Note that the following feedback statements have not been altered, and spelling and grammar errors have not been corrected.
Unfortunately, I was not impressed by the statement. It was far to long and very repetitive. It is clear that the statement was written by a committee and I don’t think it at all incitful or memorable. I would suggest that the goal of the next draft have the objectives of: brevity, elimination of repetitiveness and finding a way to making the statement momerable.
As a WLU donor, I was very disappointed how the university administration and faculty previously handled prominent freedom of expression issues. This statement goes a long way to rectifying such issues, but the devil is in the implementation and people's actions rather than the details. Your document references pedagogy, which means leading children and has become synonymous with educating children. Perhaps you should be referring to andragogy, which means leading adults and has become synonymous with adult education. The approaches to learning employed in a university setting often have more in common with andragogy than pedagogy, and university students are well on their way to adulthood if not always legally adults in Ontario/Canada. Participating in forums where freedom of expression and divergent viewpoints are expressed are most important to one's university experience.
Overall I do believe the views of the Freedom of Expression statement achieves a reasonable balance of maintaining civil dialogue while protecting the rights and security of people. Democracy relies on debate and exchanges of differing views but I would caution taking on the roll to interpret what is or is not defamatory. I was subject to 2 separate SLAPPs (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) so I know from experience how views can be quashed not by the lack of credibility or qualified privileges but by the power of people with money wanting to silence debate. My first SLAPP suit was dropped because it was frivolous and vexatious. The second SLAPP was in a quasi jurisdictional hearing and again I proved it was both frivolous and vexatious. Both these cases were extensively studied it and they helped secure Anti Slapp laws in Ontario to protect the rights of citizens to act as whistleblowers. Whereas I do strongly value free speech we must always use caution when the Laurier institute is putting itself in the position to act as a judge to interpret what is or is not defamation. In my view the institute would be far better off to simply sign a disclaimer in such circumstances and that should deflect any legal issues. Let the speakers assume their own risks.
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” ― S.G. Tallentyre (mistakenly attributed to Voltaire) I applaud all the time, effort and thought that has gone into the production of the WLU statement regarding freedom of speech. It is a difficult topic, but warrants your efforts. Freedom of speech has always been contentious because by the very nature we are inviting all thoughts, even those with which we disagree. But consideration of all thoughts is also how we grow and create. You have made a strong statement regarding freedom of speech/thought but then put conditions on it. Of course, it is wrong to yell "fire" in a crowded location when there is no fire. Of course, I don't believe in defamation, verbal assault, or abuse and scare tactics, but censorship is censorship. It is the edge of that slippery slope to restrict any speech. Maybe a way to address this is to do what universities are supposed to do...teach. Start a course at the beginning of each students career at WLU that addresses this topic and explore ways to disagree without defamation, etc. I don't want to support in any manner "hate speech" but then most dictators would consider opposition speech as "hate speech" to be shut down as a threat to their power/authority. I would just suggestion that we further explore this topic with fresh minds entering the university and teach methods to express tolerance without teaching submission to those "leaders" who would crush our very freedoms.
I applaud the attempt to deal with this issue and recognize how difficult it is to reach consensus. Unfortunately until the university eliminates the ability of faculty to claim situations are "unsafe" in any circumstance change will be difficult. e.g. witness the Prime Minister statue issue whereby faculty were able to claim it would be "unsafe" to walk around campus with statues of Prime Ministers present due to the background of such individuals. The proposed statement provides too many loopholes or outs where faculty can continue to claim things are "unsafe". Universities are supposed to be the place where ideas can be shared and explored and discourse can occur in a free and open setting but the reality is that WLU is a very "unsafe" place for developing minds right now.
Free Speech is not hate speech. This is a huge misconception. We live in a country of democracy. I am paying for my daughter's university education so that she can learn to think for herself and NOT to have her be forced to have the faculties opinions. I can tell you from someone who works in the corporate world, there are no " safe spaces" here and these kids wouldn't last a day here. Teach them to respect everyone's opinion not force your opinion on others.
Freedom og speech is paramount. Nothing kan trump that.
