Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre says as prime minister he would appoint a “free speech guardian” to protect Charter rights on campus and revoke federal funding from postsecondary institutions that don’t uphold free speech.
“Universities are supposed to be places where ideas are openly discussed and challenged, but they have become places where gatekeepers and a loud minority silence students and faculty,” a statement from Poilievre’s campaign says.
“The Trudeau Liberals have done nothing to protect the rights of students and faculty to speak freely. Their obsession with woke culture has allowed campus to change from a place where people learn through discussion and debate, to a place where popular professors, like Dr. Jordan Peterson, must resign and student groups must cancel events or even lose resources, just because of their different viewpoint.”
Poilievre’s plan would make upholding section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which enumerates fundamental freedoms to association, peaceful assembly, expression and conscience, among others, a “condition of receiving direct federal research and other grants.”
“To get federal grants, universities will be required to not only promote section 2 Charter freedoms on campus, but also defend them when they are attacked, including by other students and faculty,” the campaign’s statement says.
The idea of tying support for free speech with federal funding is not new. Former Conservative leaders Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole proposed similar approaches, though O’Toole walked his back during the general election.
Poilievre’s plan goes further than previous Conservative campaign platforms by promising to appoint a “free speech guardian – a former judge who will report on compliance by universities and will investigate claims of academic censorship.”
The proposed guardian will report back to the federal government on breaches of Charter rights on campus and recommend corresponding reductions in federal grants.
The policy will not affect federal transfers to provincial governments, who provide public universities and colleges with most of their funding.
Despite their public status, whether the Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies on university and college campuses depends heavily on specific cases.
In January 2020, the Court of Appeal for Alberta ruled that a pro-life group at University of Alberta did have a Charter right to protest against abortion on campus, though this decision is not binding in other provinces.