Free Speech Statement of Policy

Legislative History:

Approved: 2018/12/13 by Senate; 2018/12/14 by Board of Governors

Approval Authority: Board of Governors and Senate


1. Purpose

York University wishes to affirm its longstanding protection of and support for free speech as a fundamental principle upon which it pursues its mission. This Statement of Policy has been informed and enhanced by submissions, comments and suggestions shared by many members of the York community who participated in consultations over a number of weeks in the Fall of 2018.

2. York’s Definition of Free Speech

In light of York University’s policies, and the laws governing the University, freedom of speech is the right to seek, receive, share and impart information and ideas of all kinds, in a variety of forms, including orally, in writing, in print, and in the form of art or music, or through any other media of one’s choice. In the words of the Task Force on Student Life, Learning & Community (2009), the “University has an unwavering commitment to fundamental values of free expression, free inquiry, and respect for genuine diversity of thought and opinion.” Preservation of free and open exchange of ideas and opinion for and by all members of the community through respectful debate, including robust rights to protest and express dissent, are central to the mission of York University. Attempts to prevent such free inquiry, whether from other members of the University community or from external groups, are inconsistent with this mission.

3. York’s Policy on Free Speech

  1. As set out in the York University Act, the objects and purposes of York University are, (a) the advancement of learning and the dissemination of knowledge; and (b) the intellectual, spiritual, social, moral and physical development of its members and the betterment of society. York University is committed to the goal of a welcoming and approachable campus, embracing global perspectives and differences in cultures, people and thinking, by engaging communities in collegial dialogue and supporting diversity awareness and cross-cultural knowledge.
  2. York University reaffirms its commitment to provide an environment conducive to freedom of enquiry and expression where all members of the community may learn, teach, work and live, free from prejudice, inequality and discrimination based on race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability.
  3. A range of York policies reflect the right of all community members and invited guests to express their views within the law without fear of intimidation or harassment. To guarantee this right, it is recognized that community members may be exposed to ideas or opinions they find disagreeable or offensive. Freedom of speech is not absolute and does not protect expression that constitutes hate speech, harassment, threats, discrimination or otherwise violates the law. Consequently, the University will not tolerate members of our community or guests engaging in threatening speech or actions which violates York’s commitments to ensure the safety of community members, as noted in various policies such as Disruptive and/or Harassing Behaviour in Academic Situations, Racism, Sexual Violence which address the priority of community safety and the harm that can arise from some forms of expression. These policies also provide recourse for those affected by such speech.
  4. All persons having access to and use of University property must comply with York’s policies and the laws of Canada, which circumscribe where, when and how speech may be permitted. Students, for example, are responsible for upholding an atmosphere of civility, diversity, equity and respect in their interactions with others, and should strive to make the campus safe, support the dignity of individuals and groups, and uphold individual and collective rights and responsibilities. The autonomy and responsibility of student groups over activities they organize or sponsor, and the development of their own policies in relation to freedom of speech and expression, are also affirmed.
  5. This Statement of Policy draws from a number of policies at York University (set out in the Related Policy Section below), and the specific procedures in relation to complaints, dispute resolution, enforcement and remedies are set out under each underlying policy and also under applicable collective agreements.
  6. York University affirms that it has in place mechanisms to deal with complaints and ensure compliance. Each of the existing policies underlying this Statement of Policy include mechanisms for interpretation, compliance and enforcement. Complaints that remain unresolved may be referred to the University Ombudsperson and to the Ontario Ombudsman. Additional guidelines, tool-kits, education and training with respect to free speech will be developed from time to time as needed. Relevant policies will be reviewed in a timely, consultative and effective manner pursuant to applicable governance processes.
  7. York University will prepare an annual report on implementation progress, publish it online and submit it to the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO).
  8. This Statement will be reviewed coincident with the release of the first annual report, then two years following that and thereafter every five years.

Related Policies: