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In response to the Ontario government’s directive that all public universities must have a policy or statement on freedom of expression, The University of Waterloo (UW) passed Policy 8 – Freedom of Speech. Policy 8 states:
The University expects that all Members of the University and Visitors will respect the rights of others to engage in Free Speech on University Property and at University Events without Undue Interference.
“Free Speech” means Speech, subject to the Exclusions. Free Speech includes Speech that may be considered offensive or disagreeable by some individuals or groups, as well as Speech that analyzes, critiques, debates, questions, challenges, criticizes, protests or otherwise disagrees with the Speech of others, provided the foregoing does not fall into an Exclusion.
An “Exclusion” is defined as “Speech that is in breach of Canadian Law (as defined above); Speech that is in breach of University Governing Documents; or Speech that constitutes Undue Interference.” Undue Interference is defined as:
Speech or actions or threat thereof which are intended to prevent or substantially impair an individual’s or group’s ability to engage in Free Speech on University Property or at a University Event. Undue Interference includes Speech or actions that prevent a speaker from being heard or cause the University to cancel an event, because there is a credible threat to the safety or security of persons or property, in the opinion of University personnel or advisors, acting reasonably. Undue Interference does not include non-violent protests, provided such protests do not otherwise meet the criteria for Undue Interference as defined herein and do not otherwise breach University Governing Documents or Canadian Law.
In Policy 33: Ethical Behaviour, UW states that “the right of individuals to advance their views openly must be upheld throughout the University.”
Policy 33 states that “free debate may from time to time include the presentation or discussion of unpopular opinions or controversial material”, however this must be done as “openly, respectfully and sensitively as possible”.
Policy 33 defines discrimination as any violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code and harassment as “engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known, or ought reasonably to be known, to be unwelcome.” Further, Policy 33 is violated by creating a “poisoned environment,” defined as one that is “intimidating, hostile or offensive”.
The Guidelines on Use of Computer and Networking Services states “Waterloo values and strives to provide its members with an environment of free inquiry and expression. Freedom of expression and academic freedom in electronic format have the same latitude as in printed or oral communication.”
Policy 2 – Bulletin Boards, Temporary Signs and Notices states that the “President or his delegate reserves the right to instruct the removal of any notice or sign considered to be objectionable.”
UW provides resources to the Equity Office, which engages in “Consulting and advising on equity and climate issues” and “Recommending resources on and off campus for people to find supports or advance their understanding of diversity, equity, and inclusivity.”
The community group Laurier Society for Open Inquiry (LSOI) had planned to host an event at the University on April 30, 2018. It was to include speaker Faith Goldy, a far-right commentator who faced controversy for appearing at the Charlottesville riots to cover the event. Also invited to speak was Ricardo Duchesne, a professor from the University of New Brunswick and author of a book titled, "Canada in Decay: Mass Immigration, Diversity, and the Ethnocide of Euro-Canadians." Goldy and Duchesne were to talk about "multiculturalism, borders and identity in Canada."
LSOI was forced to cancel the event after the University of Waterloo charged the group $28,500 to handle "security costs" for the event, effectively pricing the event out of existence.
In an event titled, “Abortion: A Human Right or Human Rights Violation?” UW’s pro-life club, Students for Life (UWSFL), invited pro-life advocate Maaike Rosendal, of the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform, to speak at SLC Great Hall, an area on campus. The day before the event, which was to be held March 24, 2016, the club received an email from Sian E. Williams, an associate university secretary and senior legal counsel, notifying them that the event could no longer be held unless certain precautions and provisions were met.
UWSFL president Josh MacMillan told campus media that the email stated the event hadn’t been approved by the student union, and that the event be held at 1 p.m. instead of at noon as originally planned. Additionally, the university asked that UWSFL provide $300 in security fees, based on $100 per hour for security services of two guards being present for a minimum of three hours.
MacMillan replied to Williams, stating that the university’s demands amounted to censorship. UWSFL proceeded with their event at the originally planned time and without paying security fees. The event proceeded without interference.
Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth was invited to speak at the University of Waterloo on March 13, 2013, about his Motion 312 in Parliament, calling for a re-examination of the 400-year-old definition of a human being in the Criminal Code of Canada. He only got through a third of his presentation before loud chanting and yelling, some by people dressed in costumes, prevented him from being heard any further.
UW campus security was present but refused to take any kind of action to uphold the rights of Mr. Woodworth to express his views, and allowed protesters to shut down the event.
Stephen Woodworth returned to Waterloo campus on November 14, 2013, and his lecture was able to proceed without disruption, thanks in part to the large presence of campus security, and the requirement that attendees to the event be pre-listed for entry.
On International Women’s Day on March 8, 2012, author Inga Muscio was invited to speak by the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group (WPIRG), a student-run organization that was paid for by all students through an opt-out fee attached to tuition. Several days before March 8th, WPIRG had reserved a place for a workshop. Upon arrival of the speaker and guests, the room was discovered to be locked. A UW staff member explained that another group had reserved the room, although the room was empty and a booking by WPIRG had been made in advance. The same staff member stated that the speaker “should be ‘embarrassed’ by her book”, entitled Cunt: A Declaration of Independence. Moreover, promotional posters were removed beforehand by UW staff because of the use of the word “cunt.”
On November 12, 2010, author and (then) Globe and Mail columnist Christie Blatchford was to speak at a UW public lecture hall about her book, “Helpless,” regarding a Six Nations reserve in Caledonia, Ontario, its occupation of a construction site, and the government’s inaction.
Students picketed at the lecture hall prior to Blatchford’s arrival, and then several protesters occupied the stage to prevent Ms. Blatchford from speaking, resulting in cancellation of the talk that night. Campus Security stood by and watched the disruption and forced cancellation of a University event, failing to remove the protesters.
A rescheduled event a month later went on unhindered and drew ten times the original crowd of listeners.
The Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association (WUSA, formerly the Federation of Students or Feds) lists “Freedom of speech” as an Advocacy Priority.
In their policy on Freedom of Speech and Expression on Campus, WUSA endorses the Chicago Principles. They go on to say:
BIRFT [Be It Further Resolved That] Feds must not censor or impede any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, and/or clubs from holding events or hosting speakers unless it violates Feds’ bylaws, provincial, or federal law. Feds must also not censor the promotion of clubs or club events on the basis of their political and/or religious beliefs; and
BIFRT Feds believes that clubs and student societies must not be obliged with hiring security for their events; and
BIFRT Feds must not disinvite or ban guest speakers and will advocate to the university to abandon the practice of disinviting or banning guest speakers invited by clubs or student societies;
BIFRT Feds will work with campus police to uphold peace and civil discourse and to intervene if any disruption at any event causes violence; and BIFRT Feds will not prevent ratification of any club based on a club's political or religious affiliations, and/or opinions; and
BIFRT Feds shall not discriminate, penalize, or favour any clubs particularly in the services Feds provides, on the basis of a club's political or religious affiliations and/or opinions as per Federation of Students Policy 41: Political Non Partisanship
In their Clubs Policy, WUSA affirms:
The Federation of Students adheres to the following principles in dealing with Clubs:
The authors are not aware of any policy in the WUSA Elections Procedure that limits the speech of student election candidates.
WUSA does not take official positions outside of its mandate.
In July of 2015, Feds announced the eviction of the Imprint from its offices in the Student Life Centre, which the student newspaper had rented for more than three decades. The editor of the paper claimed that the decision was in part an attempt to “silence” editorial coverage which had been negative to the Feds. Feds offered the Imprint new office space in the basement of the Student Life Centre.
As discussed in “University Practices”, in the case of women’s rights speaker Inga Muscio, the Feds Poster Policy affected the ability of organizers to promote the event. Specifically, under the Poster Policy all posters must adhere to UW and Feds policies and regulations, which is vague enough to empower UW administrators to remove posters simply because complaints are received, as was the case with the promotional posters for Muscio’s talk.
In the 2018–19 financial year,* the University of Waterloo received $436,885,000 in taxpayer dollars in the form of government grants. These taxpayer funds accounted for 36.8% of their annual revenue.
*The University of Waterloo did not make their 2019–20 financial statements available by the time of publication of the 2020 Campus Freedom Index.