Universities and Publicly-Assisted Colleges Take Note: Ontario Government Announces New Requirement for Free Speech Policy


Universities and Publicly-Assisted Colleges Take Note: Ontario Government Announces New Requirement for Free Speech Policy

Date: September 4, 2018

On August 30, 2018, the government of Ontario announced that as of January 1, 2019, all universities and publicly-assisted colleges will be required to have a free speech policy that meets a minimum standard specified by the government.

The free speech policy must contain a definition of free speech and the policy must apply to all faculty, students, staff, management and guests of the institution.

The government has stated that all policies must follow the principles that are outlined in the University of Chicago Statement on Principles of Free Expression. These principles are premised on the idea that institutions should be places for open discussion and free inquiry and they should not shield students from ideas that they disagree with or find offensive. They state:

[…] it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Although the University greatly values civility, and although all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.

The freedom to debate and discuss the merits of competing ideas does not, of course, mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish. The University may restrict expression that violates the law, that falsely defames a specific individual, that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, that unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests, or that is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the University. In addition, the University may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the University. […] (Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression, University of Chicago)

Additionally, all policies must include the following:

  • that existing student discipline measures will be used where students act contrary to the policy, such as disruptive protesting that significantly interferes with the ability of an event to proceed
  • that the institution will encourage student unions to adopt policies that comply with the free speech policy
  • that the institution consider official student groups’ compliance with the policy as a condition of ongoing financial support, and
  • that the institution will use existing mechanisms to handle complaints and ensure compliance.

As of September 2019, all institutions will be required to submit an annual report to the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO) confirming their compliance with this new requirement.

The HEQCO will be monitoring all institutions for their compliance. If institutions fail to comply, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities may respond with reductions to the operating grant funding to the institution.

Next Steps Required

All universities and publicly-assisted colleges should review the government announcement and the University of Chicago Statement on Principles of Free Expression in advance of the January 1, 2019 requirement to have a policy in force.

We will continue to monitor this issue and will provide updates regarding any additional requirements which may be outlined.

Should you require more information about your free speech policy, please contact your regular Hicks Morley lawyer.

The article in this client update provides general information and should not be relied on as legal advice or opinion. This publication is copyrighted by Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP and may not be photocopied or reproduced in any form, in whole or in part, without the express permission of Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP. ©