79 Freedom of Speech and Events Organized by Campus Organizations

PDAD&C #79, 2005-06


To: Principals, Deans, Academic Directors and Chairs Presidents of Student Societies and Recognized Campus Groups
From: David Farrar, Deputy Provost and Vice-Provost, Students
Date: February 2, 2006
Re: Freedom of Speech and Events Organized by Campus Organizations


In the coming weeks and months a number of events organized by recognized campus groups may attract the attention of the media, the public, and many members of the University community. I am writing to remind you of our central principles on these matters and to draw your attention to the University’s policies related to freedom of speech and campus activities.

While it may be a challenge to protect freedom of speech, it also is a necessity. The University’s Statement on Freedom of Speech provides that:

"…the essential purpose of the University is to engage in the pursuit of truth, the advancement of learning and the dissemination of knowledge.

To achieve this purpose, all members of the University must have as a prerequisite freedom of speech and expression, which means the right to examine, question, investigate, speculate, and comment on any issue without reference to prescribed doctrine, as well as the right to criticize the University and society at large…"

"The existence of an institution where unorthodox ideas, alternative modes of thinking and living, and radical prescriptions for social ills can be debated contributes immensely to social and political change and the advancement of human rights both inside and outside the University.

Often this debate may generate controversy and disputes among members of the University and the wider community. In such cases, the University’s primary obligation is to protect the free speech of all involved. The University must allow the fullest range of debate. It should not limit that debate by preordaining conclusions, or punishing or inhibiting the reasonable exercise of free speech."

There are many campus organizations which choose to engage in a variety of activities. On some occasions recognized campus groups plan and present events which explore difficult questions concerning the world around them. Engagement in these types of activities is part of a student’s learning process and forms a significant component of the student experience. By participating in a wide range of activities and discussions during their time here, students and other members of our community learn to navigate the intellectual, political, social and cultural diversity that characterizes vibrant university life. Vigorous debate, especially concerning human rights and other global issues, provides an opportunity to seek solutions without violence. We must protect that opportunity, for the University and for the larger community.

The Policy on the Recognition of Campus Groups provides a general framework for the recognition of informal campus organizations and describes the University’s relationship with these groups.

Specifically, the policy provides that:

"In its relation with these organizations, the University is guided by a commitment to the right of University members to communicate and to discuss and explore all ideas, to organize groups for any lawful purpose, to distribute on campus, in a reasonable way, published material provided that it is not unlawful, to hold meetings, to debate and to engage in peaceful demonstrations, and to freedom from discrimination on the basis of sex, race or religion."

"Under the terms of this policy the University will not attempt to censor, control or interfere with any group on the basis of its philosophy, beliefs, interests or opinions expressed unless and until these lead to activities which are illegal or which infringe the rights and freedoms already mentioned. By the same token, recognition as a ‘campus group’ by the University implies neither endorsement of a particular group’s beliefs or philosophy, nor the assumption of legal liability for the group’s activities."

The very fact that campus groups exist speaks to a central value of the University of Toronto. As an academic community, we have a fundamental commitment to the principles of freedom of inquiry, freedom of speech and freedom of association. In this context, campus groups avail themselves of campus facilities for activities. The fact that the University creates an environment where a recognized student group can express a view on a controversial subject does not mean that the University itself has expressed any view whatsoever.

With respect to the events being planned by various campus organizations, the University has no reason to believe that these activities will exceed the boundaries for free speech as articulated in the Statement on Freedom of Speech. The University of Toronto upholds the fundamental principles of open dialogue and tolerance within its community. The ability to question, examine and comment on issues of the day, even when such commentary may be repugnant to some, is central to the mission of the University. Having said that, all University activity is subject to the laws of Canada, and behaviour or speech that constitutes hatred or incitement to hatred against any group will be dealt with quickly and appropriately.

Notwithstanding this, it also is important to acknowledge that some of the difficult questions explored by student groups may raise troubling or even painful issues for members of our campus community. Without being illegal or otherwise prohibited, some speech may be perceived as hurtful because of the pain that it surfaces. Therefore, I would remind you that we must be prepared as a community to support students, staff, faculty and alumni who are affected by these events.

Finally, I would draw your attention to the memorandum to principals, deans, academic directors, and chairs, of January 18, 2005 (PDAD&C #46,2004-2005) concerning freedom of speech and campus activities in which all of the relevant policies and procedures are summarized. The memorandum is available on the Provost’s web site at http://www.provost.utoronto.ca.

Follow the links to "Publications," then "PDAD&C Memoranda," and then "2004-2005 PDAD&C Memoranda." The direct link is: http://www.provost.utoronto.ca/English/46---Freedom-of-Speech-and-Campus-Activities.html

The University’s attention to these matters is coordinated through the office of the Deputy Provost & Vice-Provost, Students. If you have any questions or concerns related to freedom of speech and campus activities, please contact Jim Delaney, Assistant Director, Student Affairs at 416-978-4027 or <jim.delaney@utoronto.ca>.

Please distribute this memorandum widely.