Response to SAFS by Dean Peter W. Hogg

September 2001

May 11, 2001

Dear Dr. Seligman,

The President of the University has asked me to reply to your letter to her and me of May 2. The substance of your letter appeared in the National Post some time ago, and I wrote a reply which was also published in the National Post. In this letter, I am essentially repeating (with minor embellishments) the essence of the letter to the National Post.

I fully agree with your Society that the best defence to offensive speech is more speech, allowing readers to form their own views of the validity of each point of view. However, in a university with a diverse student body, members of religious and racial minorities are entitled to be treated with respect. That is why York University requires its students to refrain from speech that amounts to harassment or discrimination contrary to the principles of the Ontario Human Rights Code. This may be the point at which your Society and the University differ, and of course the issue is a difficult one, but you will know that many public and private institutions have adopted such policies to make sure that behaviour (including speech) in the workplace or educational setting is compatible with the Human Rights Code.

In the case of the anti-Islamic article that appeared in the Osgoode Hall Law School’s student newspaper, a student has filed a complaint that the article offended the York University standards of conduct. Under the rules, Osgoode’s Associate Dean is obliged to investigate the complaint, and, if she believes that it is one to which the University’s regulations apply, to refer it to a university body for an informal resolution or a formal determination. The Associate Dean is now conducting that investigation. Neither I nor the President of the University have any control or influence over the proceedings, but I am confident that a result will be reached that is properly respectful of freedom of speech and is fair to both sides.

Yours sincerely,
Peter W. Hogg, Dean

c.c. Dr. Lorna Marsden, President