ACADEMIC FREEDOM, FREE SPEECH,
FREE THOUGHT, AND PUBLIC SAFETY
Universities have been places in which sometimes highly controversial or feared research, data, interpretations, innovations and ideas are discussed, challenged, and defended with dialogue. However, especially in recent years, we have witnessed the emergence of censorship, penalties for expressing controversial opinions, and violence on Ontario campuses. For example, we have seen:
the use of physical violence and intimidation to shut-down events featuring guest speakers;
the use of horns, shouting, drumming and other noise-making designed to prevent people from hearing people speak, or from hearing ideas discussed;
the creation and enforcement of speech-codes that punish students or professors for using prohibited words or expressing prohibited ideas;
the creation and enforcement of codes of conduct that give higher priority to making sure nobody is emotionally upset or insulted by an idea that they hear, than to the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge;
The problem has at least two root causes. One root is that universities are ill-equipped to defend the life, liberty and property of people who are being subjected to physical intimidation and force on university campuses. This has led universities to cancel or prohibit the hosting of talks or other events in the face of threats, by opponents of the talks/events, that they will use violence to prevent the events. For example, a talk about "The Stifling of Free Speech on our Campuses" was shut down by Ryerson University after a facebook page was set up to encourage rabble-rousers to attend and use intimidation and violence to prevent the event from going ahead.
In short: threatened violence successfully censored a talk about the problem of censorship in universities. Ryerson's Communications Director explained why the university had cancelled the event:
"After a thorough security review, the University has concluded that Ryerson is not equipped to provide the necessary level of public safety for the event to go forward...Ryerson University is prioritizing campus safety."
Another root is that there is mounting and troubling evidence that tax-funded universities and their professors have increasingly discouraged the challenging of certain ideas that are treated as unquestionable truths or as ideas, beliefs or views entitled to respect regardless of their merits.
A Freedom government will take steps toward restoring the role of universities as places in which any view can be expressed and heard peacefully and civilly; in which the pursuit of knowledge is not limited by religious or political concerns, or by concerns that someone might be insulted, or have their feelings hurt. These steps will include:
Ensuring that sufficient policing resources are available on university campuses - at no additional cost to universities, their guests, or their students - at all times to ensure that talks, conferences, classes, etc. cannot be shut down or disrupted by opponents who attempt to use noise, intimidation, barricades, or violence to prevent the free exchange of opinions, information, and ideas.
Consulting with professors, students, university administrators, and advocates of free speech and academic freedom, so as to develop legislation better to protect students and academics from being penalized for merely expressing their thoughts, beliefs, assessments or judgment about any belief, argument, data, practice, or way of thinking, or for conducting research or writing that some might seek to oppose.
Imposing upon all tax-funded universities the requirement that the university's employment and tenure policies be strictly merit-based, without discrimination on the basis of such things as race, sex, and political affiliation; and
Holding universities fiscally accountable for the promotion of any course, code, or practice that discourages or condemns independent thought or freedom of expression; or that legitimizes or promotes the use of physical intimidation or violence to restrict the pursuit or dissemination of knowledge or opinion in a university setting.