also sent Coulter a letter prior to her arrival, warning her to ‘watch her words’ while visiting the campus.”

The full report is available on the JCCF website.

Read the full report here.