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Expert says free-speech laws not necessary for post-secondary institutions

A political science professor at UW adds the new policies won't make it easier to draw the line on when freedom of speech is being infringed upon
File photo from Ted Pritchard

Under the guidance of a new mandate by the Ford government, universities in Ontario have had to implement new free-speech policies.

It's a new rule that the government announced last summer, stating that all publicly funded colleges and universities must develop and implement a free speech policy by January 1.

Emmett Macfarlane is a political science professor at the University of Waterloo he tells Kitchener Today with Brian Bourke on 570 NEWS that there isn't really a major free-speech problem to solve at Canadian universities.

"What we really have seen is a handful of controversies that have really flared up and have gotten a lot of media attention, and while these controversies have been very concerning, for the most part -- the day-to-day activities of the universities have very few limits on the freedom of expression and students are engaged in the discussion of all sorts of issues."

He says that the new law to ensure fair, free-speech on campus may not have been necessary.

"I don't imagine that requiring universities to have such speech statements or policies will make a lot of difference on the ground. The question will be now, what happens now if the university is perceived as somehow violating its own policy. That's what might cause problems in the future."

Macfarlane says that the new policies won't make it easier to draw the line on when freedom of speech is being infringed upon.

"Is freedom of expression infringed when a group of students protest a guest speaker? Is freedom of expression infringed if the university doesn't do anything to shut down a protest? Or is it in fact infringed when the university moves to shut down the protest? The short answer is that we don't know, because in each instance it will depend on the circumstances of the case."

Under the new rule, post secondary institutions will be required to send yearly progress reports and follow other government requirements or face a cut in funding.