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Should Teachers Be Allowed Freedom Of Expression?

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Last I looked, The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees Fundamental Freedoms to "Everyone." Should that include school teachers?

In July, when schools were on vacation, a teacher in Mississauga participated in a protest rally. The school board for which she teaches has suspended her with pay while they investigate a complaint made against her by "the community and public at large."

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) claims that the investigation was prompted by their complaint to the school board and the Ontario College of Teachers. They complained about the teacher's speech at the Al-Quds Day protest at Queen's Park. Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem. These protests are annual events that call for support for the Palestinian people and the end of the state of Israel. The CIJA reports that the teacher said that protest attendees should "support the resistance in any form."

Don't comfort yourself if you think that being suspended with pay while being investigated is a minor inconvenience.

Should teachers have the right to take strong political positions? Should they be permitted to stand up in public and speak out against what they believe to be wrong in the world? Does it matter what they say and to whom they say it?

If this teacher had enjoined her students or others to bring their baseball bats to the park where they would gather together to hunt down and beat pro-Israeli people, most of us would have a serious problem. In fact, if anyone presents a clear and present danger, whether ideologically or personally motivated, we should ALL have a problem with that. Fortunately, such action is clearly against the law.

But what if one of us feels strongly enough to make a public statement about our views? Should we be afraid to do so because it could risk our very livelihood? Don't comfort yourself if you think that being suspended with pay while being investigated is a minor inconvenience. It certainly isn't. Whatever the outcome of the investigation, this young teacher's reputation and standing in her community will be effected forever. But not just hers.

If I were a teacher starting my career, or even in a well-established position, I would be very concerned that any publicly unpopular view I might hold could affect my employment. Even if I never chose to let my students know my views, my public political participation would be deeply chilled.

It is not a bad thing for students to learn that their teachers are people who are politically engaged and who are unafraid to face controversy.

What if a teacher were a member of Black Lives Matter and spoke angrily against police at a rally? What if a teacher were a member of a union and spoke in favour of an illegal strike? What if a teacher called for the end of the seal hunt? Or supported indigenous hunters? All of these positions have been and could be complained about by community organizations.

What if she wanted to speak out against a public person? Remember the "shirtless jogger" who confronted then Mayor Rob Ford during a Canada Day parade? Many people called for the teacher to lose his job. Fortunately for him, his views were not considered controversial enough for him to be investigated. But who gets to say?

It is not a bad thing for students to learn that their teachers are people who are politically engaged and who are unafraid to face controversy. Numbers of teachers use the summer vacation and school holidays to work on political campaigns of many kinds. Some even run for office. Should our children and grandchildren be taught by ciphers who are quelled at every turn by their profession?

If we silence our teachers, how will our children learn to be politically engaged? While students need to know all the facts and points of view, don't they also need to know what civic engagement looks like?

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