|Year||University Policies||University Practices||Student Union Policies||Student Union Practices|
Under the heading “Purpose of the University,” the University of Toronto (U of T) sets out its commitment to free speech:
Within the unique University context, the most crucial of all human rights are the rights of freedom of speech, academic freedom, and freedom of research. And we affirm that these rights are meaningless unless they entail the right to raise deeply disturbing questions and provocative challenges to the cherished beliefs of society at large and of the University itself.
It is this human right to radical, critical teaching and research with which the University has a duty above all to be concerned; for there is no one else, no other institution and no other office, in our modern liberal democracy, which is the custodian of this most precious and vulnerable right of the liberated human spirit.
The Office of the Governing Council of the U of T’s Statement on Freedom of Speech states:
…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 purpose of the University also depends upon an environment of tolerance and mutual respect. Every member should be able to work, live, teach and learn in a University free from discrimination and harassment.
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 of 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.
Of necessity, there are limits to the right of free speech, for example, when members of the University use speech as a direct attack that has the effect of preventing the lawful exercise of speech by members or invited guests, or interfering with the conduct of authorized University business, the University may intervene…
The right to free speech is complemented by the right of freedom of association. The right to free speech extends to individuals cooperating in groups. All members have the freedom to communicate in any reasonable way, to hold and advertise meetings, to debate and to engage in peaceful assemblies and demonstrations, to organize groups for any lawful activities and to make reasonable use of University facilities, in accordance with its policies as they are defined from time to time and subject to the University's rights and responsibilities.
In 2006, then-president David Naylor stated:
Rhetoric is part of debate. We accept highly evocative modes of speech that aim to raise awareness. On occasion such words may be hurtful to some. However, in keeping with the laws of Canada, the University is not prepared to tolerate maliciously provocative speech that aims to incite hatred against identifiable groups.
While the University allows expressions of views that some may consider extreme, our provision of a forum for such self-expression in no way constitutes an institutional endorsement. We shall not censor or suppress debate, but we do ask that those with strong views recognize the power of their rhetoric to alienate or wound members of our community.
U of T’s Code of Student Conduct states:
No person shall… whether on the premises of the University or away from the premises of the University, cause another person or persons to fear for their safety or the safety of another person known to them while on the premises of the University of Toronto or in the course of activities sponsored by the University of Toronto or by any of its divisions, or cause another person or persons to be impeded in exercising the freedom to participate reasonably in the programs of the University and in activities in or on the University's premises, knowing that their conduct will cause such fear, or recklessly as to whether their conduct causes such fear.
The Code further states:
No person shall cause by action, threat or otherwise, a disturbance that the member knows obstructs any activity organized by the University of Toronto or by any of its divisions, or the right of another member or members to carry on their legitimate activities, to speak or to associate with others.
For example, peaceful picketing or other activity outside a class or meeting that does not substantially interfere with the communication inside, or impede access to the meeting, is an acceptable expression of dissent. And silent or symbolic protest is not to be considered disruption under this Code. But noise that obstructs the conduct of a meeting or forcible blocking of access to an activity constitutes disruption.
U of T’s Policy on the Recognition of Campus Groups states that:
The objectives and activities of groups seeking recognition should be seen as attempting to contribute to the educational, recreational, social or cultural values of the University. These values are intended to be interpreted in the broadest sense. However, the essential "value" of the University must remain that of preservation of freedom of enquiry and association.
The University’s Temporary Use of Space Policy allows for security fees to be charged to student groups holding events at its discretion:
- The University may, as a condition of booking, require that authorized security be made available during the use of the space, including but not limited to where the building would normally be closed at the time of the event. The University may require such security to be provided at the cost of the user and to be arranged by the University.
- The University at its discretion may assess additional security requirements and require that the Campus Police be present at any event. These costs are normally the responsibility of the group booking the event.
The U of T has a formal policy to prevent the disruption of events, for the express purpose of protecting free speech. The policy against the disruption of meetings states:
If there is reason to believe that a meeting sponsored by the University or one of its divisions or departments, a student society or a recognized group at the University of Toronto will be disrupted, the University will take reasonable steps to avert disruption.
