The Limits to Freedom of Expression in a University Setting
Keywords:freedom of expression, right to equality, harassment, defamation, privacy, Academic freedom
This text expounds the extent to which freedom of expression on our campuses is subject to limits. We will discuss the obligations imposed by law on academic institutions and explain the requirements incumbent on universities to respect or limit freedom of expression. The text explains the manner in which laws governing hate speech and human rights impose restrictions on freedom of expression. From what point is an offensive remark considered by law an incitement to hatred or an act of harassment? Where these issues lie is a function of the intrinsic nature of an academic institution, as a space for expression. Finally, we note that while limits on the expressive freedom of those who work in universities stem from external sources, these may just as well result from processes in place within the university itself.
Unlike the prevailing situation in the United States, Canadian law already states limits to expressive freedom, in general legislation. These limits have been deemed reasonable by the courts. Consequently, it is not so much a university’s prerogative to mull the question of whether certain types of statements may be prohibited on campus. There are already laws prohibiting hate speech, calls for genocide, and the like. The issue is rather to ascertain the extent to which it is possible for universities to impose limits on expressive activities that go beyond those arising from the general laws. But there are also issues arising from the often very broad scope of the laws that limit freedom of expression.
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Copyright (c) 2021 Pierre Trudel
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