Provost’s Statement on Recent Controversial Events on Campus (December 2012)

An event was organized by the Men's Issues Awareness Group at the University of Toronto on November 16th, to which Toronto Police were called when the entrances to the building were blocked by protesters, many of whom were members of our community. We have received a number of complaints about this event – from those in support and those opposed.

The vast majority of the University of Toronto community understands that freedom of expression is vital to the mission of universities and cannot be reserved for those with whom one agrees. It is therefore heartening that many members of our community with otherwise divergent views have recognized that the disruption of this event by protesters was a threat to free speech. On the other hand, it is less than heartening to see that a few members of our community, on both sides of this particular divide, have been inclined to respond with vitriol.

We have at the University of Toronto a wide range of contentious events, in which views are expressed that are offensive to some. Our primary aim with respect to these events is to ensure that freedom of speech is protected, including the freedom to protest, as long as the law is respected. We also on occasion need to call on members of our community to respect the bounds of civil, respectful disagreement and we do so at this time. 

Unfortunately, when contentious issues, such as this one, spill into the world of blogs and internet participation and increasingly involve individuals external to our community, they can very quickly escalate. That has happened in this situation and has resulted in the vilification of a very small number of individual students. These students have also received online threats to their personal safety.  We take these threats seriously and we condemn them. We have reached out to individual students, and will continue to do so, in order to assist them in developing safety plans so that they may go about their academic and other endeavours on our campus safely. 

We will continue to monitor and review this situation.  It is important that all members of our community can express their views in a civil and respectful manner, without fear, regardless of which position they take on this or other divides.

December 11, 2012