Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms

Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms

October 03, 2014 04:30 ET

New Report: Canadian Universities Fail to Uphold Free Expression on Campus

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA and CALGARY, ALBERTA--(Marketwired - Oct. 3, 2014) -

Editors Note: There are images accompanying this press release.

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF.ca) has released the 2014 Campus Freedom Index, a report measuring the state of free speech at 52 Canadian public universities.

The 198-page Index includes an individual report (four to six pages in length) on each of the 52 universities and student unions, detailing the policies and practices which form the basis of the grade assigned.

Using a five-tier letter scale-A, B, C, D and F-the Campus Freedom Index grades universities and student unions on their stated policies (what they say) and their practices (what they do). Each university receives four letter grades for each of university policies, university practices, student union policies, and student union practices.

With 208 grades awarded to 52 campuses, Canada's universities and student unions in 2014 have received only five 'A' grades. Conversely 'F' grades were earned 33 times: 14 times by universities, and 19 times by student unions. In total, there are 24 campuses that earned at least one 'F', assigned to the university or to its student union.

Based on the grades, the 10 worst universities for upholding free expression are:

Cape Breton University University of Ottawa
Lakehead University University of the Fraser Valley
McGill University University of Waterloo
Mount Allison University Vancouver Island University
Saint Mary's University York University

The 10 worst student unions for upholding free expression are:

Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) Trent Central Student Association
Lakehead University Students' Union University of Calgary Students' Union
Students Society of McGill University (SSMU) University of Manitoba Student Union (UMSU)
Memorial University of Newfoundland Students' Union (MUNSU) York Federation of Students (YF)
Ryerson Student Union (RSU) Saint Mary's University Student Association (SMUSA)

According to the 2014 Campus Freedom Index, some universities are doing a good job of living up to their missions of respecting academic freedom, and fostering the debate of controversial ideas. Ryerson University, Simon Fraser University, St. Thomas University, University of King's College, and the University of Lethbridge are tied as the best universities in Canada for upholding the free exchange of ideas.

The five best student unions in Canada are the Acadia University Students' Union (ASU), Brock University Students' Union (BUSU), Carleton University Students Association (CUSA), Northern Undergraduate Students Society (NUGSS) and the University of Saskatchewan Students' Union (USSU).

The 2014 Campus Freedom Index provides new data on government funding provided to each of the 52 universities in the report. The Index reveals that the 24 campuses earning at least one 'F' grade receive more than $6.5 billion annually from our governments. They receive this funding from taxpayers in part so they can live up to their own missions of fostering the free exchange of ideas and academic freedom on campus.

"The JCCF looks forward to the day when every university, and every student union, earns only A grades for their policies and practices," stated co-author Michael Kennedy.

The 2014 Campus Freedom Index: Worst Cases in 2013-14

  • On February 19, 2013, Mount Royal University (MRU) security guards arrested, handcuffed and detained Nicholas McLeod for peacefully distributing pro-life literature on campus, because the guards considered the flyers "offensive". Rather than apologize for the illegal actions of its security guards and offer appropriate compensation, MRU challenged McLeod to commence a court action, which he has done.
  • On April 14, 2014, the University of Regina requested that two individuals be arrested, hand-cuffed, and removed from campus for peacefully expressing unpopular views, such as "sodomy is a sin".
  • In September 2013, the University of Toronto charged the U of T Men's Issues Awareness Society (UTMIA) $964 in security fees in order to host a lecture on campus. The event, Caring About University Men: Why We Need Campus Men's Centres in a Time of Crisis, featured American psychologist Miles Groth. Although UTMIA was able to raise the necessary funds, the U of T failed to uphold the rule of law by pursuing a practice that effectively prices controversial expression out of existence.
  • On August 30, 2013, the University of Toronto Student Union (UTSU) informed the campus newspaper The Varsity that it would not include its August 12 issue nor its 2013 Student Handbook in UTSU's 2013 frosh/orientation kits. According to a statement from The Varsity, UTSU disputed the accuracy and objectivity of certain articles of the Aug. 12 issue, including its cover, "Whose frosh week is it, anyway?" which reported on disputes between UTSU and several U of T colleges over the planning of frosh week.
  • The Students' Society of McGill University (SSMU) forced one of its Executives to apologize for sharing a .gif video of U.S. President Barack Obama kicking a door down on the student society's email server. SSMU also told a student group (McGill Friends of Israel) that they had to change the name of their planned event "Israel-a-Party" because SSMU executives felt it made "a mockery and/or trivialization of various oppressions some people of the world are subject to on a day-to-day basis".
  • Memorial University of Newfoundland's Students' Union (MUNSU) Student Activities and Organizations Committee voted to deny ratification to a student group because of its support for Greek-Letter Organizations (GLOs), or fraternities and sororities.

Positive developments during the 2013-14 school year.

Acadia Students' Union - from C to A
The Acadia Students Union (ASU) earned an 'A' for practices, in contrast to a 'C' last year, for its defence of its student newspaper, the Athaenium. When the paper's printing contractor refused to print its female sexuality issue due to the depiction sketch of a semi-nude woman on the cover, the ASU worked actively with both parties to reach a compromise.
Brandon University Students' Union - from F to B
In 2012 (informally) and in 2013 (officially), the Brandon University Students' Union (BUSU) denied club status to the Brandon University Students for Life ("BUSL"). BUSU stated that "council felt a pro-life club would be 'redundant' since the Women's Collective deals with all gender issues." BUSU changed its mind in September 2013, and granted club status to BUSL.
University of Calgary - from F to C
The University of Calgary earned an 'F' in the 2013 Campus Freedom Index for having charged seven of its students with "non-academic misconduct" for defying the University of Calgary's demand that they set up their pro-life display with signs facing inwards so that no passers-by would be able to see the signs. JCCF provided legal representation to these students, and the Court released its judgment in Wilson et al. v. University of Calgary on April 1, 2014, ruling that the decision of the Board of Governors was unreasonable. In response to this Court ruling, the Student Discipline Appeal Committee of the Board of Governors of the University of Calgary allowed the appeal of the students who had been found guilty, and removed the charges from the students' files.

Negative developments during the 2013-14 school year

University of Regina - from A to F
The University of Regina, which had earned an 'A' grade in 2012-13 for having defended free speech in the face of public pressure, has now earned a 'F' in 2014 for actively censoring expression on campus. On Monday, April 14, 2014, at the University of Regina's request, two peaceful protesters were arrested, hand-cuffed, and removed from campus for peacefully holding up signs and handing out flyers, expressing highly unpopular views.
University of Toronto - from D to F
The University of Toronto moves from a 'D' to an 'F' for its recent practice of charging security fees to a student group based on the content and unpopularity of the group's beliefs and opinions. Through security fees, the University has effectively punished a "men's issues awareness" group and rewarded the illegal behaviour of its opponents, who engage in physical obstruction and interruption of events.
Dalhousie Student Union - from D to F
The Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) slides to an 'F' because of its recent endorsement of the Divest Dal movement, which aims to see Dalhousie University end its investments in fossil fuels.

To view the images accompanying this press release, please visit the following links:







Contact Information

  • For more information, contact the authors
    of the 2014 Campus Freedom Index:
    Michael Kennedy
    JCCF Communications and Development Coordinator
    (902) 322-4828

    John Carpay
    JCCF President
    (403) 619-8014