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Debunking Ford’s doublespeak

‘Free speech’ undermines free speech, ‘student choice’ undermines student choice

Debunking Ford’s doublespeak

In recent years, the issue of free speech on university campuses has become increasingly contentious. U of T became part of the national conversation on free speech when Professor Jordan Peterson made headlines in 2016, and since then, numerous other conflicts have unfolded on campuses across the country.

For example, consider white nationalist Faith Goldy’s failed speaking event at Wilfrid Laurier University last year, which was supposed to be hosted by the Laurier Society for Open Inquiry. Or last week’s case of the University of British Columbia’s Free Speech Club invitation to anti-immigrant speakers Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern to speak, which was also cancelled.

The misapplication of free speech

Technically, free speech refers to the ability to speak freely without facing retribution from the state. But at universities, free speech groups misapply the concept as a test of campus tolerance for hateful views from controversial speakers they choose to invite, often under the guise of diversity of thought. However, when students or institutions refuse to tolerate their speech, it is not an action of the government — and therefore not a free speech issue.

Students oppose the presence of such figures on campus because their words reflect hatred toward marginalized communities. For example, Southern and Goldy have espoused the white genocide conspiracy theory, which argues that phenomena like mass immigration and racial integration are meant to lead to the extinction of white people, and Molyneux subscribes to “scientific racism” in the form of attributing differences in intelligence to race.

As white nationalist violence rises, the consequences of giving platforms to such speakers have become all too evident: speech leads to action. But in each case, the organizers take the protests against their events as vindication that free speech is under attack and that they are being silenced and censored. They neither realize nor acknowledge that their rhetoric may cross into hate speech. 

This dynamic has played out on campuses for years. But now, the groups that invite these figures to campus have the ear of Ontario’s premier, to the detriment of the rest of us students. A recent report by The Varsity shows just how central the issue is to the Progressive Conservative provincial government’s decisions.

Selective consultation

Last August, Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton attended a free speech roundtable with the University of Ottawa Students for Free Speech (uOSFS), the University of Toronto Students in Support of Free Speech, and Students for Free Speech York University. The next day, the Ford government threatened that universities would have to implement free speech policies or face funding cuts.

The far more consequential outcome of the roundtable wasn’t announced until months later in January. The Student Choice Initiative (SCI), which will allow students to opt out of some non-tuition fees deemed ‘inessential,’ was apparently suggested by the uOSFS at the August roundtable.

Instead of consulting student unions, who are elected to represent thousands of other students, Ford chose to selectively consult a small group of fringe students on policies that determine the future and survival of all other groups on campus.

Michael Bueckert, a graduate student at Carleton University, claimed that Ford only consulted alt-right students in an article he posted on Medium. Bueckert points out that uOSFS Vice President Finance Michele Di Franco appeared on a show hosted by alt-right leader Gavin McInnes. McInnes is the founder of the Proud Boys, a militant, neo-fascist organization. While Di Franco may not hold the same views as McInnes, his appearance on the show is troubling.

It is also extremely concerning that U of T members of Students in Support of Free Speech (SSFS) have defended the Proud Boys, even though SSFS claims to be non-partisan. When contacted by The Varsity, the SSFS did not say whether it felt the SCI would advance or retreat free speech, saying it is “irrelevant to the mission of [the] club.”

In an act of extreme irony, Di Franco is now suing Bueckert for what he claims are defamatory statements in the Medium post, as well as in a series of tweets made by Bueckert. Di Franco is asking for $150,000 in damages and a permanent injunction preventing Bueckert from disseminating defamatory material about him. If free speech groups choose to associate themselves with controversial figures, they should be open to criticism. Legal action not only curtails Bueckert’s free expression, but instils fear that forces others into silence.

Targeting the student voice

The University of Toronto Campus Conservatives President Matthew Campbell has said that an opt-out option has been a talking point for young conservatives for the last five to eight years. Louis Vart, who spoke with me on behalf of the group, says that students are best at managing their money, not the university.

Vart went further by adding that the policy will give transparency to student groups, which he feels they are lacking in at UTSG, mentioning the referendum to defund the Ontario Interest Research Group (OPIRG), a left-leaning research group, last year. A campus conservative group at Carleton has also pointed to defunding OPIRG as a reason to support the SCI. 

