MONTREAL -- A petition defending intellectual freedom at Quebec's universities has been filed on the National Assembly website.

The petition calls for the government to introduce a bill guaranteeing professors' rights to “research and transmit knowledge” free of “doctrinal constraint” or “external pressure.”

It was launched by France Morin, a retiree from Saguenay. Parti Quebecois MNA Sylvain Gaudreault, who represents the Jonquiere riding, agreed to sign the petition as well as table it in the National Assembly.

The debate over what words are acceptable became a hot issue in Quebec after a University of Ottawa professor came under fire for using the N-word in class.

In an interview, Morin expressed concerns about the current climate on university campuses, saying teachers should be free to “talk about what has been done, what has been said and what has been written” in both contemporary times and the past.

Morin called for “clear guidelines” to defend freedom of expression, saying she understands the sensibilities of people who are offended by certain words or historical episodes. Morin said she is against banning certain words.

“You have to remember where you come from,” she said. “We must not forget the mistakes of the past. You have to be able to name them because they existed, you can't pretend it never happened. By naming them, by accepting them, we make sure we won't repeat them.”

Gaudreault, a former university teacher, said using certain words must be permitted “with the necessary nuance.”

He pointed to his own trip to the island of Goree, off the coast of Senegal, which made him aware of the history of slavery as teaching him that professors must be able to tackle all subjects.

“It's to be able to develop a general culture, a critical sense of the world around us,” he said. “A word can be loaded today but you have to be able to explain its context, what it means. This is the primary role of universities.”

Gaudreault said a framework law would protect professors and lecturers.

“It's not for me to tell a teacher what to do. The only thing I can do as a parliamentarian is work to guarantee academic freedom. It would be a misnomer to say what to teach.”

Last Saturday, Quebec Premier Francois Legault published a Facebook post saying that “a handful of radical activists” were going too far in censoring words and works in universities and promised his administration would look at the issue.