As an institution of higher learning, McMaster University upholds a fundamental commitment to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly for all its members.
United in our pursuit of knowledge, our belief in the power and importance of education, and our determination to be an inclusive community, we support the rights and freedoms of members of our community to exchange ideas, question and challenge received wisdom, engage in respectful and informed debate, discuss even the most potentially controversial issues, and engage in peaceful protest and dissent.
In exercising these freedoms, all members of the University community are required to respect the rights and freedoms of others and are expected to engage with one another in a spirit of mutual respect, understanding, and regard for human dignity. While recognizing the imbalances in power that exist within our community and the disproportionate impact such imbalances have upon marginalized groups and individuals, McMaster aspires to be a place where respectful, meaningful discourse and discussion can occur, where all voices have an opportunity to be heard, and where diverse viewpoints can be advanced and deliberated in a spirit of inclusiveness and academic integrity.
Why Does This Matter?
As an academic community, it is crucial that McMaster be a place where a diverse range of opinions and perspectives can be held, and where respectful debate and critical enquiry can take place in an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding. Throughout the history of our University we have advanced the boundaries of knowledge and learning through critical enquiry, discussion and debate, and this freedom to question, research and explore is fundamental to the discovery, communication and preservation of knowledge that is at the heart of our mission.
In addition to the overall commitment outlined above, McMaster’s faculty members enjoy the freedom, and the protection of the University, to pursue multiple avenues of inquiry, to teach and to learn unhindered by non-academic constraints, and to engage in full and unrestricted consideration of any opinion, including those that might be unpopular or even abhorrent. This is laid out in McMaster’s Statement on Academic Freedom, which also notes that faculty members bear the responsibility of exercising that freedom responsibly and professionally in order to further the pursuit and dissemination of knowledge.
While the rights of freedom of expression and free speech apply to all members of our community and to anyone expressing themselves as a private citizen, academic freedom is a privilege and a responsibility reserved for faculty members.
How Are These Freedoms Protected?
McMaster has a variety of policies, statements and other documents that outline the University’s commitment to these important freedoms and expectations for members of our community when exercising these freedoms. The policy framework is outlined in the summary document and this website gathers together the University’s policies and statements on freedom of expression and related matters and seeks to provide context and information about this critically important issue.
Policies and Statements
Some of the key elements of McMaster’s policies on this issue are outlined in the Summary of Policy Framework: Freedom of Expression document with individual policies and statements listed below.
McMaster Policies, Statements and Other Documents
Freedom of Expression, Protest and Dissent: Guidance for Event Organizers and Participants (June 8, 2018)
Annual Reports on Free Speech
Other Relevant Documents and Resources
Frequently Asked Questions
Being exposed to a diverse range of opinions and perspectives, and being able to engage in the free and open exchange of ideas and information, is fundamental to the educational and research mission of the University. It is only through considering, questioning, and discussing ideas that we are able to create new knowledge, advance human understanding, and promote societal change and development.
Yes. Canadian laws – including the Criminal Code of Canada and the Ontario Human Rights Code – set legal boundaries on speech. Various statutes of Canada and Ontario, as well as the common law, place limitations on some forms of speech.
McMaster also has policies in place which reflect these laws, and reiterate our commitment to fostering a respectful and inclusive organizational culture in which all members of the University community work, study, and live free of discrimination and harassment. The University’s Policy on Discrimination and Harassment: Prevention & Response states that:
The University upholds a fundamental commitment to freedom of expression and association for all its members and to academic freedom for faculty. In exercising those freedoms, all its members are required to respect the rights and freedoms of others, including the right to freedom from Discrimination and Harassment.
This policy applies to all events held on our campus and those that occur on non-University premises where there is a clear nexus to the working or learning environment at the University. The policy expressly prohibits any discriminatory or harassing action and/or conduct, verbal or non-verbal, directed at or about one or more individuals or groups, that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment, or interferes with academic or work performance, in a manner that exceeds the bounds of freedom of expression and academic freedom.
Sections 318 to 320.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada address the promotion and incitement of hate, including such things as hate speech. The relevant sections of the Criminal Code can be viewed online at the following link https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-46/page-67.html#h-91. A summary of the provisions in the Code which address the promotion of hate also be found in a background paper published by the government of Canada and posted online at: https://lop.parl.ca/sites/PublicWebsite/default/en_CA/ResearchPublications/201825E#appendix
Within the framework of the University’s policies and processes, members of the McMaster community are free, and encouraged, to organize and promote events, invite speakers and hold meetings, as well as to express their dissent or disagreement with the opinions or views espoused at such events.