The University of Toronto made no public comment in opposition to the conduct of the University of Toronto Mississauga Student Union (UTMSU) regarding the denial of club status to Students for Life by this student union during the 2015-2016 year.
On February 27, 2015, a lecture titled “WWI 100th Anniversary: Human Suffering in Eastern Anatolia” was hosted at the University of Toronto’s St. George campus. The event, which was sponsored by the Canadian Federation of Turkish Associations, featured two speakers, University of Louisville professor Justin McCarthy and lawyer Bruce Fein.
Some groups including the registered student group Armenian Students Association, and the Armenian Youth Federation, protested the event because they believed the lecturers denied the existence of the Armenian Genocide. These groups circulated a petition demanding that the University cancel the event. The event proceeded as scheduled with campus security present, however a “silent protest” occurred after the opening remarks. The Armenian Weekly reports:
More than 70 human rights activists from the university community, who made up the majority of those in attendance, held the silent protest by standing in unison and turning their backs to the lecturers.
Protesters allowed the speakers to deliver their opening remarks. However, when it became apparent that the speakers would deny and misconstrue the facts of the Armenian Genocide, the group stood up and turned their backs to the podium as a silent protest against genocide denial.
Several racial slurs and discriminatory comments were directed at the protesters as they stood in silence.
The lecture organizers briefly stopped the talk, but after campus police made it clear that the form of protest did not interfere with the event, they were asked to continue.
The protesters continued to stand with their backs to the podium as Fein spoke, then marched out in an organized walk-out, leaving the remaining 20 or so attendees to listen to the lecture.
The University made statements after the incident defending free expression:
“Events that such external organizations host are not University activities; the University does not affirm or condemn any assertions made at such events,” [ U of T Director of media relations] Blackburn-Evans says.
She adds that such events are governed by the university’s policies.
“There is a clear statement that all reservations for use of university space are subject to the university’s policy concerning freedom of speech,” she says. “The university upholds the principles of freedom of speech and of the freedom of individuals and groups from physical intimidation and harassment.”
The University of Toronto Men’s Issues Awareness Society (UTMIA), an unregistered student group at U of T which has been denied ratification by the University of Toronto Student Union (UTSU), organized a lecture to be held on campus September 27, 2013. The event, “Caring About University Men: Why We Need Campus Men’s Centres in a Time of Crisis,” featured a lecture by American psychologist Miles Groth. On September 23, 2013, U of T charged UTMIA with a $964 security fee to cover the cost of police attendance at the event, which the U of T deemed necessary. UTMIA was able to raise the necessary funds to proceed with the event, since the U of T refused to obligate itself to ensure the rule of law was followed at the event.
Incidents in 2012-2013 involving the disruption of lectures organized by UTMIA prompted U of T to re-iterate its support for freedom of speech on campus in a statement release in November 2012. U of T went further by sending senior administrators to at least one of the lectures organized, to promote the U of T’s written policies in support of academic freedom and free expression.
The University of Toronto placed signs outside of lectures held by the University of Toronto’s pro-life club, in November 2013 and March 2014, wherein the University reminded attendees that its anti-disruption policy was in force during the events, which went ahead uninterrupted.
In November 2011, an Islamic Scholar at U of T who was known for making divisive remarks was invited to lecture an 18-week seminar series sponsored by the Muslim Student Association. Despite demands to cancel the lecture series by many Jewish groups, U of T chose to uphold academic freedom:
The University of Toronto on occasion receives requests to bar individuals from speaking on campus. While, on some of these occasions, the administration is as offended as are those who would wish the speaker to be denied a voice… we will continue to encourage progress through open discussion and an exchange of views, no matter how difficult that may be in certain situations.
The University of Toronto Students for Life (UTSFL) has conducted a pro-life campaign for several years. In the spring of 2008, Jim Delaney (Director, Office of the Vice Provost, Students) told the pro-life students that the graphic images disturb too many students, and that UTSFL should instead set up their display inside a classroom in the Sidney Smith building. Alternatively, U of T demanded that the “horse shoe” was to face the wall, rather than the walkway, with the same objective: to reduce visibility of the students’ expression. U of T rejected UTSFL’s argument that they were tuition-paying students entitled to express their opinions on campus, on par with all other students, without discrimination based on the content of their opinion, expression or viewpoint. The UTSFL were not prepared to comply, and since that time have conducted their campaign on the streets of Toronto next to U of T, rather than on U of T property.