The apparent intention of the policy, to defund left-leaning campus groups and student unions, was made abundantly clear when Doug Ford referred to the “crazy marxist nonsense” students “get up to” in an email meant to solicit donations. As Bueckert writes, “it is evident that the real motivation for this policy is not to save students money, but to crush the conservatives’ political opponents.” But whether or not the conservatives like it, students have already decided that they value these organizations, as attempts to defund OPIRGs at multiple campuses in Ontario have failed.

While the policy is ostensibly about freedom and choice, in reality, students are left with fewer options than before. The actions of a few corrupt student leaders should not be reason to tear down the structure of student democracy entirely. Student unions give students a seat at the table, both within the university administration and at various levels of government. Similar to labour unions, everyone reaps the benefits of the advocacy that student unions do, so it only makes sense that everyone should pay into them.

Students should not be fooled. This policy is not an effort to expand our choice but an attempt to weaken our power. Without strong student unions, our ability to organize and voice our concerns to the Ontario government is completely undercut. When we understand free speech as having a voice without retribution from the state, then it is ironically the government’s opt-out initiative that undermines free speech.

All students lose

While the targets of the policy may be left-leaning groups and unions, the effects spill over to all student groups, eroding established campus life and community comprised of clubs, intramurals, and services such as food banks and crisis centres. Moreover, free speech is further put in jeopardy as student media in Ontario now face an existential threat. The future of campus publications like The Varsity, which give students a voice and promotes important dialogue and debate, remains uncertain under the policy.

An independent student press is necessary to ensure the accountability and transparency of other groups. While Ford has touted the Ryerson Student Union’s recent corruption scandal as evidence that students should be able to opt out of incidental fees, we shouldn’t forget that the story was broken by The Eyeopener, Ryerson University’s student paper, which also relies on a levy to exist.

Similarly, the uOSFS has pointed to allegations of fraud on the part of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) executives as a motivation for their support of the SCI, but, again, the original reporting that exposed the fraudulent practices came from student papers, The Fulcrum and La Rotonde.

Levies from all students are what give campus newspapers the freedom and ability to do this important reporting. Not only do they hold campus groups to account, they also keep the universities they are affiliated with in check. Universities which can, in the case of U of T, have billion dollar endowments and receive millions in taxpayer dollars.

The disguise of free speech

Defunding student groups in the name of free speech is clearly oxymoronic — but the premier is hardly the first person to try and change the political leanings of university campuses under the guise of free speech. For years, conservative groups have used the promotion of free speech as a guise to push their political agendas on university campuses.

Each year, the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) releases a Campus Freedom Index, where it issues letter grades to Canadian universities based on the policies and actions of their administrations and student unions. In 2018, it gave U of T a “B” on its policies and a “D” on its practices, citing mandatory anti-discrimination training for Human Resources & Equity staff following a list of supposed infractions.

If you look into the JCCF, you will find that the group is not purely concerned with free speech. Its chief concern is promoting socially conservative causes, including opposition to abortion. If there is an ideological war to claim university campuses, conservatives have clearly lost. Now, they pour dark money into causes to change that.
The truth is, conservative views, provided they are not hateful or inciting violence, are not silenced — they are simply unpopular on campus. For example, despite the fact that The Varsity has regular conservative contributions, conservative writers have asked for anonymity at The Varsity because they fear backlash against their views.

John Carpay, the President of the JCCF, is a member of the United Conservative Party, and in a recent legal filing, the group called high school gay-straight alliances “ideological sexual clubs.” Yet the lobby group postures as non-partisan, promoting its Campus Freedom Index in mainstream papers like National Post, all while claiming that free speech is currently under attack on university campuses.

Who is really under attack?

Facing these powerful outside forces attempting to change our campuses, what we need is a strong coalition of students advocating against the SCI across the province. If groups genuinely care about free speech, they will take a stance against this policy. The true attack on free speech is not coming from protest or backlash to controversial speakers, but rather from the provincial government attempting to silence political dissent by undermining student democracy.

We as students should be less preoccupied with inviting Rebel Media personalities to campus, and more worried about our ability to express ourselves, organize, and hold other groups accountable through the free press — all of which is actually under attack.

Amelia Eaton is a second-year Political Science and Ethics, Society and Law student at Woodsworth College. She is The Varsity’s Student Life Columnist.

Kerry Diotte: Hands off the student press!

The Varsity stands in solidarity with The Gateway in light of the MP’s lawsuit

Kerry Diotte: Hands off the student press!