The document must not change; concerns over civility, diversity, inclusion and equity (or other values) must not be used as a justification to stifle free expression on campus. In fact, without free speech, those other values will not be ultimately capable of being maintained. Howard Levitt
In its Draft Statement, Wilfrid Laurier University says it will protect free speech by suppressing free speech. The Statement is disingenuous on its face. Laurier will preemptively suppress "illegal" speech by "reasonably manag[ing] the time, place, and manner of expression". Here, "illegal" means anything that can be prosecuted, litigated or complained about via statute or common law. (Even the courts in Ontario virtually never order temporary injunctions while a defamation case is being argued, for example.) And Laurier will apply the new-era nonsense for campus censorship known as "inclusive freedom". Sad. You will be the first institution in Ontario to enshrine that double-speak. The Draft Statement concludes: "It is only by supporting free expression in this productive, respectful, and pedagogically sound way that Laurier can fulfil its mission..." Rather, Laurier's position should be "It is only by supporting free expression that we can support free expression." Denis Rancourt, PhD Researcher, Ontario Civil Liberties Association ocla.ca
''I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.'' Voltaire
It is vital that maximum freedom of speech exists in any society that values the right of it's citizens to pursue their lives without restriction. This is even more important in a school setting, where young adults come to learn. Part of that learning experience is to have their currently held beliefs challenged and to make them think hard and long about what they believe. It's not the goal, or shouldn't be the goal of a school to TELL students what is right or wrong, but rather equip them with the tools for critical thinking so they can determine what is a worthwhile moral value for themselves. I am a free speech absolutist, unless you are calling for physical violence against a person or group I believe ALL speech should be allowed. Remember freedom of speech does promise you freedom from being called on on what you say, nor does it guarantee that people have to listen to you. It only allows you the right to say it. For those that want to shut down "other" people's speech I would ask who put them in charge of determining what other people want to hear? If you find a particular subject or speaker to be offensive or not to your tastes then by all means don't listen to them or speak out against them. But by trying to shut them down and impose YOUR belief system you are in fact taking away the free speech of others WHILE exercising yours. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine what it would be like if you were NOT allowed to express your opinion. Nobody is forcing you to listen to things YOU object to, allow others the chance to decide what they want to hear for themselves. Thanks you.
In general I agree with the draft statement but I do have a few concerns. I believe it is the responsibility of the University to live up to certain basic moral responsibilities. Things like the equality of all people need to be protected even at the expense of free speech. The University must not provide a platform for speakers who preach against basic human values even if the topic of their presentation does not touch on these issues. Giving them a platform gives them credibility in the eyes of many especially those outside a academia that may not have the tools to distinguish between an endorsement and a just platform to speak. Debate is often lost in the media presentation of these situations and the University has to accept some responsibility for how events on their campus are presented to the public in general. I do believe that all topics including things like racism and hate speech should be discussed and even debated in a controlled environment or classroom and students should be instructed on how to respond to these very difficult topics in a proactive and positive manner without being offended. This is how we will defeat ideas that are detrimental to society. Without discussion and debate on all issues that we face in the world, we become vulnerable to making great errors in our society. History has shown this many times. As important as debate is, it is also just a important not to unintentionally provide credibility to those with harmful ideals. The responsibility extends beyond the campus and that greater audience must be considered and they do not have the supports and mediators etc. that are available to your staff and students. There will be speakers and topics discussed that I am uncomfortable with and there should be but there must also be strong oversight that does limit and prevent certain individuals from speaking. That oversight should and would be held accountable by the students and administration to ensure that they are not over zealous in either allowing or disallowing certain individuals from speaking. This is a very tough and ticklish topic. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to provide my input. Good luck.
I offer my compliments to the members of the Task Force, who have prepared an excellent draft statement. It unequivocally asserts that the responsibility of the university is “to ensure the free and open exchange of ideas in the spirit of intellectual and critical enquiry.” Anything else would have been an abdication of the mandate of any respectable university.
The draft is not perfect. It unfortunately engages in some politically correct virtue signaling. Fortunately those particular references do not water down the document’s central assertion that it is not the role of the university to censor speech, and that upholding free expression “requires that a range of perspectives and ideas have the opportunity to be articulated, including those that may be deemed difficult, controversial, extreme, or even wrong-headed.” These propositions are essential and well put.
In my opinion, one assertion in the draft is incorrect. It misstates the law when it suggests that the university “has the responsibility to restrict illegal forms of expression … ”. The university does not have a legal obligation to police speech. That is the job of the law and its institutions, such as courts and tribunals. Instead, the sentence should be replaced with "Members of the university community should be aware that the laws of general application apply to speech on campus in the same manner as they apply everywhere else."
I congratulate the Task Force on its work.
Well done, comprehensive and complete. I like the definitions included at the end.
I am responding as a former university student, a father, a grandfather with grandchildren reaching university-entrance age, and as a taxpayer responsible for, amongst other things, providing funding for the public education system including colleges and universities. Wilfred Laurier's willingness to take on this subject after the tumultous times of the past year is admirable, and I read the draft statement as a good effort in bringing a diverse viewpoint together. It likely came from some rather difficult discussions, and that fact that it attempts to re-open the institution to a process of listening to diverse opinions is a good start. However, I am concerned that the statement provides ample opportunity to continue to shutdown outside ideas that are not acceptable to a vocal minority, or, perhaps worse, to a majority who aren't prepared to listen to a vocal minority. The definition of harm is weak, and will be open to interpretation to often without a clear process to appeal to a neutral authority. More importantly this draft appears to support the kind of pedagogical tyranny that brought Wilfred Laurier to national attention in 2017. Clamping down on external speakers is one form of controlling the discussion, but clamping down on the breadth of innovation an instructor can take in the classroom is too easy to accomplish. I want to see a school where discussions can be difficult inside the classroom, and real learning about the choices outside the classroom is carried out. Whether in this forum, or a parallel group a discussion of what is not acceptable should be more clearly defined. And by that I mean the shutting-down by loud voices of ideas, and using violent means to do so. Destruction of property, and worse, violence against those who would speak, and those who would listen to non-acceptable positions should not be allowed. There is a need to make these offences truly unacceptable. Revoking of tenure, expelling students, and pursuing legal remedies should be on the table for this type of behaviour. Protest is valuable, and important. Violence, however, is not. Words are not violent, and we've lost the narrative on this whole thing because we've blurred that line. I am more, perhaps much more, conservative in my viewpoint than most college administrations and students today. But I'm not bothered by hearing that difficult social issues are being addressed - what I want to know is that for my grandchildren, and community, and yes, for my my tax dollars that all voices are heard, and included in the learning process. We live in a society where being offended is part of the process of growing up, learning, and living. Let's please not lose that narrative.
Such a wordy (and draughty) draft statement, but I do believe we are all stronger and healthier with freedom than without it. I write this two days after Toronto police officer Ken Lam to his undying credit respected the rights (including the right to remain silent) of the murderer who had just ended 10 lives, all far more valuable than the murderer's own. Officer Lam is an inspiration to us all. We all have the right to remain silent. We all have the right to speak. What can be juster in a state than this? (as that other person said)
A decent compromise, in my opinion. I support the draft.
I think the Draft Statement on Freedom of Expression as written is a very important document. I agree that "The document must not change; concerns over civility, diversity, inclusion and equity (or other values) must not be used as a justification to stifle free expression on campus."
This is sensible and necessary document.
I think that this document is well-intentioned and generally sound in its approach. I think it could be more explicit in making clear that concerns over civility, diversity, inclusion and equity (or other irrelevancies) cannot be used to stifle freedom of expression on campus. Also, the implementation of such a policy raises non-trivial problems that are not mentioned in the draft: it is all very well to support free speech, but what does the university do if, as has happened at McMaster and numerous other universities, a mob opposed to a speaker's ideas causes disruption that prevents them from being expressed?