In 2007, the Ontario Public Interest Research Group (OPIRG) hosted an event connected to Israeli Apartheid Week, for which the Office of Space Management charged a security fee of over $400. Groups with “non-controversial” or “non-offensive” expression are not charged security fees.
U of T has several student unions, the largest of which is the University of Toronto Student Union (UTSU) which comprises full-time undergraduate students, as well as some graduate students. UTSU grants or withholds official club status, makes club funding decisions, and monitors and manages club activities.
UTSU’s Clubs Policy includes the following criteria for ratification:
- The objectives and activities of groups seeking recognition should be seen as attempting to contribute to the educational, recreational, social or cultural values of the University of Toronto community.
- Recognized clubs must uphold the Canadian Human Rights Code. This includes policies that uphold discrimination for race, national or ethnic origin, colour, status, creed religion, sex, sexuality, gender identity, age, class, mental or physical ability or political orientation.
- The Union will not recognize a club that replicates the function, principle, or name of another recognized club as determined by the Clubs Committee. A proposed club that bears similarities to another recognized club, but can provide proof of difference for the purpose of recognition, may appeal to the Clubs Committee as to why the proposed club should be recognized and be considered to receive funding.
UTSU Operational Policy states: “All administrative decisions to grant, deny, or withdraw recognition will be reported regularly to the Union's Board of Directors for ratification.” UTSU reserves the right to review club status on an annual basis.
UTSU’s Discrimination on Campus policy states that “[t]he UTSU will not allocate resources, space, recognition or funding to any student group who seeks to promote [racism, sexism, xenophobia, ableism, ageism, queerphobia, transphobia and discrimination based on status],” and “UTSU will not fund, rent or loan any space on campus to an event involving a group or a person representing the aforementioned beliefs.”
UTSU maintains a “Social Justice Equity Commission” (Commission) which calls for “social justice, diversity, and anti-oppression” and is headed by one of UTSU’s Vice-Presidents. The Commission “advocates on issues of ableism, ageism, racism, sexism, queerphobia, transphobia, islamophobia, classism, and eurocentrism; advocates for the rights of marginalized members of our community; and ensures the University addresses discrimination and oppression in their overt, subvert, systemic and individual forms.” Commission-supported groups receive funding and office space from UTSU, which in turn is supported by mandatory dues from students.
UTSU has a detailed Elections Code Procedure which places several restrictions on candidates. For example, “[a]ll campaign tactics, material and advertisements need approval by the CRO in advance of posting or distribution.”
The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) refused to renew the club status of Students for Life for the 2015-16 year, effectively barring the student group from using the student centre and accessing student union resources. As a result, in September of 2015, Students for Life could not join other campus clubs in setting up a table during clubs’ week—a key event for recruiting new members.
UTMSU had granted club status for Students for Life in the 2014-15 school year, but changed its mind specifically because of Students for Life’s “stance on Abortion”. UTMSU’s mission statement includes a commitment “[t]o safeguard the individual rights of the student, regardless of race, creed, sex … or personal or political beliefs,” and lists “strength in diverse voices and opinions” as a “fundamental belief.”
After receiving a legal warning letter from the Justice Centre in October 2015, Russ Adade, UTMSU Vice-President, changed his previous rationale for denying club status to Students for Life, namely, the club’s stance on abortion. Adade instead told Students for Life that the reason their club was denied status was “violations and discrepancies we found within your constitution in relation to the clubs handbook and UTMSU operational policy as it pertains to clubs.”
Students for Life immediately made the required changes to their constitution, but UTMSU has continued to deny club status, necessitating Students for Life to file a court application against UTMSU. The court application claims that UTMSU has violated its own rules, acted with bias and in bad faith, breached the rules of natural justice and procedural fairness, and failed to respect students’ fundamental freedoms of expression and association.
