Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s demand for colleges and universities to develop free speech policies, or have their funding cut, will prevent left-wing groups from disrupting far-right events and pro-life displays on campus, according to a coalition of groups.
Socialist Fightback at Ryerson calls this an “anti-protest law,” which will “ban student protests against racist and fascist speakers on campus.”
Olivia Pape, who chaired a rally on Thursday, told the Ryersonian the group is concerned Ford’s initiative will hinder left-wing students’ ability to protest the far-right’s presence on campus, which she says has been increasing in the two years since U.S. President Donald Trump’s election.
“This is a threat to the safety of marginalized people at Ryerson, and clubs that wish to speak out against hateful rhetoric on campus.”
Fightback is taking aim at Ryerson’s draft statement on freedom of expression, which was voted on at the senate’s Oct. 2 meeting. The organization is specifically opposed to the wording in the draft’s sixth paragraph.
It states, “They may choose to dissent through, for example, participating in debate, hosting alternative events, inviting speakers to express opposing views, engaging in non-violent protests or simply ignoring or boycotting events, “but they may not obstruct or otherwise interfere with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe.”
This is contradictory and open to interpretation, according to Hermes Azam, president of Fightback at Ryerson.
“Allowing non-violent protest while at the same time demanding it not obstruct or interfere is to us, contradictory. As we have stated, all protest is disruptive.”
This is why left-wing groups and unions on campus believe this policy must “be fought, defied,” Azam added.
The Canadian Federation of Students (Ontario), and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (Ontario) were two of 14 organizations endorsing Fightback’s position.
“Repressing popular student-led protests, allowing sexist and racist agitators and their fascist friends to have free rein on campus, and expelling students who protest these people will become all too common with such a policy in place.”
James Turk, the director of Ryerson’s Centre for Free Expression, has been highly critical of Ford’s demands for a free speech policy.
“It’s outrageous,” he said, “especially coming from the conservatives, who have no record of supporting free speech at all. In fact, over the last decade they’ve gone after universities that undertake events they don’t like, such as Israeli Apartheid Week.”
Turk, who has been helping Ryerson draft a freedom of expression statement since the spring of 2017, said Ford has other reasons for making these demands, such as pandering to voters.
But he said that the assertions of this being an anti-protest policy are untrue.
The committee drafting Ryerson’s statement aimed to have it done mid-year. However, when Wilfrid Laurier University released its free speech statement this past spring, Turk said they suggested some changes to Ryerson’s statement with the goal of finishing by the fall.
“Ford came along quite independently and said it has to be done,” Turk said.
“We were planning on having it done well before January. Ford’s actions had nothing to do with our statement in any way, whether it’s the content or timing.”
While the statement on freedom of expression will go to the senate to be voted on, Ford insisted universities have a policy, which has to be voted on by their Board of Governors. This is something new, according to Turk.
“But the policy says nothing about the content of our position on free expression,” Turk said. “It simply refers to the statement on free expression adopted by the senate.”
What isn’t welcome under the policy, and is not new, said Turk, is stopping an event from happening.
“Freedom of expression means the right I have to say what I want,” he said. “It doesn’t give me the right to determine what you have the right to hear.
“Protest short of preventing an event from happening is not only welcome at Ryerson, but encouraged.”
Organizers at Fightback take issue with the phrasing in Ryerson’s draft statement that can also be found in the University of Chicago statement, which Ford has endorsed.
Ryerson used policies at Princeton University and Yale University as a guide to develop its free speech statement. Language from the 2015 Chicago statement, particularly on the issue of obstruction and disruption, can also be found in Princeton’s statement.
Fightback at Ryerson doesn’t think the timing or the language of the draft statement is a coincidence and will be protesting the senate when the draft goes to vote on Nov. 6.