The MP for Edmonton Griesbach, Kerry Diotte, is suing the University of Alberta’s student magazine, The Gateway. The lawsuit is in response to two Gateway articles that Diotte claims make defamatory comments about him.

The Varsity firmly stands in support of The Gateway’s right to freedom of expression and unequivocally calls on Diotte to drop this unnecessary lawsuit.

The Gateway’s criticisms

The claim alleges that on November 2, The Gateway published an article criticizing the University of Alberta Students’ Union’s President, Reed Larsen, for posting a photo on social media with Diotte. This article, included in full in the claim, stated that Diotte “has a history of making racist remarks,” and further contended that Diotte supported white nationalist Faith Goldy in her recent bid to be Toronto’s mayor.

A November 5 editorial from the publication, also included in full in the claim, echoed the criticism of Larsen and repeated the sentiments about Diotte’s apparent beliefs and affiliations.

On November 15, The Gateway retracted statements from both pieces and issued apologies at the top of both articles, after the publication “was contacted by a representative of Mr. Diotte, who provided information indicating that the comments were untrue.”

A statement of claim from Diotte, suing The Gateway for defamation, came four days later, asserting that the entirety of both articles is defamatory. In a post on social media, Diotte claimed that The Gateway failed “to fully retract and apologize for its damaging articles.”

Diotte’s history of racial insensitivity

First and foremost, The Varsity believes that The Gateway had reason to highlight Diotte’s history of racial insensitivity. In 2016, Diotte tweeted — and later apologized for — a “Liberal Buzz Word Bingo” card, which included the words “Syrians” and “indigenous.”

Diotte has publicly associated with white nationalist Faith Goldy, posting a photo with her on Twitter in February 2017. He also praised her, saying that she was “Making the Media Great Again.” This was only weeks after Goldy spread false, anti-Muslim conspiracy theories about the January 2017 Québec City mosque shooting that claimed six lives.

In August 2017, Goldy was fired from her job as a commentator with far-right The Rebel Media after she appeared on a neo-Nazi affiliated podcast in the wake of the violent Charlottesville Unite the Right rally. She has advocated for the white supremacist conspiracy theory that warns of a white genocide. She has also uttered the Fourteen Words, a white supremacist creed.

Here in Toronto, we are aware firsthand of the threat that politicians like Goldy pose to a culturally diverse city, especially given her third-place finish as mayor. It is crucial that the press scrutinize Goldy and all those who choose to associate with her.

For Diotte to respond to The Gateway’s claims and defend the decision to commence his lawsuit by asserting that his “grandmother was an Indigenous woman and [his] family has been on the receiving end of deplorable racist comments” is therefore deeply concerning. It is possible to be both a victim and perpetrator of racism. Rather than take responsibility for his past actions, Diotte chose to deflect and make himself the victim.

By exploiting Indigenous identity a deeply sensitive subject given the history and ongoing reality of colonialism in Canada — he only further demonstrated the racial insensitivity that The Gateway had exposed.

Freedom of the student press

Aside from discussion about the legitimacy of The Gateway’s claims, The Varsity believes that retracting certain statements in order to appease Diotte’s grievances was sufficient. Yet Diotte proceeded with the lawsuit for $150,000 in damages — likely enough to financially devastate the independent student publication.

We concur with the Canadian University Press (CUP) that Diotte’s response is disproportionate and exceeds an intention to protect his own reputation. It reflects an attempt to silence criticism.

As noted by CUP, Diotte appears to be pursuing a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP), which aims to silence critics by burdening them with expensive legal costs to the point of abandonment of their criticism. In Ontario, anti-SLAPP legislation exists to protect publications like The Gateway from lawsuits like Diotte’s.

Given his capacity as an MP, this is a clear abrogation of the freedom of the press. Journalists and media organizations across Canada should be concerned and offer their support to The Gateway.

To be specific, however, this is not simply an attack on the freedom of the press: it is an attack on the freedom of the student press. This distinction is important. Diotte’s actions reflect a general tendency for institutions in this country to disrespect student media. Consider the power dynamic that underlies his lawsuit: an elected representative of the Government of Canada is bullying a paper run by undergraduate students.

U of T is no exception when it comes to condescension toward student media. For example, in August, U of T’s media relations office rejected a media request from the University of British Columbia’s student newspaper, The Ubyssey, on the basis that it was unable to accommodate “requests with student media other than our own.”

