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.
With 240 grades awarded to 60 campuses, Canada’s universities and student unions in 2019 have received only five A grades, which is unchanged from 2018. Four universities earned a ‘A’ grade in 2019 – one less than 2018. Only one student union (Thompson Rivers University Students’ Union) earned a ‘A’ grade in 2019—an increase from zero in 2018.
View our grading methodology to learn more about why your school received its grades.
2019 CAMPUS FREEDOM INDEX – THE ‘A’ LIST
The following universities earned at least one A grade in the 2019 Campus Freedom Index:
The Thompson Rivers University Students’ Union (TRUSU) is the only student union surveyed to earn a ‘A’ grade in 2019, in the Policies category (new in 2019).
2019 CAMPUS FREEDOM INDEX – THE FLUNK LIST
The following eight universities earned at least one ‘F’ grade in the 2019 Campus Freedom Index:
Acadia University (for Practices)
Memorial University (for Practices; new in 2019)
Ryerson University (for Practices)
University of Alberta (for Practices)
University of British Columbia (for Practices)
University of Calgary (for Policies; new in 2019)
University of Manitoba (for Policies)
University of Winnipeg (for Policies; new in 2019)
Wilfrid Laurier University (for Practices)
The following thirteen student unions earned at least one F grade in the 2019 Campus Freedom Index:
Brandon University (for Policies)
British Columbia Institute of Technology Students’ Association (for policies; new in 2019)
Dalhousie Student Union (for Policies)
Kwantlen Polytechnic University Students Association (for Policies; new in 2019)
Lakehead University (for Practices; new in 2019)
MacEwan University Students’ Union (for Policies)
Student Society of McGill University (for Policies)
McMaster Students’ Union (for Practices; new in 2019)
Mount Allison University Students’ Union (for Policies)
OCAD Students’ Union (for Policies; new in 2019)
Ontario Tech Students’ Union (for Policies; new in 2019)
University of Alberta (for Policies)
University of British Columbia Alma Mater Society (for Policies and Practices)
University of Regina Student Union (for Policies)
University of Victoria Students Society (for Policies)
Best and worst universities regarding policies
THE BEST POLICIES
Regarding their policies, the best universities for protecting free expression are:
These four universities earn an ‘A’ grade for their policies. They have a clear and unequivocal commitment to free speech on campus, set out in the university’s mission, statement on academic freedom, or other policy documents. They have no express or implied “speech code” that prohibits or restricts speech on grounds of it being “offensive,” “discriminatory,” “disrespectful,” “inappropriate”, “triggering”, a “micro-aggression,” etc., and the university does not impose or create so-called “safe spaces” where speech is restricted. They do not provide funding or other resources to groups, departments, committees, commissions or other bodies that engage in ideological advocacy, and they have an anti-disruption policy which prohibits students (and other people) from blocking, obstructing, disrupting or interrupting speech on campus.
The total number of ‘A’ grades assigned to University policies is one less compared with the 2018 Campus Freedom Index. McMaster University joined the ‘A’ list in 2019, by adding a new anti-disruption clause when it passed a Free Expression, Protest and Dissent Policy, in order to meet new obligations imposed by the Ontario government.
Laurentian University and the University of Alberta dropped from the ‘A’ list in 2019. Laurentian University is a signatory to the federal government’s Dimensions EDI program, which provides funding to universities that to identify and eliminate “systemic barriers that impede the career advancement, recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups”, including women, Indigenous Peoples, persons with disabilities, members of visible minority/racialized groups, and members of LGBTQ2+ communities. The initiatives included in the scope of the project include hiring “diversity staff,” conducting mandatory and optional “anti-oppression” and “unconscious bias” workshops, and recommending policies, programs and initiatives to university leadership. As documented in the Campus Freedom Index, such programs and offices are often catalysts for unjust censorship of free expression rights on campus. The University of Alberta also funds an ideological advocacy office and has endorsed the Dimensions EDI initiative. Additionally, the University of Alberta lacks an explicit, clear and unequivocal statement protecting free expression and academic freedom on campus.
THE WORST POLICIES
By contrast, the following universities earned ‘F’ grades for their policies:
These three universities have none of the criteria listed for an ‘A’ grade. They do not have a clear commitment to free speech set out in their policy framework, nor do they have a policy prohibiting disruption. They have one or more speech codes that prohibit speech based on subjective criteria, and they fund bodies that engage in ideological advocacy towards students, faculty, and/or invited guests. A university also earns a ‘F’ grade if it fails to make relevant policies available to the public.
The total number of ‘F’ grades for policies dropped from four (2018) to three (2019). Two Ontario universities, the University of Ottawa and Trent University, rose two grade-points, from an ‘F’ in 2018 to a ‘C’ in 2019, thanks to the passage of a new free expression policy (mandated by the Ontario government), which includes a clear commitment to free expression as well as an anti-disruption clause. St. Francis Xavier University also rose two grade-points in 2019 (from ‘F’ to ‘C’), thanks to amendments to its Code of Conduct made in 2018 which now provide a clear, unequivocal endorsement of free expression rights on campus.
