By Denise Paglinawan
About 60 protesters braved the cold on Oct. 18, to protest Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s post-secondary free speech policy and Ryerson University’s drafted statement on free speech on campus.
Members of Socialist Fightback, including current Ryerson students, grads and community members, shouted chants to condemn what they called the province’s “anti-protest law” for two hours at the corner of Victoria and Gould streets starting at 1 p.m.
On Aug. 30, the Ford government announced that Ontario campuses had four months to develop and publicly post free speech policies that defend controversial speech on campus or face operational funding cuts.
The government demanded each school’s policy must uphold free speech—inevitably allowing hate speech and discrimination on campus.
When the provincial government announced the unforeseen policy, Ryerson was in the midst of finalizing an updated version of the university’s statement on free expression. The latest draft states that Ryerson “may reasonably regulate the time, place and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the university.”
It also states community members may not obstruct or interfere with the freedom of others to express “views they reject or even loathe.”
Socialist Fightback takes issue with the language in the draft since it’s open to interpretation and can restrict students from protesting campus events that are hateful.
“Many people that we’ve spoken to [during the protest] weren’t even aware that this anti-protest law existed,” said protest organizer Marco La Grotta. “What we’re trying to do here today is raise awareness of this issue, to let them know of the anti-democratic attacks being made by the Ford government.”
The group also protested the university’s latest statement draft outside a Ryerson Senate meeting on Oct. 2. The final draft will be voted on at the next Senate meeting on Nov. 6.
The Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR), Canadian Federation of Students—Ontario, Ryerson Reproductive Justice Collective and Caribbean Students Association at Ryerson all endorsed Fightback’s latest protest.
“This free speech policy is the Ford regime’s way of enforcing anti-protest laws. He is criminalizing the right to protest hate groups,” said Jo-Anne Miller, CESAR vice-president events and outreach.
Omar Ha-Redeye, a Ryerson law instructor who passed by the protest, said he was in support of the students protesting the policy.
“They should be protesting this policy,” said Ha-Redeye. “This policy is going to attempt to regulate their conduct and their speech in the name of promoting far-right hatred by speakers that might be brought into campus. So students should be very, very worried about this.”