That student papers are classified as “student media,” rather than just media, ignores the fact that the voices of students — arguably the most important political constituency in the country — are channeled through these papers. The Gateway, for example, is the primary platform for the students of the University of Alberta.

Furthermore, student papers cover stories that bigger outlets tend to overlook. It is we who hold powerful university administrations — with multi-million, sometimes multi-billion-dollar budgets — accountable. In sum, the student press matters.

Diotte’s treatment of The Gateway is a reflection of a broader problematic attitude toward the student press that must be addressed. If he succeeds, he will severely compromise the ability of University of Alberta students to hold institutions accountable, keep readers informed about university affairs, and realize their dreams to become professional journalists.

The Gateway: we stand with you

Diotte’s lawsuit is setting a dangerous precedent. If it proceeds, other powerful politicians across Canada might feel emboldened to do the same to other student papers. For The Varsity, opposing Diotte’s action is as much a matter of self-interest as it is of solidarity.

Like many other conservatives, Diotte claims to be a “defender of free speech.” This is especially the case when it comes to university campuses. Andrew Scheer, the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, even pledged to pull federal funding for universities that fail to uphold free speech. Here in Ontario, Progressive Conservative premier Doug Ford echoed and implemented this pledge, requiring universities to produce free speech policies by the start of 2019.

We call on conservatives across Canada to recognize that an independent, free press that can criticize government without fear of repercussion is at the heart of the definition of free speech. We call on Scheer to communicate this fact to Diotte, his party member, and demand that Diotte drop his lawsuit if his campus free speech pledge is to have any legitimacy at all.

We call on governments across Canada to implement anti-SLAPP laws, if they haven’t already done so, to ensure that freedom of speech and freedom of the press are protected against lawsuits from powerful politicians.

We call on Canadian society and institutions to stop mistreating the student press as a body that can be disrespected, bullied, and destroyed, or viewed as lesser than the ‘real’ press. We are the real press. Our work matters.

We call on Diotte to drop his lawsuit. To The Gateway: we stand with you.

The Varsity’s editorial board is elected by the masthead at the beginning of each semester. For more information about the editorial policy, email editorial@thevarsity.ca.

The Explainer: How Ford’s free speech policy mandate will affect student groups

The Explainer: How Ford’s free speech policy mandate will affect student groups

As part of Premier Doug Ford’s recent free speech policy mandate, student groups and student unions of publicly funded universities and colleges in Ontario will need to create and follow a free speech policy or risk having their funding or recognition revoked.

According to the mandate, schools must create a free speech policy that meets the government’s minimum standards by January 1.

Part of the requirements are that “institutions consider official student groups’ compliance with the policy as condition for ongoing financial support or recognition, and encourage student unions to adopt policies that align with the free speech policy.”

The free speech policy

U of T’s policy on freedom of speech, which has been in effect since 1992, was endorsed by U of T President Meric Gertler in September in the wake of the provincial government’s announcement, but university administration is still waiting to receive specific details of the provincial legislation to see if the current policy needs to be altered.

Joshua Grondin, Vice-President University Affairs of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), is also monitoring the policy with the Office of the Vice-Provost Students to see what changes are made, if any.

“The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities is actively working with publicly assisted universities and colleges as they draft their own policy,” wrote Stephanie Rea, Director of Communications to the Ontario Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, in an email. “Universities and colleges are able to consult with their communities on the specifics of their policy, so long as it is consistent with the minimum standard.”

Starting in September, colleges and universities will need to report annually to the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, who will then evaluate each institution’s report and provide recommendations to the minister. If institutions do not comply with the free speech requirements, their operating grants may be reduced.

“The Policy will not only protect free speech but ensure that hate speech, discrimination and other illegal forms of speech are not allowed on campus,” wrote Rea.

How will student groups be affected?

Student organizations are covered by U of T’s Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Organizations.

“That policy includes provisions such as a commitment to ensuring that members’ voices and perspectives can be heard,” said university spokesperson Elizabeth Church.

“Student Organizations” include Student Societies and Campus Groups.

Student societies are defined by a compulsory non-academic incidental fee that U of T collects on their behalf and automatic membership upon registration and status in a particular division or program.

There are two types of student societies: Representative Student Committees, which includes the University of Toronto Students’ Union, Association of Part-time Students, Scarborough Students’ Union, and University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union; and Divisional and Faculty Student Societies, of which there are 38 in total, including the Arts and Science Students’ Union, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union, and The Varsity.

