Un-Chartered Waters: Ontario’s Campus Speech Directive and the Intersections of Academic Freedom, Expressive Freedom, and Institutional Autonomy


  • Alison Braley-Rattai and Kate Bezanson* Brock University




In August 2018, the Ford Government in Ontario introduced a ‘Directive’ entitled “Upholding Free Speech on Ontario’s University and College Campuses” (the Directive).1 The Directive required all publicly supported universities and colleges2 in Ontario to create a free speech policy by January 1st 2019 that applies to “faculty, students, staff, management and guests,” and includes a) a definition of free speech, and b) reference to various “principles” of free speech similar to those elucidated by the University of Chicago (Chicago Principles).3 According to the Directive, speech that is otherwise illegal is not permitted. Illegal speech includes hate speech and uttering threats that are proscribed by Canada’s Criminal Code,4 defamatory speech which can give rise to both criminal5 and civil6 actions, as well as workplace harassment.7


* Dr. Alison Braley-Rattai is Assistant Professor of Labour Studies at Brock University. Dr. Kate Bezanson is Associate Professor of Sociology and Associate Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Brock University.

1 Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities, “Upholding Free Speech on Ontario’s University and College Campuses” (30 August 2018) online: Government of Ontario Newsroom <https://news.ontario.ca/ opo/en/2018/08/ontario-protects-free-speech-on-campuses.html> [perma.cc/7VXR-K4RB] [Directive].
2 This piece is only concerned about the university sector. There are noteworthy differences between colleges and universities with regard to topics discussed in this piece that are unexplored here.
3 The Committee on Freedom of Expression, “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression” (2014) online (pdf): University of Chicago <provost.uchicago.edu/sites/default/files/documents/reports/FOECommitteeReport.pdf> [perma.cc/LAA4-RW43].
4 Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46, s 319(1).
5Ibid, ss 297-304.
6Libel and Slander Act, RSO 1990, c L.12.
7Occupational Health and Safety Act, RSO 1990, c O.1; Human Rights Code, RSO 1990, c H.19.