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Final Draft of Free Speech Policy Heads to Senate

by: Selina Mccallum & Ashley Quinton

The University of Windsor’s Free Speech Task Force will present an updated version of a free speech policy to Senate Friday. The proposed final version follows edits made to the circulated draft following recommendations by Windsor’s campus and community.

University administration formed a Free Speech Task Force after Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford mandated postsecondary institutions to develop and enforce a free-speech policy by January 1, 2019. Ford threatened any university of college who didn’t follow suit to face funding cuts.

The goal of the policy is to defend free speech and to encourage campuses to stop shielding students from opinions they may disagree with or find offensive. However, hate speech as defined under Canadian law is still prohibited on campus.

University of Windsor President Dr. Douglas Kneale says the university already has a number of policies addressing these concerns in place, but they aren’t connected to each other. “We had language about free speech, freedom of expression, academic freedom in different locations, different documents at the university. But we didn’t have a standalone policy on a free speech. And now we’re required to.”

University of Windsor Free Speech Association President, Mark Dumaine feels the current policies have not done enough for student groups like his that often take opposing views to the opinion of the majority. “This is what led to a rise in proponents for such a policy in the first place,” he says. “If all the university is interested in doing is reiterating that ‘the university has in place procedures’ without implementing anything designed to help this growing issue where those procedures have failed, I just don’t see how any substantive progress will be made.”

The policy reads, “freedom of speech protects the individual’s freedom to communicate – to speak to others, and to hear what others have to say – without interference from the state or from others.” It also protects other forms of expression such as when an artist practices their craft.

University of Windsor’s Student Alliance (UWSA) Vice-President of Advocacy and Free Speech Task Force member Admira Konjic doesn’t think the new policy will inhibit creative expression. “I think that art can make a huge impact on world issues as we are the group that studies and observes world issues the most through class and through our own personal interests,” said Konjic. “I do not think restrictions will impact this, I think that no matter what our voices will be heard.”

Konjic says people often confuse free speech with hate speech. “I think that the issues that I have seen are that people have confused free-speech for hate speech and have used free speech as a passageway to allow them to discriminate against marginalized and oppressed groups.”

UWSA President, Jeremiah Bowers says the policy creates a balance for artists.

“A sensible free speech policy will guarantee freedom of verbal, creative and artistic expression while protecting students from outright discrimination and harassment,” said Bowers. “Freedom of expression isn’t just for one kind of student or a particular community; it ensures we all have the platform to express ourselves. For the arts community, that may mean creative expression through song, word, or art.”

The draft free speech policy states, “the university must permit and protect the free speech of its community members, subject only to limits necessary to protect the operation of the institution or to prevent harm to members of the university.”

University of Windsor Free Speech Task Force:

Richard Moon, Faculty of Law, Chair

Sheila Boamah, Faculty of Nursing – Deans representative

Cheryl Collier, Acting Associate Vice-President, Academic

Bruce Durfy, CUPE

Ryan Flannagan, Associate Vice-President, Student Experience

Admira Konjic (Undergraduate Student)

Marilee Marcotte (Community Member) 

Lisa Milne, UNIFOR

Sathish Pichika (Graduate Student)

Peter Zimmerman, WUFA

 

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