Free speech policies are now in effect at Ontario’s colleges and universities

Last August, after incidents on campuses across North America where speakers faced protests, Ontario’s Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities Merrilee Fullerton told colleges and universities they needed to implement free-speech policies and have them in place for January 1, 2019.

Institutions will be monitored and have been told they could face funding cuts for failing to comply with principles outlined by the provincial government. These include ensuring that universities and colleges are "places for open discussion and free inquiry," that they "should not attempt to shield students from ideas or opinions that (those students) disagree with or find offensive;" and that "members of the university/college ... may not obstruct or interfere with the freedom of others to express their views."

Ontario has experienced protests and arrests since Wilfrid Laurier graduate student and teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd showed a video to her class of University of Toronto professor Dr. Jordan B. Peterson on TVO challenging federal legislation regarding gender-neutral pronouns that imposes restrictions on freedom of speech. Ms. Shepherd was unfairly disciplined by faculty and staff and recorded the meeting. She and Dr. Peterson are now suing Laurier University for defamation.

Of the new standard policy adopted in mid-December by all publicly-funded colleges, President of Colleges Ontario Linda Franklin said people on campus have to know there are "speakers that you may not like or who support your world view," and open dialogue is essential, adding, "We're committed to the open discussion of diverse ideas and respecting everyone's rights to express their opinions." The University of Toronto has a free-speech policy that has been in place for more than twenty-five years. Queens University in Kingston approved its new policies so December 18, stating that the "failure to explore or confront ideas with which we disagree through disciplined and respectful dialogue, debate, and argument, does society a disservice, weakens our intellectual integrity, and threatens the very core of the university."

Minister Fullterton said the government is "constantly" hearing that free speech is being stifled on Ontario campuses, adding "We heard that from students, we heard that from faculty — it was a message that we heard consistently during the campaign and after. So we know [it was an issue]." She continued, "I think what (the free speech policy) will do is create some certainly around expectations, and we want to make sure that there's an environment of respect, of open debate, respectful dialogue and that's really the foundation. We don't want to see hate speech — we will not tolerate hate speech — that is not permitted. Anything that is against the law already, there will be repercussions."