Recognized campus groups are “voluntary organizations” created by members of the U of T community. There are over 1,100 campus groups recognized by the university.

U of T’s policy on student organizations uses a complaints-based process. If complaints are brought against a student society for not following the free speech policy, and the matter cannot be resolved internally, it would then be brought to the Complaint and Resolution Council for Student Societies (CRCSS).

The CRCSS Panel is composed of five voting members and one non-voting member. The voting members include a chair and four student members drawn from a pool of appointees from each student society.

The CRCSS Panel would decide if any actions are required and if fees should be withheld.

The vice-president and provost ultimately decides whether to withhold fees and, depending on the situation, has the power to take immediate action without the recommendation of the CRCSS.

For recognized campus groups, the campus-specific Office of Student Life will look into complaints or charges against a campus organization after complaints have been made directly to the organization first. The complainants would appeal to the Office of the Vice-Provost Students.

Recognition or room-booking privileges may be withdrawn from a campus group if complaints made against it are found to be valid. Groups may reapply for recognition any time after the following September 30.

The UTSU’s response

At the UTSU’s Annual General Meeting on October 30, the UTSU voted in favour of “going on the record opposing Ford’s free speech policy” and “refusing to participate in its implementation as a students’ union.”

The motion was submitted by a member, and Grondin characterized it as “widely supported” by those in attendance.

In Grondin’s personal opinion, “this Policy is harmful for the wellbeing of marginalized students on our campus.”

“I believe the union owes it to members to be political and take a stand when it is needed, and this justifies action in my opinion,” Grondin said.

“I think students have a right to be safe on campus, learn in an atmosphere that doesn’t threaten or question their identities, and be in a space that is free from violence and the promotion of hateful ideology.”

UTSU AGM 2018: Union rejects provincial campus free speech mandate

Union membership officially rejects mandate, preemptively refuses to participate in its implementation

UTSU AGM 2018: Union rejects provincial campus free speech mandate

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

Recapping the 2018 University of Toronto Students’ Union Annual General Meeting

Long debates on free speech, policy proposals dominate

Recapping the 2018 University of Toronto Students’ Union Annual General Meeting

Lengthy debates surrounding free speech, policy proposals, and union operations dominated the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s (UTSU) 2018 Annual General Meeting (AGM) on October 30.

The meeting ran overtime until 10:20 pm despite losing quorum at 9:52 pm. According to the UTSU’s bylaws, at least 50 people must be physically present in the room for the AGM to run, which was not the case in the final portion of the meeting.

However, a member in the room pointed out that the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act states that as long as quorum is present at the beginning of a meeting, it can continue even if it is not present throughout.

As such, Speaker Eric Bryce ruled that the meeting could continue despite not having enough people in the room.

Before losing quorum

Before the meeting lost quorum, the AGM covered the majority of the items on the agenda, starting with a presidential address and question period to UTSU executives.

Members asked a range of questions, notably about the Student Commons’ opening and operations, as well as the UTSU’s stance on the Canadian Federation of Students.

Following the question period, members voted to pass the UTSU’s 2018 audited financial statements. Notably, the union reported a surplus of $492,887, up from $23,521 in 2017.

“This is the largest surplus the UTSU’s run in recent memory,” said Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm. He credited layoffs, a repatriation of fees from a defunct student group, investments, and “better financial practices.”

The UTSU also voted to continue to use Sloan Partners LLP as its auditors for the second year in a row.

Following that, the meeting then moved on to changes to the Elections Procedure Code, with members voting to officially ban slates in UTSU elections.

This was followed by a vote to support endorsing the separation of the UTSU and the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU). The motion passed unanimously with 222 votes in favour.

A separation would allow the UTMSU to provide services currently offered by the UTSU, such as a health and dental plan, as well as conduct their own advocacy efforts. The UTSU would also be allowed to provide services currently offered by the UTMSU.

Following a short recess, the AGM then had a lengthy discussion on a motion submitted by a member which called on the UTSU to oppose Premier Doug Ford’s mandate that all universities develop and enforce free speech policies.

The item was brought forward by Jack Rising from the club Socialist Fightback U of T. It called the provincial government’s policy “a direct attack on the time-honoured tradition of civil disobedience on campus” and urged the UTSU to take a stance.

After a long debate and some proposed amendments, the resolution was passed.