On March 3, 2014 the UTSU-appointed Chief Returning Officer (CRO), Alex Flor, prohibited Team Unite, a slate of candidates running for Executive positions in the UTSU election, from hanging posters, launching its website, and sharing its platform, effectively blocking all forms of campaigning.
The pretext for this decision was a disagreement about the amount of tuition fees paid by U of T students. CRO Alex Flor claimed that the dues are $17 per year paid to the union, while Team Unite quoted $345 in its election platform. Team Unite’s quote included mandatory contributions of $124.34 for dental insurance, $14.90 for the student commons, $68.24 for a fee labeled “UTSU,” and $138 for health insurance — for a total of $345.48. The CRO requested a change to the phrasing of this platform item before it would be approved. Further delays resulted in Team Unite’s platform not being approved until March 5.
When Team Unite representatives informed The Varsity campus newspaper about its disqualification by those currently holding power, the CRO issued a total of 29 demerit points to five members of Team Unite: ten for “failure to follow grievance procedure,” nine for “intentional misrepresentation of facts,” five for “misrepresentation of fact,” and five for ”unapproved material.” Any candidate receiving more than 35 demerit points in a campaign is disqualified according to UTSU’s Elections Procedure Code.
Team Unite’s candidate for Vice President (Internal and Services), Anna Yin, received three of these demerits and, during the rest of the campaign, an additional 60 demerit points for various infractions including allegedly claiming:
According to UTSU Elections rules, Yin will face a $795 financial penalty for these infractions ($15 for each demerit point received).
After a campaign that lasted less than two weeks, the incumbent slate, “U of T Voice”, won four out of five of the top UTSU executive positions in the election.
On August 30, 2013, UTSU informed the campus newspaper The Varsity that it would not include its August 12 issue nor its 2013 Student Handbook in UTSU’s 2013 frosh/orientation kits. According to a statement from The Varsity, UTSU disputed the accuracy and objectivity of certain articles of the August 12 issue, including its cover, “Whose frosh week is it, anyway?” which reported on disputes between UTSU and several U of T colleges over the planning of frosh week. On August 31, UTSU made a formal request for the retraction of parts of several articles in the two publications, and The Varsity requested the return of its publications. The Varsity sent the publications directly to other student organizations and divisions for distribution during frosh week.
At a UTMIA lecture in April 2013 by two McGill scholars, protestors attempted to shout down the lecturers so that the audience would be unable to hear the presentation but they were unsuccessful in forcing the organizers to cancel.
On March 7, 2013, another lecture organized by UTMIA was held at the George Ignatieff Theatre on campus. The lecturer, Dr. Janice Fiamengo, an English teacher at the University of Ottawa, was interrupted when a student pulled the fire alarm, in order to shut down the event. After firefighters inspected the lecture hall, the presentation was able to continue.
On December 20, 2012, UTSU rejected the ratification of the Men’s Issues Awareness Society (UTMIA). The letter sent by then-UTSU president Shaun Shepherd states that the rejection was made because the UTSU believed the student group had violated UTSU’s Discrimination on Campus Policy and the Ontario Human Rights Code, for “perpetuating harassment towards women.” UTSU also noted that the student group did not have enough members to constitute a club under the Clubs Policy, but UTMIA contests this notion, and asserts that the UTSU is responsible for low turnout at club events through their direct involvement at protests organized to undermine the student group at its organized events. The final decision took four months to reach, or one-half of the academic year.
The UTMIA hosted a lecture on campus earlier in 2012, despite its pending-ratification status. Dr. Warren Farrell, a Financial Times Top 100 Thought Leader and Board member for the National Organization for Women (New York branch) was invited to speak on the declining success and well-being of boys.
On the day of the event, November 16, 2012, protestors began to block entry and exit to the lecture venue while other opponents of Dr. Farrell’s views set up an information picket. The blockade was eventually stopped when campus police requested Toronto Police to the scene of the blockade. The UTSU issued a statement supporting the protestors and condemning Dr. Farrell as a “rape apologist” and “misogynist”. The UTSU did not condemn the actions of the protestors who blocked the doors to prevent other students from hearing the lecture.