Quebec passes controversial bill to protect academic freedom
QUEBEC CITY --
Elected officials in Quebec have passed Bill 32 on Friday to better protect academic freedom in the university environment.
The eight Québec solidaire (QS) MNAs who were present showed their opposition by abstaining from voting.
Bill 32 gives the minister of higher education the right to make "necessary corrections" in educational institutions deemed non-compliant.
The bill has come under fire by students groups and professors alike, who argue it would allow professors to freely use racial slurs in the classroom. The Concordia University Black Student Union referred to it as a "slap in the face" that any word can be uttered in a classroom, as long as it's used in an academic context.
Some 130 professors signed an open letter to the government in the spring, questioning whether the goal of the bill was to protect academic freedom or to "usher in an entirely new bureaucracy for state surveillance of classroom activities."
The letter ominous threat
This article "allows the minister to take the pen and go and write, in place of the universities, the internal policies they must adopt," said QS MNA Alexandre Leduc.
"We wanted to make sure that the National Assembly did not unanimously give the green light to this precedent which, in essence, plays into university autonomy," he said.
When they came to testify before the elected officials, the rectors were opposed to the bill.
But "the last few years have shown us that (academic) freedom is not as much of a given as one might think," Higher Education Minister Danielle McCann said in her closing remarks.
She said she is aware of several "troubling events."
Last year, a University of Ottawa professor was suspended following a complaint that they used the word "N" in a classroom.
"Bill 32 responds to all of the Cloutier Commission's recommendations and incorporates some of its advice," said the minister.
It defines "university academic freedom" and ensures that institutions have a specific policy to recognize, promote and protect it.
Finally, the law ensures that these institutions are accountable for the implementation of their policy.
"Quebec is positioning itself as a forerunner in university academic freedom and the fight against self-censorship," McCann said in a statement released Friday.
"Very concretely, thanks to this bill, all subjects can be discussed and all words can be spoken in an educational context.
"I hope other jurisdictions will follow our model... Universities... must provide an environment for learning, discussion and debate," she concluded.
The National Federation of Quebec Teachers (FNEEQ-CSN) said the amendments made by the minister make Bill 32 "acceptable and relevant."
However, the law "does not guarantee protection for any of our members who criticize the positions of their employer... This is an omission that requires great vigilance," according to FNEEQ-CSN vice-president Christine Gauthier.
The law does not impose an explicit obligation on the management of institutions to take up the cause of employees sued by third parties for the exercise of their academic freedom, the union said.
-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on June 3, 2022. With files form CTV News Montreal