Photo by Kyle West
By: Elliot Fung
On Oct. 14, the McMaster Students Union Student Representative Assembly unanimously passed a motion to formally oppose the provincial government’s mandate that all publicly-assisted colleges and universities in Ontario draft and submit a free speech policy by January 2019. In addition, the SRA asks that the government withdraw the mandate immediately.
The eight-part motion responds to the requirements outlined in the provincial government’s free speech policy mandate. The main consequence for non-compliance takes the form of cuts in operating grant funding, which is vital for many programs and services on campus.
According to MSU president Ikram Farah, the decision to oppose the government mandate is being driven primarily by concerns made by students to the SRA that a free speech policy will limit open discussion and silence the opinions of marginalized communities and dissenters.
The SRA believes that the government mandate is being implemented under the guise of free speech but, in reality, is being used to censor dissent towards hate and bigotry.
“Given the feedback and comments made from a majority of students, the SRA took a stance to protect free speech because this policy dictate form is a sham by which free speech will be limited, not protected,” said Farah.
Ikram’s characterization of the mandate as a “sham” is also substantiated by the apparent lack of consultation from the provincial government with universities, students and student advocacy groups.
One part of the SRA motion addresses a clause in the government mandate that states that compliance with the free speech policy will be a requirement for the recognition and funding of student groups. The SRA opposes the clause as they interpret it as an attempt to limit the ability of students to protest or express dissent lawfully.
The SRA motion contends that there is no need for the free speech policy as barriers to free speech and expression do not exist on campus. They believe that the long-standing Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is sufficient in protecting freedom of speech and expression. In addition, the motion argues that reasonable limits to free speech already exist in the form of federal and provincial laws and the Student Code of Rights and Responsibilities.
In addition to making an official stance against the government mandate, the SRA is also acting on ways to get the mandate withdrawn. In particular, the MSU is working with its provincial lobby partner the Ontario University Student Alliance.
During the OUSA General Assembly, which took place from Nov. 2 to 4, one of the decisions made was to formally oppose the mandate and communicate this stance to the government. Whether or not this will end up being effective in getting the mandate withdrawn, however, remains uncertain.
Students were given the chance to voice their concerns about the government mandate directly with university officials, particularly McMaster President Patrick Deane and Arig al Shaibah, the associate vice president (Equity and Inclusion) during the MSU’s Town Hall held on Nov. 14.
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