The hypocrisy of stifling free speech on university campuses

Across Canada, too many student unions and university administrations supress free speech by refusing to allow the free exchange of ideas

By Michael Kennedy
and John Carpay
Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms

CALGARY, Alta. Nov. 14, 2016/ Troy Media/ – “Hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue,” goes the old saying. At Canadian public universities, hypocrisy threatens to destroy one of higher education’s most cherished and long-standing virtues: the free exchange of ideas.

Since 2011, the annual [popup url=”” height=”1000″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”1″]Campus Freedom Index[/popup] has been exposing the glaring differences between the lip service paid by universities to free expression and academic freedom, and the ongoing censorship of controversial speech on campus.

Michael Kennedy

For example, the [popup url=”” height=”1000″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”1″]University of Toronto[/popup] has among the best policies in Canada: “Within the unique university context, the most crucial of all human rights are the rights of freedom of speech, academic freedom and freedom of research.” The U of T further declares that “these rights are meaningless unless they entail the right to raise deeply disturbing questions and provocative challenges to the cherished beliefs of society at large and of the university itself.”

But the U of T ignores these words by condoning the alleged [popup url=”″ height=”1000″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”1″]censorship[/popup] of controversial discourse by the University of Toronto Mississauga Student Union (UTMSU). This student union allegedly denied registered club status to an anti-abortion group.

John Carpay

Rather than condemn the behaviour of this student union – which students must join and pay fees to in order to study at the university – the U of T is responding with deafening silence. This club believes it had no reasonable alternative but to sue UTMSU in order to have its rights protected.

Proactive intervention by the university could have prevented the need for these legal efforts.

In similar fashion, [popup url=”” height=”1000″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”1″]Ryerson University[/popup] says that it “embraces unequivocally” the free exchange of ideas on campus. Yet Ryerson has not spoken in defence of the Men’s Issues Awareness Society, a Ryerson student group that seeks to discuss issues such as men’s academic underperformance, and men’s higher rates of suicide and homelessness.

The Men’s Issues Awareness Society was allegedly [popup url=”″ height=”1000″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”1″]denied[/popup] student group status by its student union, because its advocacy might make some women feel “uncomfortable,” “unwelcome” and not “included.” In [popup url=”” height=”1000″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”1″]an editorial[/popup], student union president Andrea Bartlett says the group was denied club status because many of the proposed topics were already covered by other student groups, and group representatives “refused to acknowledge the reality of patriarchy and other systemic issues of privilege,” which, according to her, runs counter to RSU’s core equity values.

This men’s society has decided to take the student union to court to defend its free expression and free association rights. It’s one of several court actions in Ontario against student unions.

The [popup url=”” height=”1000″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”1″]University of Alberta[/popup] also exemplifies hypocrisy, defending in court its right to censor controversial and unpopular speech by [popup url=”″ height=”1000″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”1″]pricing it out of existence[/popup]. The university’s policy states that “[no] student shall, by action, words, written material, or by any means whatsoever, obstruct university activities or university-related functions.”

Yet the U of A allegedly condoned the behaviour of those who blocked and obstructed an anti-abortion display on campus. The university took no action to prosecute students who forcibly disrupted and silenced speech they disagreed with. The U of A now refuses to allow students to put up an anti-abortion display unless the club pays “security fees” of $17,500.

The [popup url=”” height=”1000″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”1″]University of Windsor[/popup] claims to be “a place where freedom of expression is protected vigorously and uncompromisingly” but rescinded its approval for an anti-abortion club display of small pink-and-blue flags on campus after the flags had been placed.

Some students complained that the display was too visible. University authorities apparently ignored the vandalism and obstruction of the flag display. The university also failed to prosecute students who disrupted a lecture by a former Israeli diplomat and member of the Bedouin minority, organized by a Jewish student group on campus, despite its own rules which prohibit the “[intentional] obstruction or disruption of … authorized activities on university premises.”

In light of such widespread hypocrisy at Canada’s institutions of higher learning, there is, perversely, something refreshing about the consistency of a few student unions that oppose free expression through both their policies and their practices. The University of Toronto Mississauga Student Union, the [popup url=”″ height=”1000″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”1″]University of Victoria Student Society[/popup] and the Ryerson Students’ Union have earned F grades for their words and actions. These three student unions are the worst in Canada, but at least they are honest about their intentions.

Michael Kennedy and John Carpay are co-authors of the 2016 Campus Freedom Index, published by the [popup url=”” height=”1000″ width=”1200″ scrollbars=”1″]Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms[/popup], which also acts for student groups in the above-referenced court cases.

Michael and John are Troy Media [popup url=”” height=”1000″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”1″]contributors[/popup]. [popup url=”” height=”600″ width=”600″ scrollbars=”1″] Why aren’t you?[/popup]

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