The University of Winnipeg and University of Calgary joined the ‘F’ list in 2019. Both universities fund ideological advocacy offices through the federal government’s Dimensions EDI program. As documented in the Campus Freedom Index, such programs and offices are often catalysts for unjust censorship of free expression rights on campus. Additionally, both universities fail the other criteria needed to receive a ‘A’ grade.
Best and worst universities regarding practices
THE BEST PRACTICES
No university earned a ‘A’ grade for its practices in the 2019 Campus Freedom Index. All that is required for a university to earn an ‘A’ grade is to defend free expression publicly and vigorously in the face of pressure to censor speech on campus. No university met this threshold in the 2018-2019 academic year.
THE WORST PRACTICES
Seven universities earned an ‘F’ grade for practices of censoring or failing to protect free expression rights for students, faculty and/or guests:
The total number of ‘F’ grades in this category dropped from ten in 2018 to three in 2019. The University of British Columbia (UBC) earned a ‘F’ grade for twice charging “security fees” to student organizers of campus speaking events in the 2018-2019 year. Security fees encourage the perpetrators of disruption, vandalism, blockading and obstruction, and punish those who simply seek to exercise their right to free expression on campus. Wilfrid Laurier University failed to provide adequate security for a speaking event featuring Canadian criminal lawyer Danielle Robataille, forcing the event’s cancellation. Memorial University confiscated posters that were alleged to be anti-Islamic from open-use campus poster boards. Ryerson University launched disciplinary proceedings against one of its professors for using “sexist language” in a reference letter about one of his students.
Best and worst student unions regarding policies
THE BEST POLICIES
Only one student union received an ‘A’ grade for its. The Thompson Rivers University Student Union (TRUSU) mission, constitution, and other policy documents include an express commitment to free speech on campus; they have no express or implied “speech code” that prohibits expression because it is “offensive,” “discriminatory,” “disrespectful,” “inappropriate”, “creating a negative environment”, etc. TRUSU does not impose policies which censor free speech in the name of “safe space”; “trigger warnings” and “micro-aggressions”; policies in regard to club certification, club funding, and resources provide for the equal treatment of all campus clubs, regardless of the club’s beliefs, opinions, or philosophy; clubs can protect their mission, vision and integrity by limiting membership to students who share the club’s beliefs, opinions and philosophy. TRUSU’s rules and regulations for elections and referenda do not impose restrictions on campaign speech and literature, and do not empower elections officers to censor speech (whether directly or indirectly); TRUSU does not take or adopt political positions on provincial, federal or international issues (e.g. Israel/Palestine) that are not directly related to post-secondary education.
THE WORST POLICIES
Thirteen student unions earned an ‘F’ grade for their policies—a decrease from 19 ‘F’ grades in this category in 2018. These student unions enable censorship through the imposition of speech codes, by restricting campaign speech during student union elections, by not applying equal treatment to all student groups, and by endorsing positions on a variety of issues not directly related to their mandates. These student unions are:
Brandon University Students’ Union
British Columbia Institute of Technology Students’ Association
Dalhousie Student Union
Kwantlen Polytechnic University Student Association
MacEwan Students Association
Student Society of McGill University
Mount Allison University Students’ Union
OCAD Students’ Union
Ontario Tech Students’ Union
University of Alberta Student Union
University of British Columbia Alma Mater Society
University of Regina Student Union
University of Victoria Students Society
The total number of ‘F’ grades earned by student unions dropped sharply, from 19 in 2018 to 13 in 2019. This drop is due in part to more student unions adopting policies which explicitly and unequivocally endorse free expression for student union members—something the Justice Centre has been encouraging since the Campus Freedom Index was launched in 2011. The Campus Freedom Index also reports a trend away from student unions taking ideological stances on issues unrelated to their mandate. However, many student unions continue to discriminate against students who adhere to minority political, social and religious viewpoints, imposing unfair restrictions based solely on the mandate and viewpoint of the students.
Best and worst student unions regarding practices
THE BEST PRACTICES
No student union earned an ‘A’ grade for its practices, which requires having publicly and vigorously defending free expression in the face of pressure to censor speech on campus.
THE WORST PRACTICES
Three student unions earned an ‘F’ grade in the 2019 Campus Freedom Index, for practices of censoring or failing to protect free expression rights for students, faculty and/or guests:
The total number of ‘F’ grades earned in this category dropped from five in 2018 to three in 2019. The University of British Columbia Alma Mater Society (AMS) earned a ‘F’ for publicly calling for the cancellation of a speaking event organized by a student group featuring American Youtuber and political commentator Ben Shapiro. The Lakehead University Students’ Union (LUSU) earned a ‘F’ for imposing unique restrictions on a campus pro-life club as a condition for being permitted to proceed with screening a film about abortion. The McMaster Students’ Union (MSU) de-ratified a student group over its alleged and unproven affiliation with a Hamilton-area group, the MacDonald Cultural and Heritage Society, which the MSU labelled a white supremacist organization. The MSU also demanded that a pro-life student group refrain from using “graphic materials” during its tabling event.