A resolution was passed at the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) 2018 Annual General Meeting (AGM) condemning the Ontario government’s campus freedom of speech mandate.
The mandate from Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government, originally announced on August 30, requires that all Ontario universities develop free speech policies by January 1. The policy also stipulates that student group compliance with the mandate is a condition for ongoing financial support.
While U of T has had a freedom of speech policy since 1992, there has been no official confirmation from the Ford government on whether the university’s policies meet the provincial mandate.
The AGM resolution, moved by Jack Rising — a member of the club Socialist Fightback U of T — proposed that the UTSU officially reject and refuse to implement the Ford government’s mandate or any law that stems from it.
Describing the mandate as “Orwellian,” the motion also called for the UTSU to demand that U of T not implement any policies deterring freedom of speech.
The resolution was amended by UTSU Academic Director for Social Sciences Joshua Bowman. The amendment, which passed, eliminated the second half of the original resolution, so that the final motion condemned the provincial free speech mandate but did not call for the UTSU to urge action from U of T.
The passed motion puts the UTSU “on record as opposing the Ontario government’s anti-democratic ‘free speech on campus’ mandate” and preemptively refuses participation in the implementation of the mandate at U of T.
In an interview with The Varsity, Jeremy Swinarton, a member of Socialist Fightback, explained his concerns about Ford’s policy, specifically calling it “an anti-protest law.”
His fear is that students who actively protest could be expelled under the mandate and that right-wing groups would not face repercussions due to the fact that “Doug Ford has connections to these people.”
Swinarton believes the free speech mandate targets left-wing students who protest right-wing or controversial political figures like Faith Goldy or Jordan Peterson.
Goldy is a white nationalist who commonly repeats white supremacist language and has adopted far-right conspiracy theories. Peterson is a controversial U of T psychology professor who went viral through YouTube lectures speaking out against political correctness and later refused to use preferred trans and non-binary gender pronouns.
The Varsity reached out to the U of T Campus Conservatives for comment on the union’s rejection of the free speech mandate. The U of T Campus Conservatives is officially affiliated with the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario and the Conservative Party of Canada.
The group’s president, Matthew Campbell, asked, “How about [the UTSU] reject provincial funding and subsidies for the university? How about every U of T student [who is] a UTSU member reject the subsidy that the provincial government provides the University of Toronto?”
“They’re a fucking joke,” Campbell said. “Do I give a fuck about what the U of T Student Union represents? No.” The Campus Conservatives were not present at the AGM to speak in favour of the campus free speech mandate.
After the AGM, Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm expressed concern to The Varsity about the wider effects that Ford’s policy could have on the university and the UTSU.
“Is this the hill we want to die on? Is this an ideal stance worth the complete elimination of our entire revenue stream? I don’t know the answer to that.”
— With files from Ilya Bañares, Hannah Carty, Ann Marie Elpa, and Josie Kao