In spring 2021, the University of Ottawa asked retired Supreme Court justice Michel Bastarache to chair a committee on issues relating to academic freedom, freedom of expression, the institutional independence of universities, the values of equity, diversity and inclusion and the pursuit of substantive equality, and the legal framework for these issues. The report was tabled at the University Senate on November 22nd, 2021, and contained a series of recommendations. On February 14th, 2022, the Senate adopted a resolution to create an ad hoc committee to implement the recommendations in the report of the Committee on Academic Freedom. The creation of this statement is in response to one of the main recommendations of that Committee’s report, which proposed drafting a statement affirming the importance and necessity of protecting academic freedom and freedom of expression in a university context. The Ad Hoc Committee has also produced a full report of its work on the other recommendations which can be found .
- This Senate statement is addressed first and foremost to the University of Ottawa community. It asserts the importance and the necessity to protect freedom of expression in a university setting and academic freedom, while specifying their limits and the context in which these freedoms are exercised and lived out daily. It seeks the fundamental goals of redress, reconciliation, integration, and inclusion within our community.
- The importance of protecting freedom of expression in a university setting and academic freedom must be seen in light of the University’s fundamental mission, that is to create an inclusive environment for teaching and learning, and for knowledge creation and transfer. To achieve this, it is essential that we collectively commit to creating and maintaining an environment that encourages discussion, dialogue, and debate, one that allows for the expression of a diversity of voices, including those that are marginalized and have been historically excluded. This environment should be one of openness to criticism, independence, civility, respect, and intellectual rigour.
- While freedom of expression and academic freedom are related, this statement focuses primarily on freedom of expression in a university setting, which is also protected by Policy 121 on freedom of expression. Academic freedom is clearly defined in Article 9 of the collective agreement between the University of Ottawa and the APUO, in Article 2.5 of the collective agreement between the University of Ottawa and the APTPUO and in Article 21.1 of the collective agreement between the University of Ottawa and CUPE 2626 . Nothing in this statement is intended to call into question the definition or scope of academic freedom protected by these agreements.
- We reaffirm the importance and necessity to protect the freedom of expression of all members of the University Community (teaching staff, students, members of the administrative staff, and guests) within the limits set by university policies and regulations, and by the provincial and federal laws that govern us. We recognize and protect free discussion and the development of a critical relationship to knowledge and ideas as essential to the advancement of knowledge. We also reaffirm the University's autonomy and independence from funding agencies, governments and political, economic, and philanthropic actors and entities.
- We condemn racist, discriminatory, and hateful speech and affirm that under no circumstances can a person hide behind freedom of expression, or academic freedom, to justify such speech. We recognize that respect, dignity, and inclusion are essential to learning and to the equal exercise of freedom of expression.
- We recognize and protect teaching staff pedagogical choices, as well as their scholarly approaches and orientations. No word, concept, idea, work, or image can be barred a priori from use in a teaching or research context, within the limits prescribed by law.
- We acknowledge the importance of the following elements when implementing principles promoting freedom of expression in a university context: the setting (e.g., classroom, lecture, informal discussion), the statement context (e.g., teaching, research, examination), the status of the speakers (undergraduate or graduate students, full- or part-time professors, teaching assistants, administrative staff, and guests), the audience, and the power relations and inequalities that exist between members of the University community. Freedom of expression must be interpreted in the context of the interdependence of rights, and in particular its connection to the right to equality and dignity.
- We reaffirm and protect the unhindered expression of all voices and promote respectful exchanges in the classroom. Members of the teaching staff who are in position of authority have a particular responsibility in this regard, especially in the context of learning and examination. It is useful to think about how to deal with certain topics, as well as the language that is used and the appropriate moment to do so, in view of the learning objectives pursued and the importance to build trust with learners. It may also be helpful for the instructor to prepare their audience and explain or situate their pedagogical choices. Openness, transparency, and intellectual honesty are paramount.
- We acknowledge that standards and principles applicable to freedom of expression will evolve and change over time, and that we must remain open to reassess them in a respectful manner. We are committed to offering ongoing training and support to all members of our community in this regard.