Posted on Thursday, October 4th, 2018

Written by Jack Fisher - CSA President


To Premier Doug Ford,

On behalf of the Central Student Association (CSA), which represents over 20,000 undergraduate students at the University of Guelph.

On September 26, 2018, our board passed a motion to condemn the Ontario government’s directive to enforce “free speech” policies on our campus and other campuses across Ontario. We oppose this directive of your government, and we view this as a challenge to our autonomy, as an initiative meant to interfere with students’ freedom of expression and right to peacefully protest.  

There is no free speech crisis on our campus. This false perception of a lack of open discourse ignores the work of our student union and groups, faculty associations and labour unions. We highly value our rights and academic discourse and take a number of strides to uphold these values. As well, we internally hold ourselves accountable to these standards through the direction of our student membership.   

This policy from the Ontario government is a distraction from the work of our academic institutions and ignores the autonomy of student organizations while punishing institutions that refuse to follow this initiative. Utilizing threats to academic funding for our schools is a direct attack on our public education system and our right to an education. Additionally, the mandate’s use of “free speech” is misleading and misrepresents legitimate work that advances academic research and freedom. We are in full support of freedom of expression and we view this policy as a challenge to our personal freedoms of expression. The policy requirement placed on our university does not benefit or protect students; rather it validates hate speech on campus and limits students’ ability to reject these ideals. Threatening to remove funding from universities across Ontario suppresses student and faculty rights to freedom of association and is a clear statement from the Ford government that it does not support the freedoms it purports to be strengthening.

The CSA operates within an anti-oppressive mandate and having to follow a policy written based on the criteria of the Ford government hinders us from upholding a mandate upon which our students democratically voted. This anti-oppressive mandate is needed to effectively reject hate speech from our student union, our campus, and stand in solidarity with all students and minorities.

We are not just a student government; we are the student union and we are here to defend students. Students requested that we use our voice to encourage the Ontario government to reconsider this mandate and withdraw the free speech directive, especially the egregious threat of decreased funding. The timeline of approval requires Ontario universities to draft, review, and consult with students during the middle of the semester – many of which will have to be passed by the end of October since meetings for 2018 have been set for months and they may not meet before the new year. By and large, the proposed timeline is ignorant of all current review processes and is an ignominious tactic to bend public institutions to a private agenda. The quick turnaround prohibits students' ability to provide meaningful recommendations or amendments to our Senate and Board of Governors. The bottom line is that the timing and guidelines produced by the Ontario government does not aid our universities nor our students with the demanded compliance.

This freedom of speech directive of the Ontario government does not benefit universities, faculty, or workers and it punishes students with a heavy hand. The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities required policy is an attack on students' freedom of association, freedom of expression and does not protect freedom of expression, rather suppress it for the benefit of hate groups. We as the CSA ask the Ontario government to rescind this policy directive and take a more meaningful approach to address real challenges our campuses face and participate in a democratic process to consult and ask consent from our communities on something that will ubiquitously affect our post-secondary educational system.

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