I have been very critical of LU and I expected to be equally critical to the Task Force submission. I am not. The draft document surprised me by taking a strong stand on the side of academic freedom and integrity, while rightly protecting students against personal attacks on their character. I believe that no such guarantees should apply to the students' world views or ideas. I want to thank the Task Force for taking on this task and going against present day academic currents, which I perceived were headed towards censorship, suppression and a modernized version of "book burning." I was especially heartened by the clauses that mentioned critical thinking as the skill that is to be prized and inculcated in students. Truly, that should be the ultimate goal. And it equally applies to the humanities and the STEM departments. In closing, I would like to say well done. I am sure that there will be dissenting feedback, but I'm hoping that the work done here will stand as the framework going forward.
The Statement should make a clearer and sharper distinction between what everyone has a RIGHT to expect and what is merely aspirational. More emphasis should be placed on the community members' rights than on what is merely hoped for. The Statement has this emphasis backwards, leading to genuine concerns that the aspirational aspects will be used to limit the rights of members. The aspirational aspects of the Statement cannot be used to limit rights to freedom of expression, and that must be made crystal clear. Most of the Statement concerns various ways in which freedom of expression may be circumscribed. While some such discussion might be helpful or even necessary in today's legal climate, the Statement's emphasis is incomplete and one-sided. The law also prohibits protesting while wearing a mask, blocking entrances to public buildings, causing excessive noise, and other nuisances. I don't know if the University has its own policies and procedures with respect to time, place, and manner restrictions (such as a permitting process for protesting or demonstrating), but if so then these limits on disrupting the speech of others must be explained as well. At least equal space should be devoted to detailing the many powers the University has - and WILL use - to protect the rights of speakers, including the use of non-academic discipline provisions up to and including expulsion. Examples of behaviours that WILL be punished should be given (e.g. pulling fire alarms). Otherwise, people will get the impression that you just aren't serious about protecting freedom of expression, and that this Statement is merely a sop.
I think the draft is excellent. This is a very difficult task and I think you have done a splendid job. I have one question. The statement says "Although intellectual discomfort may not be used as a basis for restricting relevant expression, students do have the right to expect a classroom environment that is free of personally directed attacks on their individual character, motives, or attributes." What does that right entail? How is it implemented? I understand the personal attack part, but motives and attributes seem very subjective and not well defined. Once again thank you for a great start.
(1) The university’s mission statement, adopted during the presidency of Dr. Blouw, that begins the Draft Statement on Freedom of Expression - “to inspire lives of leadership and purpose through a commitment to excellence in learning, scholarship, and creativity” - is, quite frankly, embarrassing. Since it begins a document that will undoubtedly come to define the university in the public eye given the inevitable publicity it will draw when it finally appears, serious thought should be given to replacing it with words that actually mean something. The phrase “inspire lives of leadership and purpose” is at best empty of meaning, the kind of vacuous preaching characteristic of some third-rate communist state like Albania (as I said at the time it was first floated). At worst, it invokes some Lutheran businessman’s idea of what makes for a worthy life. “Excellence”, that favourite word of neoliberal university administrators, is similarly empty of meaning, conveying nothing about what universities are actually for. Here’s what I suggest replace it. It’s adapted from What Are Universities For? by Stefan Collini: "Wilfrid Laurier University’s mission is to extend and deepen human understanding of ourselves and the world, through open-ended, disciplined and critical inquiry. This work is carried out collaboratively among faculty and students through research and teaching." (2) On the second page in the following sentence - “The university is not merely an open forum for debate; as an academic institution it is committed to advancing intellectual excellence …” - for “intellectual excellence” substitute “radical inquiry” (understanding “radical” as “going to the roots”). I am following Noam Chomsky here, the greatest living intellectual. (3) Towards the bottom of the second page the phrase “aspires that” is not English, given that one may ‘aspire to’ but not ‘aspire that’. (4) On the third page near the top rather than simply defensively reserving the right to restrict the manner in which freedom of thought, association and expression are exercised how about the University provide a “commons” where freedom of thought, expression and association can actually be practised? Then