Published annually since 2011, the Campus Freedom Index uses specific, measurable and replicable criteria to assess the free speech climate on Canadian university campuses, giving university administrators and student union executives clear standards they can adopt to better protect free speech rights for students.
A full explanation of the Campus Freedom Index grading methodology is found here. With 240 grades awarded to 60 campuses, Canada’s universities and student unions in 2016 have received only six ‘A’ grades—two fewer than in 2015. Conversely ‘F’ grades were earned 32 times: seven times by universities, and 25 times by student unions.
Best and worst universities regarding policies
In regards to their policies, the best universities for protecting free expression are Bishop’s University, Capilano University and the University of Lethbridge. These three have a strong policy framework that upholds the supremacy of free expression and academic freedom, and prevents administrators from silencing controversial views on campus.
Both Mount Allison University and the University of Ottawa earn ‘F’ grades for providing a very poor policy framework around free expression and academic freedom. They maintain effective ‘speech codes’—rules, regulations and policies which unlawfully restrict free speech rights, by prohibiting speech that could be considered controversial or offensive.
Best and worst universities regarding practices
The Memorial University of Newfoundland is the only university to receive an ‘A’ for practices in the 2016 Campus Freedom Index. Five universities earned an ‘F’. Carleton University, Dalhousie University, the University of Alberta, the University of Victoria and the University of Windsor all earned ‘F’ grades for their practices of censoring or failing to protect free expression rights for students, faculty and/or guests.
For example, the University of Windsor granted and then rescinded authorization for a pro-life student group to raise a flag display on campus in the 2015-2016 year, after it had received complaints from students about the controversial subject matter being discussed. Windsor also demanded this same student group pay a $300 security fee in order to proceed with their event on campus.
Best and worst student unions regarding policies
Not one student union received an ‘A’ grade in regard to their policies. Four student unions earned ‘B’ grades for their policies: Carleton University Student Association, Confédération des associations d’étudiants et d’étudiantes de l’Université Laval, the University of King’s College Student Union, and the University of Saskatchewan Student Union.
Fifteen student unions earned an ‘F’ grade for their policies. These student unions enable censorship through the imposition of speech codes, by restricting campaign speech during student union elections, and by endorsing positions on a variety of issues not directly related to their mandates. These student unions are: British Columbia Institute of Technology Student Association, Concordia Students’ Union, Dalhousie Student Union, Kwantlen Student Association, Lakehead University Students’ Union, Students’ Society of McGill University, Mount Allison University Student Union, Mount Saint Vincent University Student Union, St. Francis Xavier University Student Union, University of Alberta Student Union, University of British Columbia Student Association, University of Calgary Students’ Union, University of Guelph Central Students Association, University of Manitoba Student Union, and the York Federation of Students.
Best and worst student unions regarding practices
In addition to earning ‘F’ grades for their policies, three student unions earned ‘F’ grades for having actively censored free speech on campus, including the University of Toronto Mississauga Student Union, the University of Victoria Student Society, and the Ryerson Students’ Union. By restricting free expression through both policies and practices, these three student unions are the worst in Canada.
Out of 60 student unions surveyed, only the York Federation of Students earned an ‘A’ for their practices. Student union leaders defended a controversial art display which had been the subject of demands to have it removed.