SAFS Response To Provost Vivek Goel (Letter To Editor)

April 2007

Re: Free Speech In Name Only, David Frum, Feb. 10.

As Mr. Frum points out, it is not clear that Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides enough protection for free speech. Unfortunately for free speech, the Charter is not the only one dropping the ball; universities are doing so as well. As part of their mission, universities have a special responsibility to be guardians of free speech. However, earlier this month, Vivek Goel, the vice president and provost of the University of Toronto, wrote: "[S]ome forms of expression fall short of the legal limits of hate speech, but nonetheless are harmful to identifiable members of our community. The university recognizes that harmful speech is a destructive force on our campuses and, though not prohibited by law, is repugnant to the administration." He goes on to say that harmful speech will be "monitored closely."

These assertions are deeply troubling. In going beyond the usual legal restrictions on defamation of character and incitement of violence, they introduce the nebulous and highly subjective notion of "harmful speech." By what standards will such a notion be judged -- Orwellian? Worse still, Provost Goel proposes using campus police to identify allegedly likely candidates for harmful speech.

Is the trend now moving against the protection of free speech? If neither the Charter nor one of Canada's leading universities is a vigorous protector of free speech, do Canadians have, in fact, free speech?

Phil Sullivan, professor emeritus, University of Toronto;

Clive Seligman, president, Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, London, Ontario.

National Post, Wednesday, February 14, 2007.