the community will know that the University actually takes its fine words seriously. (5) On the third page towards the bottom, in the clause “where openness and respect for human dignity pervade,” the desired word is ‘prevail’. ‘Pervade’ is wrong here. (6) If, in general, the Draft Statement is unexceptionable, there is one place where it conspicuously fails. And since this concerns the very sort of issue which prompted its writing in the first place it is a crucial failing. I am referring to the three sentences towards the bottom of the third page beginning with “There may be times …” and ending with “individual character, motives, or attributes.” This section fails to address speech expressing negative views of or towards CATEGORIES of persons, rather than “personally directed attacks” on individuals. It is an absolutely crucial distinction. That the statement writers fail to address this matter raises in my mind the question whether they are simply afraid to say the words “racist,” sexist,” “ableist,” “transphobic,” etc. These words are nowhere to be found in the document, nor is such speech proscribed. They need to be explicitly proscribed, and the place to do this is just here. To quote from the University of Toronto President’s Statement on Freedom of Expression from October 19, 2016 (http://www.president.utoronto.ca/statement-on-free-expression), “Speech or acts that silence or demean individuals OR GROUPS are also gravely concerning. Indeed, such behaviour stands in direct opposition to free speech and subverts the contest of ideas at the heart of the University’s mission” (my capitalization). In fact, the Task Force should just have adopted the University of Toronto’s magnificent statement on freedom of speech (from 1992) more or less as it stands: http://www.governingcouncil.utoronto.ca/Assets/Governing+Council+Digital+Assets/Policies/PDF/ppmay281992.pdf
Very disturbed to hear about the addition charges for the Lindsay event - is this statement just a PR exercise? Don't look to me for any more donations until you fix this.
How is the selective charging of security fees, to groups hosting unpopular speakers, consistent with the stated principle of unequivocally embracing "... its institutional responsibility to ensure the free and open exchange of ideas in the spirit of intellectual and critical enquiry"? I am particularly interested in how the charging of such fees addresses the issue of making the exchange of ideas "free and open", as well as how it ensures "the spirit of intellectual and critical enquiry."
Because I have already written to various members of WLU in the past, I will keep my comments brief this time around. All I will say is that I am appalled by the double standards that I am observing at your institution. Rather than charge the organizers ludicrous security fees, I think that it would be better to charge disrupters to the fullest extent of the law. The university is supposed to be the place where all ideas can be expressed and therefore scrutinized. Suppression of ideas in the name of diversity or inclusion is still suppression. The following is just speculation on my part, but I believe that the various forms of suppression are used by people who know that their ideas are too weak to withstand scrutiny. I challenge anyone who disagrees with my position to prove me wrong. Rick Mehta, PhD Associate Professor Acadia University Department of Psychology
Your Freedom of Expression statement has lost any credibility with the resignation of Dr. Haskell. When the (only) conservative voice distances himself from this task taskforce it would seem Laurier has learned absolutely nothing from the events of last fall. Good luck spinning this.
As a mother of two young ladies who will be attending University, I could not be more disappointed with the way you have dealt with the lack of free speech on your campus. The far left, Marxist ideology has obviously poisoned your faculty and students. I will be ensuring that my own children and the students of my friends and family are well aware of your shameful tactics and will be taking their tuition dollar elsewhere.
This draft statement is a meaningless fig leaf. Actions speak far louder than words. You, as an institution, are attempting to say you support free expression while imposing financial and scheduling hurdles on conservatives and clubs who wish to include conservatives in debate. You are also aiding and abetting progressive and far left groups that are imposing a heckler's veto on any view they disagree with. I live south of the border, am a social liberal and registered green. I have to cross the aisle on this one. You are abandoning defense of free speech to conservatives. I find your statement hollow because I find your current actions cowardly and reprehensible and at odds with what you claim to support.
I believe that by requiring those individuals who present what may be considered right leaning positions to pay additional security costs goes against the university's freedom of expression statement and it's responsibility to ensure the free and open exchange of ideas. If the ability to voice views of one side is contingent on exorbitant fees for because fear of the actions of the other side free speech has effectively been quelled. You can ensure that the right to voice opinions is protected by penalizing/punishing those who put freedom to speak in jeopardy not those who are speaking.
