The Quebec government tabled legislation on Wednesday to protect academic freedom in post-secondary institutions, allowing professors to use potentially offensive language without fear of reprisal.
Bill 32 would require universities to put in place policies that address academic freedom, defined as “the right of every person to engage freely and without doctrinal, ideological or moral constraint in an activity through which the person contributes, in their field of activity, to carrying out the mission of such an educational institution.”
Academic freedom policies mandated in this bill include allowing professors to use any word in an educational context, including slurs and language that some may find questionable.
The bill would also prohibit universities from requiring professors to issue trigger warnings before addressing sensitive content.
As for infringement of rights guaranteed under the bill, universities will be required to create a council “whose main functions are to oversee the implementation of the policy, examine any complaints about violations of the right to university academic freedom.”
The bill comes in the wake of a Dec. 2021 report by Quebec’s Independent Scientific and Technical Commission on the Recognition of Academic Freedom in the University Environment. The report made five recommendations to the provincial government, including introducing legislation that would define academic freedom and create committees that would deal with disputes related to the issue.
In a press conference, Quebec’s Minister of Higher Education Danielle McCann stated that “(c)lassrooms are not safe spaces; they are spaces for debate.”
She added that “censorship has no place in our classrooms. It never will, and we need to protect faculty from censorship.”
While cancel culture and woke ideology have been plaguing universities across the Western world, notable Canadian incidents caught the attention of the Quebec government.
These include a fall 2020 incident at the University of Ottawa, where professor Verushka Lieutenant-Duval was suspended for using the “N-word” while discussing how certain social groups have reclaimed slurs.
In an email to uOttawa’s student newspaper The Fulcrum, Lieutenant-Duval said she used the word while explaining “queer theory.”
“I clarified that the term ‘Queer’ is an example of ‘subversive resignification,’ that is to say a word which was, first an insult, which has been reappropriated, emptied of its initial meaning and resignified as a powerful marker of identity,” said Lieutenant-Duval.
“I gave two other examples of this subversive resignification: the word ‘cripple’ resignified by Crip theory and the ‘n-word’, resignified by the black community.”
Lieutenant-Duval also claims to have been doxxed by a disgruntled student, who published her phone number and personal email address online.
Quebec politicians were some of the only leaders who stood up for Lieutenant-Duval. Those who took her side include Quebec premier Francois Legault, Bloc Quebecois leader Yves Francois Blachet and Quebec Liberal leader Dominique Anglade, who is herself black.
In a Feb. 2021 Facebook post, Legault took aim at academic censorship and woke leftism, promising to fight back.
“Freedom of expression is one of the pillars of our democracy,” he wrote. “If we compromise on that, we risk having undue censorship spilling out into our political debates and our media.”
Legault noted other incidents, including one where a university faculty member testified to having been harassed for using the words “man” and “woman.”
A questionnaire sent to Quebec post-secondary faculty in September saw an overwhelming majority (82%) respond that they believed faculty should be allowed to use any word “deemed useful for academic purposes.” The questionnaire also saw 60% of respondents saying they self-censored by avoiding certain words, and 35% saying they self-censored by not teaching certain topics.
Despite the support of Legault, academics and other officials the proposed bill has received opposition from some, including the Concordia Black Student Union, who called it “a slap in the face.”
“We don’t feel comfortable. Especially when you’re in a predominantly white school or in a predominantly white class, I don’t feel okay with my non-Black professors saying the N-word,” union president Amaria Phillips told CTV News.
However, it should be noted that under this bill, words including the “N-word” would only be permitted when used in an educational context.
Former Parti Québécois cabinet minister Alexandre Cloutier, who presided over the Commission who recommended the legislation, told TVA that there are sanctions in place for those who use the “N-word” to insult.
The bill also makes Quebec a leader in promoting academic freedom amid growing censorship, cancel culture, and woke left-wing policies on North American university and college campuses.