Given the fundamental importance of freedom of expression to the mission of the University, the institutional goal is to enable planned events to proceed wherever reasonably possible. The cancellation, suspension, or postponement of events are not desirable outcomes and such measures should be taken only in extreme cases, such as where there are serious concerns for community safety that the University is not confident of being able to mitigate. Depending on the circumstances, a range of University offices including Environmental Health & Occupational Support Services, Student Affairs, Security Services, the President’s Office, and the Equity and Inclusion Office will be consulted in these cases.
Instructions for Primary Event Organizers are posted at https://studentevents.mcmaster.ca/downloads/Instuctions_for_primary_Event_Organizer.pdf; Event Organizers must complete and submit an online event planning form through the Event Planning Portal, which can be found at https://studentevents.mcmaster.ca/index.php/events/add_info.
As an institution of higher learning, the University is committed to freedom of expression and association for all its members, and to promoting and supporting the consideration, discussion and questioning of ideas, even if they are unpopular or controversial. Censorship is incompatible with the University’s mission of education, research and discovery. This does not mean that McMaster tolerates hate speech; the University is unequivocal in its condemnation of discrimination, harassment, violence and hate.
Does the University administration endorse the views of individuals or groups invited to speak or who organize events at the University?
No. The fact that an event is held, or a speaker is invited to campus by internal or external members of our community, does not mean that the University administration sponsors or endorses such events. Many events on our campuses are hosted by internal or external groups having first arranged space rental or booking with the relevant facility in the prescribed way.
Although our faculty, students, staff and alumni will hold a range of opinions about social, scientific, political and other issues, the University itself does not typically take a position on such issues. The goal of the University administration is to support the University community in advancing our research and educational mission, and to foster open enquiry in its many forms.
How will the University provide support for groups that have faced historical and current discrimination and marginalization?
As mentioned above, the University recognizes the imbalances in power that exist within our community and the disproportionate impact such imbalances have upon groups and individuals that have faced – and continue to face – discrimination and marginalization. The University’s guidance for event organizers document includes a requirement to consider the potential impact on groups who may be affected by a particular event, and any response or supports that might be needed. The University’s Equity and Inclusion Office works offers confidential support to marginalized groups and advice to any member of our community who may be experiencing harassment or discrimination. The Associate Vice-President (Equity and Inclusion) will assist in reviewing the effectiveness of the guidance document and responding to concerns on an ongoing basis.
Any individual who is concerned that conduct at an event violates or appears to violate laws, University policies or codes of conduct, is encouraged to notify the relevant University office (which may include the Equity and Inclusion Office, Student Support and Case Management, Employee/Labour Relations, Faculty of Health Sciences Professionalism Office, Security Services) so that the relevant conduct can be investigated and addressed in accordance with the University’s policies and protocols.
Similarly, any individual or group who is in need of support or assistance before or after an event is encouraged to contact one of the offices listed above or any of the other supports and resources available to members of the McMaster community (which may include the Student Wellness Centre, Ombuds Office, Chaplaincy Centre and McMaster Students Union, or other supports and services as appropriate).
Yes. Members of the University community are free to organize events, rallies or meetings to publicize or protest issues. Protest is a form of free expression and the University is guided by a commitment to ensure that all our members have the chance to express their views and be heard. Peaceful protest has been a force for progressive change on University campuses, and elsewhere, for generations, and the ability to challenge or question views or ideas is fundamental to our mission.
As an academic institution, McMaster has an obligation to ensure that the regular academic and administrative business of the University (regularly scheduled lectures, classes, exams, administrative meetings, etc.) continues unhindered. The University will accordingly take such steps as are necessary to ensure appropriate conditions to enable a conducive learning, working and living environment, and that academic and general facilities, property and equipment are available for use for their regular purposes as part of the ongoing academic and administrative business of the University.
Event organizers should consult the Freedom of Expression, Protest and Dissent: Guidance for Event Organizers and Participants document, which is intended to safeguard free expression by helping to make sure that all voices have the opportunity to be heard and that dissenting or opposing views can be expressed.
The document sets out the responsibilities of event organizers when planning events of a potentially controversial nature, and aspires to set a tone that is respectful and inclusive of the entire campus community. Event organizers are encouraged to consider the potential impact of their event on other individuals or groups and to work with the University so that any necessary measures or supports can be put in place.
It is the responsibility of Event Organizers to identify an appropriate moderator when needed. Any faculty, staff or student member of our community with relevant expertise could undertake this role. The Moderator’s knowledge of the subject or related area, group facilitation skills, relevant lived/professional/academic experience, and approach/lens to the event are all criteria to consider when selecting a moderator. The Equity and Inclusion Office may be able to help organizers identify appropriate moderators for events.