As of last week, every single college and university in Ontario was forced to implement a free speech policy at their institution. The order came from Doug Ford's government at the end of last summer. At the end of August, Doug Ford's Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities, Merrilee Fullerton, mandated that all Ontario post-secondary institutions had to have a free speech policy in place by January 1st, 2019. If they didn't comply, they would lose funding from the government.
The move came after speakers at several Ontario universities were met with protests. Most notably, Jordan Peterson, the U of T prof who has spoken out against gender-neutral pronouns, has been the subject of many campus protests at his scheduled speaking events.
That all changes this year, though. With the new free speech policies, universities and colleges will have to serve as a place for open dialogues and discussions about controversial topics.
The policies also state that students shouldn't be shielded from opinions that they disagree with. This is because the government believes that universities and colleges should be a place to expose students to views that may be different than their own.
Most controversially though, the policies make it so that members of the university or college, including staff and students, cannot do anything to impede these opinions or speeches. What does this really mean for students, though?
In general, these policies mean that post-secondary institutions have to be open to having controversial speakers on campus. For example, universities wouldn't be able to stop a campus group or teacher from bringing in someone like Jordan Peterson to give a talk.
Beyond that, the school also wouldn't be able to make moves to shield students from those talks if they didn't agree with the opinions being covered. So if one of your teachers is bringing in a speaker like Jordan Peterson, they can't offer you a free pass to skip class that day just because you don't agree with him.
Then there's the matter of protesting. A big part of the policies implemented at Ontario colleges and universities is the fact that if a controversial speaker is doing an event on campus, students and staff can't do anything to impede that presentation, and that includes protesting.
In the past, protestors have driven speakers like Peterson at campus events off stage or led to events being cancelled ahead of time. Now students won't be able to protest controversial speakers in any way that would impede the speech from being given.
In Ontario, all the colleges have developed a joint policy, but each university was responsible for creating their own. That means that each school will have different rules now. But in general, all students should be prepared for more controversial speakers and events showing up on campus this year.