Ryerson is taking the next step in the creation of its free speech policy, following a week which saw a street protest over what the university is proposing and a call by a prominent civil libertarian to not curtail free speech, even if it offensive.
On Oct. 24, Ryerson’s provost Michael Benarroch and James Turk, the director of the Centre for Free Expression, are holding a town hall to gather community input for the senate’s draft statement on freedom of expression.
This past summer, the new government of Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that universities must adopt free speech policies that are more open to viewpoints which some may disagree with or find offensive, so long as they do not promote hate. Ryerson has created a draft statement on freedom of expression, and is seeking community input.
At an event last week, “Countering Hate Speech,” the former head of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said allowing a platform for speech that may be deemed offensive is important for thoughtful debate in society.
“The appropriate response to speech whose content we loathe and fear and despise is not suppression, but rather counter speech,” said Nadine Strossen, the president of the ACLU from 1991 to 2008.
Even though some speech may be deemed offensive or even hateful, there should still be a platform for these views to be expressed without being interfered with, Strossen said.
“It is essential that those of us who oppose those ideas have the opportunity to hear them. First of all so that it is known that those ideas exist … (and) it gives an opportunity for people to refute those ideas, to develop their arguments and understanding of why the ideas are wrong,” she said.
The event at which she spoke took place just hours after a protest on campus targeting the Ford free speech directive aimed at universities.
It was organized by the Socialist Fightback group, which argues the proposed policy will give room for hate speech on campus.
“It will provide a police-protected ‘safe space’ to anti-abortionists holding obscene displays, alt-right racists, and those denying the Holocaust,” the group said on the event’s Facebook page.
They also argued that government policy will punish groups that commit “ongoing disruptive protesting” against speech they may find offensive.
“Student clubs protesting hateful groups can be defunded and dissolved,” the group said.
The proposed new policy would allow for counter-protesting, but not to the point that it prevents others from expressing their point of view.