Canadian universities face criticism for lack of free speech

A recent report ranked Canadian universities based on the state of free speech present in the university and the student union. Many of the schools have failed miserably.

Conducted by the president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), John Carpay, and co-author Michael Kennedy, the 2012 Campus Freedom Index surveyed 35 campuses throughout Canada. Only three Canadian universities and student unions were granted an ‘A’. A startling ‘F’ grade were given 28 times by 12 universities and 16 by student unions.

“We felt it was important to separate the student union policies from the university because both the university and the student union have very different institutions,” Kennedy explained.

“Generally those institutions are very separate from one another so we treat them very differently. We also look at their actions and what they write in their policies because a lot of these organizations will have great polices when it comes to free speech but when it comes to their actions and how they deal with incident that are controversial, they’re very pro-censorship in a lot of cases.”

This is the second report that has surveyed such activity, the first taking place in 2011 and observing 18 universities. Based on his findings from the more recent report, Kennedy did not see much of a change in the status of free speech in universities.

“I wouldn’t say that there was a big change in the universities that we looked at last year, it was basically the same kind of information that we added, but those other universities that we’ve added to this report really show that cases of censorship is much broader than what the 2011 report would suggest,” Kennedy shared.

According to Kennedy, the purpose for the report is to help students deciding on their future university careers. While magazines such as Maclean’s come out every year with university rankings, free speech is not listed as one of the criteria’s. For students who wish to exercise their free speech, this poses a problem.

“We think that students want to go to university so they can speak their mind on issues so that they can freely explore the truth and let that truth lead them wherever its going to lead them,” Kennedy added.

“Mostly the students that aren’t involved in the leadership union of students are the ones taking this report and saying, ‘I’m paying to be at this campus for four years and I want my free speech rights respected, what can we do to make sure that our administration and our student leadership are protecting our free expression rights?’” Kennedy observed.

When asked on how schools can improve on their scores for the next report, Kennedy emphasized that schools and student unions have to have clear and unequivocal support for free speech in their policy.

“We hope to do this report every year and hopefully come next year, will include more universities then we did this year,” Kennedy said.

“Every year we try to extend the number and get a more thorough look at what is happening on the ground at universities so we plan to do this until every university in Canada and the student union is earning an ‘A’.”


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