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2014 Campus Freedom Index: These 10 Universities Are No Place For Free Speech, Report Says

12/03/2014 04:52 EST | Updated 01/08/2015 06:59 EST
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Universities are spaces meant to encourage free expression.

In 2007, former UBC president Stephen Toope said this in response to a proposed academic boycott of Israeli schools: "If a university is not a safe forum for ideas, popular or otherwise, it fails in its very purpose."

But according to John Carpay, a former Alberta director with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and Michael Kennedy, a former participant in the Koch Associate Program, a number of Canadian universities aren't honouring that core mandate.

The president and communications coordinator, respectively, at the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) have published the 2014 Campus Freedom Index, a report that analyzes the state of free speech at Canadian schools.

The index assigns letter grades to universities and student unions on both their policies and practices, singling out historical incidents that they feel hamper free expression on campus.

Update: The full methodology used by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms to determine their grades is available here. The JCCF is a Calgary-based group that advocates for greater freedom of speech in Canada, including removing limits on discriminatory speech.

It also identifies institutions whose dedication to free expression is slipping.

In this category, the JCCF harshly criticized the University of Regina after two men were arrested and taken off campus when they distributed literature that condemned homosexuality.

The centre was also critical of the University of Toronto, after the Men's Issues Awareness Society was charged a $964 fee to cover security for an event titled, "Caring About University Men: Why We Need Campus Men's Centres in a Time of Crisis."

But neither university ranked among the worst. That distinction was reserved for 10 schools in particular.

Here are the universities that are the worst at upholding free speech, according to the JCCF:

Cape Breton University (CBU)

cape breton university

(Image via Facebook)

Policies: 2013 - C; 2014 - D

Practices: 2013 - F; 2014 - F

In 2006, Cape Breton University history professor David Mullan was suspended and fined after criticizing the Anglican Church of Canada's stance on homosexuality on his own website.

Lakehead University (LU)

lakehead university

Policies: 2013 - C; 2014 - D

Practices: 2013 - C; 2014 - D

The Thunder Bay university's Harassment and Discrimination Policy and Procedures (HDPP) considers "offensive materials" to be harassment, and therefore allows the institution to "censor students and student groups trying to spread their message on campus," the report said.

McGill University

mcgill university

Policies: 2013 - D; 2014 - D

Practices: 2013 - D; 2014 - D

The index highlighted a 2012 incident in which the university threatened the McGill Daily student newspaper with legal action after it published a story on McGillLeaks, a website in which confidential information had been circulated. It also noted a 2009 incident, in which university administration did not intervene when protesters disrupted a controversial event titled, "Echoes of the Holocaust."

Mount Allison University (Mount A)

mount allison university

(Image via Facebook)

Policies: 2013 - C; 2014 - F

Practices: 2013 - D; 2014 - D

The JCCF notes Mount Allison is the "only university in Canada which earns an 'F' in respect of its policies." It criticized the university's "Gender Neutral Language Policy," which urges people not to use expressions such as "weaker sex," "male chauvinist pig" or "dirty old man."

Saint Mary's University (SMU)

saint marys university

(Image via Wikimedia Commons user Robert Alfers)

Policies: 2013 - C; 2014 - D

Practices: 2013 - F; 2014 - F

The index took note of a 2009 incident, in which a speech by Jose Ruba from the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform was drowned out by protesters, while university security's only action to calm them down was to call police. Protesters quieted when some officers arrived, but they disrupted the lecture again when the police left.

University of Ottawa (U of O)

university of ottawa

Policies: 2013 - D; 2014 - D

Practices: 2013 - F; 2014 - F

In 2010, outspoken U.S. commentator Ann Coulter was booked to speak at the University of Ottawa, but her speech was cancelled after the school "failed to provide adequate security" for the event, the JCCF wrote. Coulter had also been sent a letter from VP academic Francois Houle, who told her to "weigh your words with respect and civility in mind" before her speech.

University of the Fraser Valley (UFV)

university of the fraser valley

(Image via B.C. Government)

Policies: 2013 - C; 2014 - D

Practices: 2013 - F; 2014 - F

In 2013, the University of the Fraser Valley was set to host an event by a school club known as UFV Life Link that would feature a speech on the issue of "sex-selective abortion." The event was later cancelled over "security concerns" due to possible protests. The club later held an event in a smaller venue with about 13 people in attendance. But the JCCF notes the university threatened to restrict material at this event, and that "these censorship concerns were never settled."

University of Waterloo (UW)

university of waterloo

Policies: 2013 - C; 2014 - D

Practices: 2013 - D; 2014 - D

In 2013, the University of Waterloo was set to host Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth as he discussed Motion 312, which aimed to re-evaluate the definition of a human being in Canadian criminal law. His presentation was eventually shut down by shouting protesters, and security let it happen, the JCCF said.

Vancouver Island University (VIU)

vancouver island university

(Image via Facebook)

Policies: 2013 - N/A; 2014 - D

Practices: 2013 - N/A; 2014 - D

The JCCF highlighted a 2013 decision by VIU's board of governors to "strongly condemn" a letter to the editor published in the Nanaimo Daily News titled, "Educate First Nations to be modern citizens." The letter was "misinformed, derogatory and racist," the board said. The university also cancelled all advertising in the newspaper and with its parent company.

York University

york university toronto

Policies: 2013 - D; 2014 - D

Practices: 2013 - D; 2014 - D

The Centre cited a decision by York University to remove club status for a group known as Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) after it allegedly disrupted campus events on numerous occasions, and banned it from re-applying until January 2014. It later obtained club status once more, the index said.

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