Sometimes you know a government policy is good because the arguments against it are so weak.
In late August, the Ford government made history by announcing a new policy to address a serious and growing problem: the suppression of free speech at universities. While imperfect, the plan is a welcome response to the deafening silence of all provincial governments, of all stripes, about the censorship crisis at our public universities.
Ontario’s universities must now state expressly, in their own policies, that they are a place for open discussion and free inquiry, and that they have no obligation to shield students from ideas or opinions that students disagree with or find offensive. The government now requires universities to discipline students who obstruct or interfere with the freedom of others to express their views. Best of all, the government has declared that a university’s failure to introduce and comply with free speech policies may result in funding cuts.
So, what are the critics saying?
Chris Selley argues in the National Post that “turning to any government for help with free speech where universities falter is just silly. It further politicizes what ought to be a bedrock concept of Western democracy.” Mr. Selley would be correct if universities were private institutions, and if they were honest with their students and prospective students about what limits (if any) they place on free expression. But such is not the case.
Canada’s public universities receive billions of tax dollars each year, based on the false promise to serve as a forum for the pursuit of truth through open expression and debate. Having received the money, they break their promise and condone the physical obstruction and interruption of speakers on campus by loud mobs.
Canadian universities refuse to discipline noisy thugs for shutting down campus events, and instead present invoices for “security costs” to innocent students who seek only to exercise their free expression rights peacefully on campus. For example, the University of Alberta told a small campus pro-life club that it could not erect a stationary display on campus unless it paid $17,500 in “security fees.”
Jim Turk, the director of Ryerson University’s Centre for Free Expression, called the policy an “unprecedented abuse of university autonomy.” But why should universities receive billions of tax dollars without accountability? Why should they be allowed to deceive taxpayers by trampling on free expression, year after year? Moreover, as amply demonstrated by www.campusfreedomindex.ca, universities and student unions have not been getting better. At least not yet.
The Broadbent Institute claims that “Ford’s policy would effectively create a safe space” for neo-Nazis. Not true. Universities have a right and an obligation to enforce Canada’s narrow and specific Criminal Code prohibitions on the advocacy of hatred and genocide. Premier Ford’s policy doesn’t change that, nor could any policy of any provincial government. What matters is that voices on campus not be silenced just because someone says they are “hateful” or “racist” or “homophobic”, adjectives used routinely to denounce anyone and everyone who challenges progressive orthodoxy.
Even sillier is the hysterical news release of the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA). OCUFA claims that Ford’s new policy will “undermine the quality of education at our universities and unfairly penalize students” and “chill free speech on campus” yet provides no explanation as to how or why Ford’s policy would do this.
OCUFA states correctly that “universities already have policies that attempt to foster free speech on campus” but ignores the fact that these policies are not being enforced. Contrary to one of OCUFA’s assertions, Ontario’s university faculty does not “strongly support a culture of free, vibrant, and diverse speech on our campuses.” OCUFA’s definition of “diverse” excludes pro-lifers, men’s rights advocates, libertarians, conservatives and many others with minority or otherwise unpopular viewpoints.
The most ridiculous OCUFA assertion is that “[M]embers of the university community may be discouraged from speaking up for fear of being disciplined.” False. Nothing in Ford’s policy prevents criticism of Ford’s policy. Universities only risk losing funding if they continue to allow violent or quasi-violent groups like Antifa to shut down speakers and events on campus.
Ford’s policy does not go far enough in addressing the abuse of “security fees” as a censorship tool, and does not adequately deal with the worst violators of free speech: student unions. But, as demonstrated by the critics, Ontario’s new policy is a welcome and significant step in the right direction.
Calgary lawyer John Carpay is president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (www.jccf.ca), which in July 2018 submitted a proposal to the Ontario government for legislation to protect campus free speech: (https://www.jccf.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/JCCF-Ontario-Campus-Free-Speech-Legislation-r-1.pdfhttps://www.jccf.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/JCCF-Ontario-Campus-Free-Speech-Legislation-r-1.pdf).