Kingston area colleges issue free speech policies ahead of Ontario government’s deadline

Loyalist College and St. Lawrence College have published freedom of speech policies ahead of the Jan. 1 deadline set by the Ontario government.

In late August, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced the province would implement a free speech policy to be followed by each university and college in the province.

“Students will have open and free speech, open dialogue, open debate, and they will not be shut down by special interest groups or universities,” said Ford in an interview with Ontario News Now, a public relations content site created this year by the Progressive Conservative party.

This policy was introduced in response to debate and protests over the place of controversial and often right-wing figures on university and college campuses. The most publicized incidence of this free speech debate was over Wilfred Laurier University teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd, who was chastised by the university for bringing up Jordan Peterson, a controversial University of Toronto professor turned author and speaker.

According to the policy, post-secondary institutions, including the province’s 24 colleges, must develop, implement and comply with the new freedom of speech policies.

Many of the schools, including those in Kingston, are now releasing their free speech policies ahead of the Jan. 1, 2019, deadline.

The “free exchange of ideas is fundamental to the success of higher education,” said Loyalist College president and CEO Ann Marie Vaughan on the institution’s website. “We encourage the effective sharing of knowledge and respect for everyone’s right to express their opinions.”

The sentiment was echoed by St. Lawrence College president and CEO Glenn Vollebregt.

In the statements, which appear to be nearly identical on both schools’ websites, it says the policy is primarily based on five core elements of free expression, some of which were developed by the University of Chicago, including:

  • A definition of freedom of speech
  • A commitment to allow open discussion and free inquiry
  • A statement that it is not the college’s role to shield members of the college community from ideas with which it disagrees
  • A statement that while members of the college community are free to contest the views of others, they must also respect the right of others to express their views
  • An affirmation that speech that violates the law is not allowed

Warren “Smokey” Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, says he’s disappointed with the new free speech policy, referring to the requirement as a “gag order policy.”

Thomas claims the policy will allow college administrators to designate where and when students and faculty can protest on campus.

According to Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government, the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario will monitor post-secondary institutions beginning Sept. 1. If a university or college fails to comply with the policy, the school could face funding cuts. The government also said if students fail to comply with the policy, including participating in “ongoing disruptive protesting that significantly interferes with the ability of an event to proceed,” they could face consequences.

Queen’s University has not yet crafted its policy.

—With files from Alexandra Mazur.

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