‘Campus Freedom Index’ gives free speech a failing grade at Canadian universities

Students discuss a controversial anti-abortion display at the University of Calgary in 2009. Universities were the birthplace of political correctness and now a right-leaning group says that on most Canadian campuses the trend has eroded free speech.

The Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms issued its 2012 Campus Freedom Index, which surveyed 35 Canadian universities and student unions.

It awarded only three A grades, compared with 28 Fs to 12 universities and 26 student unions for things like cancelling campus appearances of controversial speakers to trying to keep out pro-life groups and banning the expression "Israeli apartheid," the National Post reported.

"Everyone's forced to pay for these universities through tax dollars and the universities get the money in part by claiming to be these centres of free inquiry,"  justice centre president John Carpay, who co-authored the report, told the Post.

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"It's fundamentally dishonest for the university to go to the government … and ask for hundreds of millions of dollars on the pretext that they are a centre for free inquiry and then receive the money and turn around and censor unpopular opinions."

The report gives universities an average grade of C for having fairly good policies and principles regarding free speech but said they weren't very good at following them.

Student unions fared worse, scoring an average of D on both policies and actions.

"The index sheds light on the significant role that Canadian student unions play in damaging the free speech climate on campus," the report said.

The report focused on student unions' treatment of pro-life groups, noting 10 denied official certification to pro-life campus clubs based solely on the content of their message and not because of any misconduct, the Post reported.

And while it's pro-life clubs today, Carpay said in the future it could be some other group whose views don't jibe with prevailing opinions.

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The report's findings were panned by student leaders. Adam Awad, national chairman of the Canadian Federation of Students, dismissed the index, telling the Post the methodology was not explained well enough to support the report's conclusions.

Alexander Golovko, president of the Carleton University Students' Association, which earned an F for banning  pro-life clubs, said the index results "are not fully representative of the current state of affairs" at Carleton.

"This year my team and I are striving to ensure there are open and accessible debates on issues that matter to students," he told the Post.

In a lengthy rant, Sun News Network commentator Ezra Levant, said the report reflects the abandonment of free-speech principles that the left embraced in the 1960s, now that their views prevail on university campuses.

[ Related: University of Windsor drops convocation prayer after campus atheists protest ]

The centre's report is likely to come onto Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente's radar. Wente has often decried the entrenchment of political correctness at Canada's institutions of higher learning.

This week she related how Queen's University historian Michael Mason's 50-year career ended ignominiously after some students complained he'd used the terms "rag head," "towel head" and "Japs" during class.

Mason said he wasn't a racist but had used those words in a teaching context to illustrate prevailing attitudes towards minorities in the Second World War period, Wente wrote.

Nevertheless, the university reprimanded the popular 74-year-old professor and suspended him pending further investigation. He's taken a medical leave.

"It's not surprising that this academic mugging happened at Queen's," Wente opined. "This institution has long been obsessed with the politics of gender, race and speech."