The Task Force has taken on a critical and fundamental responsibility for drafting the statement of freedom of expression at WLU. BRAVO!!! The Task Force and the administrators of WLU must complete this work providing equal opportunity for ALL parties to have equal access to the same campus resources, free of any encumbrance including unfair financial expenses. WLU needs to define an equal method to fairly level the playing field for ALL parties to access standard available campus resources, without being unfairly burdened with additional financial costs, example security. If WLU has an existing financial budget to cover event costs, it needs to provide equal access to ALL parties, not just for parties with similar views as WLU. Thank you!!!
Allowing openly racist and/or racially biased activities and events on your campus will confuse people who are still not sure why anti-racist and anti-oppressive action is important. Academia has a duty to support and cherish multicultural wisdom and all peoples' right to exist and self-determine their paths in life.
There is obviously a problem at Laurier regarding free expression, hence the reason for this exercise. Whether the University actually wants fix this problem, or this is just some PR damage control, I can't tell yet. 1) Your definition of 'diversity' does not even include diversity of opinion- which is the main point here! 2)Will this change the unfairness of outrageous 'security' fees? How is it 'equitable' that certain points of view have to pay impossible sums for security but others do not? Why not add up all the security costs for events or speakers, and divide that by the number of events/speakers? That would be equitable. 3)New statement or not, the same people with the same attitudes that willfully allowed the numerous embarrassing incidents of suppressing freedom of expression over the last while, are still there. Will this statement compel them to change? Be honest about what we are talking about here. If the 'free' expression is not on the left of the political spectrum,or is not an 'approved' cause by the social justice types, then the mobs and air horns and intimidation is condoned. You can trot out your new fancy statement, but if that still continues what's the point? Laurier already has values/vision/mission statements, adding a Freedom of Expression Statement with no change in the oppressive culture will be useless. Sorry to be so negative.
April 24, 2018
Chair, Task Force on Freedom of Expression
Dear Dr. Gordon,
We read with interest your draft statement on freedom of expression on campus and wish first to thank you for undertaking this important review. The Jewish community has long championed freedom of speech in Canada and strongly supports vigorous academic discourse.
The approach taken by the Committee to consult a wide variety of stakeholders on what is a complicated and topical issue is commendable. We would like to note, however, that, according to Statistics Canada data, the Canadian Jewish community is the most targeted community for hate crimes in Canada and has been so for many years. As you may have read, recent statistics released in Toronto indicated that a third of hate crimes this year were committed against the Jewish community. It is for this reason we believe that, before your report is finalized, the Committee should meet with representatives from the Jewish students on campus to hear directly from them about their experiences and gather their input.
It is also our belief that the University should follow the example of the federal and Ontario legislatures in adopting the definition of antisemitism from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which is the world’s most widely accepted and applied definition. It speaks to all forms of antisemitism and specifies the nexus between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. The IHRA definition provides a useful mechanism to guide efforts to combat antisemitism in the 21st century. (Please find attached to this letter more details regarding the IHRA definition of antisemitism.)
With respect of the draft statement itself, we have several comments for your consideration.
1. If the Committee has not yet done so, we encourage it to review Ryerson University’s Code of Conduct, with special attention to the clauses that address disruption of the regular functions of the university. Ryerson’s Code of Conduct should serve as a model for its balance of freedom of expression and inquiry with maintenance of a safe and respectful environment free from discrimination.
2. On the issue of discrimination, most authorities, including the Ontario Human Rights Commission, include ‘place of origin’ in their list of protected grounds. This appears to be missing from Laurier’s definition. We believe that Laurier, and indeed all Canadian universities, should follow best practices and include ‘place of origin’ in its documentation of discrimination.
On behalf of Hillel at Laurier and CIJA, I request a meeting at your earliest convenience to discuss these and other recommendations, which we strongly believe will strengthen the Task Force’s final statement on freedom of expression.
Should you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly.
Max Marmer Matthew Godwin
Hillel Laurier Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs
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