Committee on Academic freedom

The University of Ottawa publishes the report of its Committee on Academic Freedom

The University of Ottawa has made public the final report of the Committee on Academic Freedom, which was chaired by former Supreme Court Justice, the Honourable Michel Bastarache (CC, QC).

This very high-quality report testifies to the fundamental importance the University of Ottawa places on academic freedom, as does every university, and the challenges involved in applying it in the classroom every day.

This report will serve as the cornerstone of a process that the University community must now undertake to take stock of the report’s scope, internalize its contents and recommendations, and discuss its effects and consequences. It sets out practical solutions and describes the path to follow to further instill a culture of academic freedom, including freedom of expression, in the centre of our academic life.

The University has reviewed the report’s recommendations with interest and intends to act swiftly to promptly implement them.

Report of the Committee on Academic Freedom

* Revised report

Decision of the Committee on Academic Freedom Concerning Appendices B and C of the Report

When the Committee on Academic Freedom undertook to write its report, the members agreed that it would be useful to attach two appendices in order to summarize the written submissions and letters presented, and the presentations made to the Committee during consultations with the University community. The idea behind this was to show that there was no consensus on how to respond to the administration’s questions, and that several individuals had expressed fears, anger, and hopes about the atmosphere on campus. The synthesis in Appendix B was to be a very general overview of the topics addressed, one that would include extracts of the written submissions and other documents.

Very quickly after publication of the report, we discovered a few technical errors, such as a failure to change the name of a scholar whose name had been changed in a footnote, and a discrepancy between the source and its translation in one section. These issues were quickly corrected. Afterwards, various individuals, including some members of the Committee, conducted a more in-depth examination of Appendix B and raised questions about certain citations and the wording of the topics. It was suggested that certain individuals could still be identified through context, even though the Committee had respected their anonymity. Note that the Committee members were not tasked with, or even able to, check the selection of the passages drawn from over 100 written submissions. Consequently, the Committee reconvened to see if they could check these selections and make corrections. However, when they tried to undertake this task, the members quickly concluded that it would be impossible to identify or correct all the problematic citations. An exchange of emails then revealed the extent of the errors in the creation of the categories and the selection of passages. Given such serious problems, the Committee met again to consider its options, with all members wanting to ensure that the problems with Appendix B would not lead to a questioning of the report’s recommendations; after all, these problems did not concern, and never concerned, the fundamental issues addressed in the report.

With this in mind, we have made a decision on what remains to be done. Clearly, we are not in a position to recall a document that is already in circulation, and we cannot prevent Appendices B and C from being repeatedly copied or printed. But we would like to say to readers of the report that Appendices B and C are not essential documents and that they do not reflect a Committee position. They are informational in nature and serve to describe the circumstances under which the Committee created the report. So we will now state that the Committee still fully agrees with the statements in the report, that it would like readers to focus on these statements exclusively and to set aside Appendices B and C, which will be withdrawn from the University’s website. We have agreed to do this and to inform the public of it.

Committee on Academic Freedom

Consultations

As part of the Committee’s consultations with members of the University community, professors, students, and support staff members were invited to share their thoughts on the following topics:

  • How do you define academic freedom?
  • In a university setting, is there a difference between academic freedom and freedom of speech? If so, how are academic freedom and freedom of speech different?
  • What do you feel are the limits of academic freedom and freedom of speech?
  • What is the scope of freedom of speech at the University as an institution?
  • As a bilingual institution, how should the University balance academic freedom with its values of equity, diversity, and inclusion?
  • What mechanism(s) should the University put in place to handle complaints related to academic freedom and University values?

The consultations elicited keen interest and the Committee members are pleased with the wealth of comments and submissions received.

The Committee is very grateful for the participation and engagement shown by members of the University community, whose comments will enrich and inform the committee’s current work and the writing of the final report.

Chair

The Honourable Michel Bastarach, C.C., QC.

The Honourable Michel Bastarache, C.C., QC.

The Honourable Michel Bastarache, C.C., QC

Mr. Justice Bastarache, B.A., LL.L., LL.B., D.E.S. received eight honorary degrees. He was called to the Bar in six provinces. He worked for the New Brunswick and federal governments. He was Vice-President and Director of Marketing at Assumption Life, later President and Chief Executive Officer of Assumption Life and its subsidiaries. He was law professor and Dean at the University of Moncton Law School and Associate Dean, Common Law Section, University of Ottawa. He practised law in Ottawa and in Moncton. Mr Bastarache was appointed to the Court of Appeal of New Brunswick in 1995 and the Supreme Court of Canada in 1997. Mr Justice Bastarache retired from the court in 2008 and practices law under his own name. Mr Bastarache was a member of the Interim Constitutional Court of Kenya. He was also Commissioner for La Commission d’enquête sur la nomination des juges au Québec. He was the Independant conciliator for the indemnification of victims of sexual abuse for the dioceses of Bathurst and Moncton. He is now the Independent conciliator for the indemnification of the female members of the RCMP victims of sexual harassment. He is vice president of the Administrative Tribunal of the Association of American States in Washington. He is editor and principal author of three books and was awarded a dozen awards, especially Companion of the Order of Canada and Officier de la Légion d’honneur.

Members

Tansy Etro-Beko, Part-time Professor, Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts;

Jude Mary Cénat, Associate Professor, School of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences;

Dr. Alireza Jalali, Associate Dean, External Relations, Engagement and Advancement, Faculty of Medicine;

Jonathan Paquette, Professor and holder of the research chair on the international Francophonie and cultural heritage policies, Faculty of Social Sciences;

Sophie Thériault, Vice Dean (Academics) and Full Professor, Faculty of Law, Civil Law

Mandate

The committee’s mandate is to independently review the following subjects with a view to issuing recommendations:

  • The issues at stake, including those involving academic freedom, including freedom of expression, the institutional autonomy of universities, equity, diversity, inclusion, and the pursuit of true equality along with the inherent legal aspects of these issues;
  • The challenges that these issues present for the University of Ottawa, a bilingual university, in fulfilling its mission of teaching, conducting research, and serving the community;
  • The lessons learned from similar incidents that have occurred at the University of Ottawa and elsewhere in Canada; and
  • The best approaches and mechanisms to be used by members of the administration and University community for reconciling the issues at stake and in such situations as they arise.

The committee will consult the members of the University community and report its findings to the President, the Senate, and the Board of Governors.

Message from President Jacques Frémont to our uOttawa Community

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