The new leader of the Conservative Party, Pierre Poilievre, has promised to condition federal grants to universities on respect for academic freedom and freedom of expression on campus. Poilievre suggested that universities have become reluctant to “discussion and debate”, which has led to the resignations “popular” professors like Jordan Peterson.
In February, members of the Conservative Party removed Erin O’Toole as leader of the Conservative Party. His caucus, a meeting of supporters or members, explained that they disagreed with his position on several issues, including carbon tax and gun control, because his views did not conform to the principles with which the Conservatives had initially campaigned. Following O’Toole’s withdrawal, Pierre Poilievre won the party leadership elections on September 10.
the university dashed Poilievre’s plans for the party’s preferred education policy.
Last June, Poilievre suggested that universities have become “places where gatekeepers and a strong minority silence students and faculty.”
In the Press releasePoilievre explained that he believes there have been instances where individuals have been misrepresented or groups of students have been pressured into canceling events “just because of their different point of view.”
Under Poilievre’s proposed system, federal funding would depend on universities committing to section two of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects freedom of expression.
The communiqué announcing its policy specified that universities must also “defend [Charter freedoms] when attacked, including by other students and teachers.
However, Poilievre clarified that the policy would not defend hate speech, which is not protected by the Charter.
The other part of Poilievre’s plan includes appointing a former judge as a free speech watchdog, who would oversee a university’s compliance with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and investigate allegations of censorship. Through this position, the Guardian would be able to recommend cuts to federal grants to universities that the Guardian believes do not protect free speech.
Professors across Canada have expressed contempt for Poilievre’s proposed policy, saying it hurts academic freedom instead of addressing the issues facing professors.
“The danger of trying to dictate to universities what free speech they should or shouldn’t allow is [that] we’re suddenly entering a situation where governments are telling institutions what they should be protecting, and maybe what they shouldn’t be protecting,” said David Robinson, president of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, in a statement to PressProgress.
U of T and Free Speech
Although he didn’t mention the U of T by name, Poilievre’s announcement cast the resignation of former U of T psychology professor Jordan Peterson as a symptom of the very problem. that he would like to resolve.
peterson retired from his permanent position at the U of T in January 2022, citing concerns about equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives at the university. Peterson has long been a controversial figure at U of T. In a series of YouTube videos released in 2016, Peterson spoke out against Bill C-16, an amendment to the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA) which included gender expression and gender identity as rights protected by the CHRA. Peterson suggested that the inclusion of gender expression and gender identity in the CHRA interfered with free speech because it required individuals to use others’ preferred pronouns regardless of their decision to do so. .
Despite Poilievre’s framing, the University of Toronto has repeatedly emphasized its commitment to protecting free speech.
The U of T’s free speech policy is primarily outlined in two key documents: the “Institutional Purpose Statement” and the “Declaration on Freedom of Expression.” Both documents position academic freedom as one of the U of T’s core mandates.
Academic freedom is further cemented in agreements between the university and the University of Toronto Faculty Association, which commit the U of T to protect “freedom [of faculty] to examine, question, teach and learn… the right to inquire, speculate and comment without reference to prescribed doctrine, as well as the right to criticize the University of Toronto and society at large.
Also, a 2019 reportwhich was commissioned by the Government of Ontario and executed by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, concluded that the U of T’s free speech policy respected provincial regulations on freedom of expression.