McMaster releases first public draft on freedom of expression guidelines Ad hoc committee report details recommendations about free speech and protests on campus

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McMaster has released the first public draft of its guidelines on protest and free speech on campus, in which it outlines what the university considers acceptable forms of protest at campus events. The university released two documents: a report of their own findings and a guideline draft.

In the report released from the ad hoc committee on protest and freedom of expression, McMaster laid out the rationale behind recommending the creation of a statement from the university on freedom of expression.

The report argues that the university needs a formalized process to address issues that arise as the political climate becomes more polarized and is meant to address the conflict the right to expression may have with commitments to equity, diversity and inclusion.

In addition to recommending a formalized protest policy, the report also recommends the university create an online lecture series on topics such as free speech and activism to better inform the public and develop resources for instructors who teach controversial or potentially challenging material.

According to the guidelines document, The rules and recommendations laid out are meant to commit McMaster to creating an environment that harbours a free exchange of ideas and respectful debate. In its current form, the guidelines would be applied to all members of the McMaster community and any invited guests. According to the report from the ad hoc committee and stated in the guidelines draft, events will only be shut down in extreme cases where student safety is at risk.

“The temptation to ‘shut down’ or prevent events from occurring is troubling. Censorship is not an option. There are very narrow grounds under which McMaster should restrict or stop a speaker or an event, essentially those dealt with in federal and provincial laws governing harassment, libel, slander and hate speech,” the report stated.

The guidelines lists examples of what it deems acceptable and unacceptable dissent, meant to guide those curious on what behaviours are acceptable. For example, the guidelines lists picketing as acceptable, so long as it does not impede on the access to the event.

In addition, the guidelines address the manner in which events should occur and encourage event organizers to include question and answer periods, encourage open lines of communication with dissenting groups before and throughout the event, arrange formal responses from dissenting groups in advance if deemed appropriate and use non-partisan moderators in the case that the subject matter is particularly controversial.

The guidelines also advise event organizers to ensure their events are safe and accessible by working with the Environmental & Occupational Health Support Services and McMaster Security Services.

The guidelines list using or threatening violence either the audience or speaker, inciting violence or hatred either verbally or through visuals, physical intimidating audiences or speakers, endangering safety and causing damage to property as unacceptable behaviour.

If dissenters are found to violate these recommendations, event organizers are encouraged to first ask individuals to stop and then ask them to leave before getting McMaster Security Services involved. The guidelines state that those who violate or appear to violate laws or university policies will be investigated in accordance to the university’s usual processes.

For those who wish to submit feedback to the guidelines, the university encourages the McMaster community to email the university secretariat (univsec@mcmaster.ca) by Mar. 30, 2018.

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Author: Sasha Dhesi

Sasha Dhesi is the Managing Editor for Volume 89. A fourth year Justice, Political Philosophy and Law student and Sil lifer, she just wants everyone to have a good time.