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The Wilfrid Laurier University Act sets out the objects of the university as “the pursuit of learning through scholarship, teaching, and research within a spirit of free enquiry and expression” (s.4).

Laurier is strongly committed to upholding free speech and free expression on its campuses. Our commitment is reflected in our founding documents and policies, and has been recently further articulated in our Statement on Freedom of Expression. The statement was approved by the Laurier Senate on May 29, 2018 and then endorsed by the Board of Governors on June 7, 2018.

In August 2018, the Ontario government announced a requirement that all colleges and universities develop, implement, and comply with a free speech policy. The announcement stipulated a minimum standard that all institutions must meet. The following table provides more detail about how the Laurier policy framework meets the government’s requirements.

Free Speech Documents/Policies

Requirement

Relevant Document/Policy

Relevant Language

a. A definition of freedom of speech.

“Freedom of thought, association, and expression are fundamental principles of an open, fair, and inclusive campus, and are core to the discovery, critical assessment, and effective dissemination of knowledge. As history clearly demonstrates, these freedoms establish conditions necessary for critical thought, and for diverse voices to be heard without the fear of repression or reprisal. They are vital to the creation of knowledge, and to challenging the improper use of power. The Wilfrid Laurier University Act upholds these freedoms in defining the objects of the university…” (Statement)

b. Principles based on the University of Chicago Statement on Principles of Free Expression.

See policies under b.i. to b.iv. below.

N/A

b.i. Universities and colleges should be places for open discussion and free inquiry.

“The objects of the University are the pursuit of learning through scholarship, teaching and research within a spirit of free enquiry and expression.” (WLU Act)

“Laurier unequivocally embraces the principles of free expression required in an academic environment. The university supports the expression, testing, and challenging of a range of perspectives and ideas, including those that may be deemed difficult, controversial, extreme, or even wrong-headed. As an institution of higher learning, Laurier strives to instill throughout its community the ability to think critically, express ideas clearly and persuasively, and articulate positions that are based on reason, evidence, and frameworks of knowledge.” (Statement)

b.ii. The university/college should not attempt to shield students from ideas or opinions that they disagree with or find offensive.

“… it is not the role of the university to censor speech. To grant the institution such power would set a dangerous precedent. Even if institutional censorship were deemed acceptable in one context, there is no guarantee that such restriction would be applied fairly or wisely in other contexts, or as power changes hands over time. Rather than restricting speech, Laurier is committed to supporting an open and inclusive environment that also protects free expression.” (Statement)

b.iii. While members of the university/college are free to criticize and contest views expressed on campus, they may not interfere with the freedom of others to express their views.

“Community members are free to reject and vigorously content ideas while still recognizing the right to express or hear those ideas.” The Statement further asserts that “When confronted with ideas or viewpoints with which they disagree, community members may choose to dissent through, for example, participating in debate, hosting alternative events, inviting speakers to express opposing views, and/or engaging in non-violent protests. … At the university, all forms of expression should be undertaken in a manner that also recognizes the free expression rights of others.” (Statement)

b.iv. Speech that violates the law or constitutes harassment or a threat is not allowed.

“Canada’s legal frameworks restrict illegal forms of expression such as threats, defamation, discrimination, harassment, unjustified and substantial invasion of privacy and confidentiality, and hate speech. These limits apply to speech on campus in the same way as they apply elsewhere.” (Statement)

c. That existing student discipline measures apply to students whose actions are contrary to the policy (e.g. ongoing disruptive protesting that significantly interferes with the ability of an event to proceed).

In the Non-Academic Student Code of Conduct, under the heading “Prohibited Student Conduct,” the following sections would be applied to ongoing disruptive behaviour that significantly interferes with the ability of an event to proceed:

Disruption or Interference

(a) Disruption or obstruction by action, threat or otherwise, of any University activity including teaching, learning, research, administration, disciplinary proceedings, events, or any behaviour or conduct that disrupts the normal operations of the University and infringes on the rights of other members of the University community;

(b) Interfering with, obstructing, disrupting, misleading, or failing to comply with the directions of any University official or Special Constable Service, or their designate (e.g. Police, Fire, or Ambulance response) acting in the performance of their duties and in the scope of their employment.

Note: Nothing in this Code should be interpreted as prohibiting peaceful assemblies and demonstrations, lawful picketing, or to inhibit freedom of expression.” (Policy 12.3)

“the university reserves the right to reasonably manage the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of its community, or impinge upon the physical safety of its members. However, this administrative discretion should not be exercised in a manner inconsistent with Laurier’s overarching commitment to free expression.” (Statement)

d. That institutions shall consider official student groups’ compliance with the policy as a condition for ongoing financial support or recognition, and encourage student unions to adopt policies that align with the free speech policy.

Operating procedure agreements with the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union (WLUSU) and the Wilfrid Laurier University Graduate Students’ Association (WLUGSA).

Laurier has established operating agreements that apply to all official student groups; these agreements require student groups to comply with all relevant university policies.

e. That the college/university uses existing mechanisms to handle complaints and ensure compliance. Complaints that remain unresolved may be referred to the Ontario Ombudsman.

Since January 1, 2016, it has been the case that any complaints relating to administrative actions and decisions, including the application of university policies, may be referred to the Ontario Ombudsman. The university will continue to work with the Ontario Ombudsman’s office for any complaints that cannot be resolved through the internal processes.

f. That by September 1, 2019, the institution shall prepare an annual report on implementation progress, publish it online and submit it to the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO).

N/A

Laurier is actively monitoring compliance with the policy framework described above and will be prepared to report to HEQCO in September 2019.

Annual reports will be posted to the web.

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