Alideeb: Whose rights are we protecting on our campuses?

CFS-Ontario chairperson Nour Alideeb says hate speech isn’t free speech

Nour Alideeb

Freedom of speech is a constitutional right. Students across the globe have long advocated for freedom of speech and expression, open discussion, free inquiry and academic freedom.

The open exchange of ideas, particularly in academia, is fundamental to critical thinking, creativity and the ability to grow intellectually.

The recent directive from the Ford government that forces all publicly-assisted post-secondary institutions in the province to implement free speech policies is part of a political agenda that seeks to appeal to a support base of voters who feel their identity and conservative values are currently under attack.

When we talk about protecting freedom of speech, it is important to understand whose free speech is being protected.

Every day, students and faculty engage in healthy debate on a huge range of issues, many of which are contentious and even offensive to some.

The idea that all views must be supported sounds logical. However, this dismisses the fact that certain views are harmful to individuals and groups in our society who have fought for generations to no longer have to defend their humanity and identities from those who seek to attack them.

Over the past few years, there have been a number of highly-publicized incidents on campuses across the United States and in Canada where guest speakers and faculty have come under fire for their views on race and gender identity.

In Ontario, in this year alone, there have been controversial speakers and faculty who have used platforms to further views that are racist, homophobic and transphobic.

I would argue that there is a difference between promoting free speech and providing a platform for hate speech.

Students across the province are concerned about the government’s approach to defining freedom of speech, the timeline for policy implementation and the criteria which all institutions must follow.

Freedom of speech, opinion and personal beliefs are protected by law. However, if you are inciting or encouraging harmful actions or have hateful beliefs targeted at a specific group of people, that is hate speech, not free speech.

When individuals in positions of authority use their platforms to share views that target and attack one group, though do not explicitly call for violence, it can be difficult to define where freedom of speech ends and hate speech begins.

Freedom of speech already exists on our campuses.

Every campus in Ontario has some version of a student code of conduct. Faculty and staff have their rights set out in collective agreements and every employer in Ontario is mandated to have a workplace harassment policy.

So, the idea that free speech is under attack is not an accurate portrayal of what is happening in our institutions.

Tying funding of Ontario colleges and universities to this policy sets a bad precedent for all public institutions.

 

Nour Alideeb is the chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students—Ontario, which represents 350,000 students in Ontario including students at George Brown College. 
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Alideeb: Whose rights are we protecting on our campuses?