Freedom of Speech at Brock University

Freedom of thought, expression and association are embedded in Brock’s core mission to promote and disseminate knowledge through teaching and research. The University has long encouraged and supported an environment open to many voices in support of the discovery, creation and sharing of knowledge and ideas.

Freedom of Expression Policy

The University has now formalized and reaffirmed its commitment to the free exchange of ideas and respect for diverse points of view in its Freedom of Expression Policy.

The Policy complements the existing policy framework supporting free and inclusive expression on campus, including the Senate Statement on Respectful Dialogue and Freedom of Expression, the Student Code of Conduct and the Respectful Work and Learning Environment Policy.

On this website you will find information and resources to help you understand the protections and processes surrounding freedom of expression on campus and who to contact if you have questions.

Policies and procedures

Freedom of Expression Policy

This policy sets out the University’s commitment to freedom of expression on campus and includes the following key principles:

  • No activity or event shall be disallowed solely because it expresses an objectionable or offensive thought, idea, opinion or belief.
  • No person or group may unduly and significantly interfere with the freedom of expression of others.
  • Freedom of expression does not include any unlawful speech (such as hate speech, threats, harassment or defamation) or acts that unreasonably or unduly interfere with the proper operations of the University.
  • Acts or expression that silence or exclude the perspectives of others may diminish the freedom of others in the discovery, creation and sharing of knowledge.
  • Those who engage in expression on campus are expected to comply with existing University policies, including the Student Code of Conduct and the Respectful Work and Learning Environment Policy.
  • Non-compliance with the Policy shall be managed in accordance with processes, policies and collective agreements.

If you have a concern that the Policy has been violated, please review the complaint intake process to refer your concerns to the appropriate unit.

Frequently asked questions

Freedom of expression means the fundamental freedom to express thoughts, ideas, opinions, or beliefs. Expression can take many forms and may happen in any medium.

Freedom of expression is set out in law in section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication”.  The Charter limits the lawful authority of the government to pass laws or take actions that would abrogate such freedom.

While not part of the government and not generally bound by the Charter except in limited circumstances, the University has had a longstanding commitment to the values of freedom of expression which has now been formalized in the Freedom of Expression Policy.

Yes, there are limits to free expression on Brock campus and at Brock events.

Freedom of expression does not include the freedom to engage in any illegal or unlawful expression, such as:

  • Harassment or threats
  • Hate speech as set out in the Criminal Code
  • Defamation

Freedom of expression does not include the right to significantly interfere with the expression of another person – for example, shouting over a guest lecturer so that they cannot speak.

In addition, while the University is committed to supporting freedom of expression on campus, it has an obligation to students and employees to ensure that the academic and administrative operations of the University are not impeded. Accordingly, the freedom to engage in expression does not extend to expression that impedes or interferes with the proper operation of the University – for example, completely blocking an entrance or hallway in a way which prevents students or employees from their studies or work. The University may reasonably restrict the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure the proper operation of the University and ensure a safe and conducive work, learning and living environment.

While not an exhaustive list, the following examples illustrate the kinds of expression which are not permitted under the Policy:

  • Speech or conduct that constitutes harassment or discrimination (for definitions of these terms, see the Respectful Work and Learning Environment Policy)
  • Expression that promotes or incites violence or hate
  • Threats of force or violence
  • Inciting violence or hatred against an individual or a group, either verbally or through the display of signs, slogans or symbols
  • Engaging in acts that may endanger the safety of others
  • Causing damage to property

The University is committed to providing a supportive and inclusive work and learning environment for all the entire University community. The University enforces the Respectful Work and Learning Environment Policy and the Student Code of Conduct to help ensure the wellbeing of all of its community members.  If you believe you have grounds to make a complaint of harassment or discrimination, please contact Human Rights & Equity Services. If you believe someone is breaking the law, you can call Campus Security Services at 905-688-5550 x3200 or contact security@brocku.ca. If you believe a student has violated the Student Code of Conduct (through disruptive behaviour or non-compliance with a university policy, for example), you should refer your concerns to Student Life and Community Experience.

The University will continue to work to promote respectful dialogue on campus and support all members of its community. Whether or not you wish to make a complaint, there are support services available for all Brock students and employees.  Please contact Student Wellness and Accessibility, Human Rights & Equity or Human Resources for more information.

The University also provides telephone counselling for students, which is available 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week by calling 1-833-BROCK33.

That depends on the nature of the event. Because of Brock’s responsibilities to its student population, all student events need to be referred to the Student Event Risk Management process.  Depending on the nature, size, and location of the event, an event may require approval through the University’s Student Risk Management Process. Please see the Student Event Risk Management webpage for more information or contact serma@brocku.ca.

Employees who wish to arrange University events on or off campus should reach out to Health, Safety and Wellness to discuss whether and how the risk management process may support them in delivering a successful, safe and inclusive event. Please contact besafe@brocku.ca for more information.

The ultimate aim of the University is to enable events to proceed wherever possible, in compliance with all university policies and processes. Its space booking and risk management processes exist to ensure that the University, and event organizers, meet their responsibilities to event attendees and the broader community to provide a safe and inclusive environment.

No. Events held on campus are not necessarily organized by the University administration. The fact that the University is allowing an event to proceed does not imply the University endorses the event or any ideas expressed at the event.

Yes. You may protest, criticize, or disagree with an event or speaker.

Some ways you may consider protesting that would not likely interfere with their freedom of expression include:

  • Organizing a boycott of their event
  • Holding a peaceful protest rally outside of the venue for the event or speaker
  • Arranging a competing speaker or event
  • Founding a social media group
  • Starting a petition

Please keep in mind that the University is not able to cancel a speaker or event on the basis that the ideas or opinions expressed are unpopular or offensive.

No. The University will not consider the merit of the opinions being expressed when deciding whether to allow an event to proceed.

The classroom, research facilities, and workplace environments are spaces with particular purpose and oversight. Freedom of expression in these environments is subject to the normal authority of the instructor, researcher or supervisor to manage what’s permissible in that space.

For example, an instructor in a classroom may decide whether or not to permit open discussion or questions. The instructor also has the authority to determine when a discussion is going off-topic, or when to end a discussion.

Similarly, faculty members have discretion to insist on order in their offices and the research facilities they manage. These rights are set out the University’s collective agreement with the Brock University Faculty Association and nothing in the Freedom of Expression Policy limits these rights and responsibilities.

Yes, with some limitations. Like a classroom, online spaces may be reasonably moderated depending on the intended purpose for that space.

Online spaces such as social media may also be subject to terms and conditions of use set by the service provider.

No. Although both freedom of expression and academic freedom may both involve freely sharing information, these are different principles that may or may not overlap in certain situations.

Academic Freedom is defined in the University’s collective agreement with faculty as “the freedom to examine, question, teach, and learn, and it involves the right to investigate, speculate, and comment publicly without deference to prescribed doctrine.”

Any concerns or questions regarding the Freedom of Expression Policy, including any complaints of non-compliance, should be directed to the University Secretariat at universitysecretary@brocku.ca.

Complaints are managed according to the Freedom of Expression Complaint Procedure.

Formal complaints must be made in writing, and include:

  1. The name and contact information of the complainant, and their relationship to the University;
  2. The names or positions (if known) of the individual(s) alleged to have breached the Policy;
  3. The date(s) and time(s) of the alleged breach(es) of the Policy; and
  4. A description of the alleged breach(es) of the Policy

Complaints that do not include this information, or that are determined to be outside the scope of the Freedom of Expression Policy, may not be considered or investigated by the University.

Upon receipt and review of a complaint conforming to the Freedom of Expression Complaint Procedure, the University Secretariat will refer the complaint as set out in that Procedure, and inform the complainant.

Annual Reports