After losing quorum

In the last major portion of the meeting, members debated at length about a proposal made by Vice-President University Affairs Josh Grondin to allow members to vote on procedural and operation policies at the AGM.

Biswurm and UTSU President Anne Boucher brought up concerns over letting members vote on policy, saying that not everyone who attends AGMs arrives with good intentions.

Although the meeting lost quorum in the middle of the debate, the controversial resolution was passed with no amendments.

— With files from Ilya Bañares, Hannah Carty, Ann Marie Elpa, Adam A. Lam, and Andy Takagi

UTSU AGM 2018: Union rejects provincial campus free speech mandate

Union membership officially rejects mandate, preemptively refuses to participate in its implementation

UTSU AGM 2018: Union rejects provincial campus free speech mandate

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

Comparing free speech policies across Ontario universities

Less than half of publicly funded universities confirm they are working on a policy

Comparing free speech policies across Ontario universities

In the wake of the provincial government’s announcement that all universities must have freedom of speech policies in place by January 1, The Varsity examined the state of such policies in Ontario. Out of the 21 publicly funded universities represented by the Council of Ontario Universities, only three have posted freedom of speech policies and six others have confirmed with The Varsity that they are currently taking steps to develop one. U of T is among the universities with an existing policy.

The remaining 12 universities have no confirmed plans to develop the required policies nor do they have a publicly posted freedom of speech policy.

According to Premier Doug Ford’s government, these policies must contain a definition of freedom of speech, principles of free expression, disciplinary measures for actions contrary to the policy, and mechanisms for complaints and compliance.

Failure to comply with the provincial mandate, both in the development and enforcement of the policy, may lead to the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities reducing the institution’s operating grant. In addition to the development of free speech policies, student unions and governments are required to abide by these policies and are also encouraged to develop their own guidelines on freedom of expression.

Existing policies

U of T, McMaster University, and Wilfrid Laurier University are the only publicly assisted universities in Ontario that currently have freedom of speech policies that would theoretically conform to the mandate of the provincial government.

U of T has the oldest policy in the province, released in May 1992 under the title “Statement on Freedom of Expression.” It was established by Governing Council and acts as the university’s policy on freedom of speech.

This was reaffirmed by President Meric Gertler in September, following the Ontario government’s announcement.

“These are the principles that guide the advancement of knowledge and enable academic excellence,” said Gertler in a press release.

The U of T policy is not as fully-formed as the other universities’ ones; it serves mainly as a guideline without fully establishing the principles of free expression that are required by the provincial government.

Published in June, McMaster’s policy is outlined in the “Guidance for Event Organizers and Participants,” which was developed in collaboration with its Ad Hoc Committee on Protest and Freedom of Expression as well as the McMaster community. The policy is much more detailed about the specific elements of protest and free speech, including outlining examples of “acceptable protest and dissent.” Within the policy, roles and responsibilities are defined for audience members, organizers, and facilitators. The policy also includes a specific section to define the “Promotion of Dialogue,” which specifically addresses the inclusion of opposing viewpoints and dialogue within the context of controversial material.

After a censorship controversy in November last year, the Senate of Wilfrid Laurier University published its “Statement of Freedom of Expression” in May.

The document lays out the idea of “inclusive freedom,” which defines the role of marginalized communities and actively assures “that all members – including those who could be marginalized, silenced, or excluded from full participation – have an opportunity to meaningfully engage in free expression, enquiry, and learning.” Unlike U of T and McMaster, the statement defines the role of marginalized communities within the context of the free speech policy, encouraging active opposition through an “educational and intellectual approach.”

In progress

The University of Ottawa, the University of Windsor, Carleton University, Trent University, Nipissing University, and the University of Waterloo all confirmed with The Varsity that various degrees of progress have been made toward developing a free speech policy.

Windsor and Nipissing have both formed committees to develop policies that would abide by the mandate set forth by the provincial government.

Ottawa, Carleton, and Waterloo all endorsed a general statement by the Council of Ontario Universities that welcomes “further discussion” with the Ontario government to “balance the right to free expression with universities’ duty to maintain a civil campus environment.”

Trent confirmed that a draft is being circulated within its community. All six universities mentioned above have also committed to consultations with their provincial counterparts and cooperation with the government.

No confirmed plans

Queen’s University, University of Western Ontario, Ryerson University, Algoma University, and York University all either echo or directly endorse the statement by the Council of Ontario Universities, but have no publicly posted information on their free speech policies. They have confirmed with The Varsity that they will take action to meet the Ontario government’s mandate.

