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Freedom of expression and dissent guidelines McMaster University releases guidelines for event organizers and participants

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Earlier this year, McMaster released an initial draft of guidelines highlighting their commitment to freedom of expression and what could be defined as acceptable limits to protest, prepared by the Ad Hoc Committee on Protest and Freedom of Expression. 

The report and guidelines generated a diverse range of feedback, which was collected by the University Secretariat. After formal review, the University administration released an updated set of guidelines for event organizers and protestors.

The document is intended to ensure that all voices within the McMaster community have the opportunity to be heard, expecting to set a tone that is respectful and inclusive of the entire campus community. 

It is also in place to ensure that dissenting or opposing views can be expressed, outlining various responsibilities for event organizers when planning a potentially controversial event.

“As an academic institution, McMaster has an obligation to ensure that the regular academic and administrative business of the University (regularly scheduled lectures, classes, exams, administrative meetings, etc.) continues unhindered,” the document reads. 

“The University will accordingly take such steps as are necessary to ensure appropriate conditions to enable a conducive learning, working and living environment, and that academic and general facilities, property and equipment are available for use for their regular purposes as part of the ongoing academic and administrative business of the University.”

Event organizers are encouraged to consider the potential impact of their event on other community members and to work with the University so that any necessary measures or supports can be put in place.

The updated guidance document now includes clearly defined roles and responsibilities of various groups on campus, a revised fundamental commitment section to include specific acknowledgement of the power imbalance that exists within our community, tightened language surrounding discrimination and harassment to be more consistent with Canadian law and further information surrounding support services available within the university. 

Several organizers and activists on campus are unhappy with these new guidelines, claiming that these guidelines limit expression from marginalized groups.

“Organizers and activists on campus feel that the guidelines are way to silence those who are resisting institutional repression.,” said an organizer who wished to remain anonymous. 

“The university favours free speech but at the expense of marginalized students. Where as our dissent isn’t granted that same protection. The university can’t stop students from protesting, but what they can do is create vague guidelines that hold absolutely no weight.”

The guidance document lists examples of what the university would deem acceptable and unacceptable forms of protests, generally listing any behaviour that would impede on an event’s progression as unacceptable. This includes blocking the audience’s view, inciting violence or hatred against an individual or group, or causing damage to property. 

In the case of unacceptable forms of dissent or protest from audience members, the event organizer or any moderator/facilitator should first notify the relevant individual or group that their behaviour is not acceptable, and is interfering with the event. 

If the behaviour continues, relevant individuals should be asked to leave and the assistance of Security Services can be sought in the event that individuals fail to leave when asked to do so. 

If an individual is concerned that conduct at an event violates or appears to violate any laws, University policies or codes of conduct, they are encouraged to notify the relevant University office so that conduct can be investigated and addressed in accordance with the University’s usual process or policies.

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Author: Emily O'Rourke

Emily is a recent Communication Studies grad. Now you can find her in the big seat as Editor-in-Chief. She mostly talks about PR, meme culture, coffee and dogs. Emily was also voted biggest klutz in her high school's graduating class, FYI.