November 2, 2018

"Free speech policy" is an attack against democracy, says the YCL-LJC Canada

Special to RY

The Young Communist League – Ligue de la jeunesse communiste (YCL-LJC) issued a statement last week, which denounces the so-called “free speech” directive passed by Doug Ford’s provincial government and urges all progressive and democratic students to oppose and resist this directive by all means possible. It also encourages young people and students across Canada to show support and solidarity with their Ontarian counterparts.

The Free speech directive was agreed on by the Ontario Legislature last August. In essence, it threatens the province’s universities to cut funding if, by January 1st, they haven’t adopted by-laws or other mechanisms to severely punish any so-called attacks on freedom of speech in the university or college. It further states that post-secondary institutions must discipline anyone who would be found guilty of violating said policies. Outlining that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms already protects freedom of expression, the statement also notes that “This use of funding as leverage for compliance with government policy is undemocratic and unconstitutional.”

For young communists, it is clear that albeit purporting defence of freedom of speech, the real aim of this directive is to target progressive groups on campus, including student unions. “The title of the directive is aimed at confusing people. It is telling people ‘you are with this initiative or you are against freedom of speech.’ Our attachment to freedom of expression is clear, and so is our defence of democracy. Let’s not forget that young communists have a long track record in defence of democracy : 1600 people fought fascism in Spain with the in the MacKenzie – Papineau Battalion, a lot of which were young communists. Out of these, merely half came back, which means half were killed. The reality though is that freedom of expression doesn’t entail the right to hateful and inflammatory speech.” says Adrien Welsh, General Secretary of the YCL-LJC.

Indeed, the statement further reads, “Recent years have seen the issue of freedom of speech develop into a weapon through which far-right forces may popularize their ideas under nonsensical claims to protect free speech. “Academics” such as Jordan Peterson and Lindsey Shepherd may, without resistance, portray manufactured concern and pseudo-scientific, conspiratorial claims as if they were serious and rigorous theories by manipulating the prestige conferred by university accreditation.”

In other words, young communists share their concern about the fact that this directive is tailored to allow far-right organizations and ideas to promote their xenophobic, racist, misogynist, anti-LGBTQ+ and their anti-labour speech without resistance as it impedes progressive groups from challenging them on campus. As the statement puts it out, “Genuine freedom of speech includes the freedom of resistance, organization and protest. Yet this very resistance is the main target of this policy, as it seeks to muzzle those who bravely struggle against far-right ideology and the institutions through which it is legitimized: universities are one of few places where capitalist hegemony is questioned, and the Ford government looks to render them sterile.”

The statement concludes by connecting the directive to a severe attack against democracy for the youth, students and progressive people. As such, it calls “on all progressive youth – students and workers – to organize and mobilize on campuses; but also in workplaces and in communities; in order to resist this law which, if implemented, will not only benefit the extreme right, but will also strengthen the Ford government to further its attacks on the social and democratic gains of the working class over the last several years. Less than a year until the next federal election, these motions only benefit the Conservatives, far-right ideologues such as Maxime Bernier, and especially corporate power.”

Peter Miller, member of the CEC of the YCL-LJC and Chair of the Student Commission, summed it up this way in a brief he submitted to the Free Speech Committee on the Windsor University Campus:

Collaborating with the Ford Government and working on this free speech policy sets up a horrible precedent. This directive from the Ford government is a blatant attack on the autonomy of the university which already upholds academic freedom. The Ford Government is threatening the reduction of funding of Universities that do not comply as a way to thwart resistance. Writing a policy is the opposite of what this university should be doing. Instead, we should be resisting this directive from the Ford Government. If Post-Secondary institutions comply with this directive, this will signal to Ford that he can force more undemocratic directives onto other institutions.

Your policy already takes away democratic rights from students and workers on campus. I should have the right to collectively disrupt class and help workers on campus be on strike. It also takes away my right to protest and disrupt hateful and inflammatory speech on campus. Your policy will do exactly what Ford wants it to do. It will hinder the free speech of marginalized groups, groups oppressed by our society who do the most in speaking up against hate speech. Your policy will embolden racist and transphobic bigots like Faith Goldie, Lindsay Shepherd, and Jordan Peterson to speak on our campus. Enough is enough, stop working on this policy and call Ford's bluff. If the school passes this policy, this school will do the opposite of supporting free speech and instead support inflammatory speech at the expense of the marginalized groups on campus it is supposed to serve.

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