All universities have committed to meeting the deadlines set by the provincial government and pledge a thorough commitment to freedom of expression and speech.

In statements to The Varsity, a main concern of all the universities above was ensuring the maintenance of the universities’ policies on civil discourse, physical safety, and security — as well as finding a balance between freedom of expression and an inclusive environment.

Western’s Director of Media and Community Relations added in his statement to The Varsity, “We need that framework to balance the right to freely express with Western’s duty to offer a civil and inclusive campus environment, along with considerations for the safety and security of our campus community.”

The University of Guelph, Lakehead University, the Ontario College of Art and Design University, Royal Military College, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Brock University, and Laurentian University did not respond to requests for comment.

Ford’s campus free speech policy is not just beneficial — it’s essential

Only through free speech and the willingness to face opposing views can the university remain an institution of innovation

Ford’s campus free speech policy is not just beneficial — it’s essential

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has recently released a directive to postsecondary institutions requiring free-speech policies to be designed, implemented, and enforced across all campuses before September 2019. The premier has threatened provincial funding cuts for institutions who fail to deliver.  

Though Ford may be proving more and more to be the ‘Canadian Donald Trump’ as the days go by, especially after invoking the notwithstanding clause to override a judicial decision, he may have a point.

Over the recent year, right before the start of the spring election cycle, Ontario universities have sparked controversies in relation to the invitation of contentious guest speakers. For instance, Faith Goldy’s scheduled appearance as a speaker at Wilfrid Laurier University ultimately resulted in its president, Deborah MacLatchy, releasing a statement rejecting the values and ideas the speaker brought forward while reiterating the importance of freedom of expression after an outcry from campus students.

At the same university, a teaching assistant, Lindsay Sheppard showed a clip from TVOntario’s The Agenda, in which U of T Professor Jordan Peterson denounced the use of gender-neutral pronouns. This led to a disciplinary meeting with her superiors, which she secretly recorded.

At its best, Ford’s policy initiative upholds free speech without any repercussions. At its worst, the disarmament of the university administrators’ ability to restrict free speech, or allow for its restriction, is the price to pay in order to uphold the value of free speech on campuses.

Free speech is necessary because it ensures that our never- perfect ideas are always open to criticism. We are imperfect beings with imperfect knowledge. In order to improve ourselves and truly learn, we need to face what is unfamiliar.

Universities, as academic institutions, need to be extensions of the value of free speech. Professors and students alike need to be willing and able to accept a challenge to their own beliefs and this mandate ensures just that. If done correctly, Ford’s mandate will make university a place open to even the most offensive ideas, exposing our values and education to the criticism and development they deserve and need. Only when we are willing to accept criticism can we be sure that we remain an institution of innovation.

There has been an increasing trend of news articles describing younger generations as overly sensitive and fragile. While this is likely a blatantly overgeneralized and uneducated view, the very fact that people are seeing younger generations in this light is something to be noted. It is difficult for businesses, policy makers, and the general public to take young people seriously if we allow this belief to float around as a result of videos and articles highlighting the reality that some young people on campuses do not want to listen to the views of others on the grounds that such views are offensive.

The only way we students can build trust with the rest of society is if we show that the university environment is about open and critical discussion-making instead of insecurity from views that might challenge ours. Our ideas and research should be based on discovery and reasoning not blind groupthink.

When universities contest with anti-free speech forces, there are often grave consequences. On a small scale, we get the disruption that erupted at the Peterson rally by the Sidney Smith Building in 2016, leaving the student body angry and divided. History — through the 1970 Kent State protest, the 1976 Soweto Uprising, and the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests — shows that an assault on free speech can be fatal for students.

So what do we do when this mandate comes into action? We discuss it, argue about it, and criticize it. Even this policy that promotes free speech deserves its fair share of criticism.

Indeed, Ford’s mandate may be imperfect in its integrity — including the question of who defines and enforces ‘good’ free speech policy. Despite certain imperfections, a free speech policy is not only beneficial it’s necessary.

The policy’s imperfections are not grounds for trashing the policy entirely, but instead are grounds for improvements with the fundamental idea of free speech in mind. Ultimately, nothing comes before the freedom of expression.

Abeir Liton is a second-year Human Geography and Political Science student at St. Michael’s College.

Napas Thein is a second-year Public Policy and Political Science student at New College.