The head of the Concordia University Black Student Union is criticizing the Quebec government for introducing a new bill that would allow professors to freely use racial slurs in the classroom.

"I think that it's a slap in the face for students," said Amaria Phillips, the union's president.

Phillips said she fears the bill would traumatize racialized students in light of previous instances of teachers using racial slurs during lectures.

"We don't feel comfortable. Especially when you're in a predominantly white school or in a predominantly white class, I don't feel okay with my non-Black professors saying the N-word," Phillips said.

Quebec's Higher Education Minister, Danielle McCann, tabled Bill 32 on Wednesday to promote academic freedom, which the proposed legislation defined as: "the right of every person to engage freely and without doctrinal, ideological or moral constraint in an activity through which the person contributes, in their field of activity, to carrying out the mission of such an educational institution."

"Censorship has no place in our classrooms … we must protect the teaching staff from censorship," she said.

"In fact, we will be able to use any word in the pedagogical, academic context, and obviously according to ethical standards, scientific rigour," McCann added.

Verushka Lieutenant-Duval, a part-time professor at the University of Ottawa, was suspended in September of 2020 after using the N-word during an art and gender class discussion.

She later apologized, but her colleagues who were pushing for her reinstatement said that banning the use of the word would limit their ability to teach some literature by Quebec writers who use the term.

The suspension sparked a heated debate in Quebec. The province created a committee on academic freedom in reaction to reports about professors in the province who avoided teaching controversial material out of fear of confrontation with students.

The committee released a report last December that said that post-secondary classrooms should not be considered safe spaces and that trigger warnings shouldn't be used in the classroom.

With the introduction of the Act respecting academic freedom in the university sector, Phillips hopes that the focus shifts more on Black history in university classrooms, rather than just the slur.

"A lot of [teachers] they're not even really teaching what it means to say the N-word and the impact that it has had in the past and it has in the present, they're just saying it for the thrill of it," she said.

"We've heard many stories … in Montreal that have happened with professors purposefully saying it and it's like it's not even being said for a purpose of education like they're claiming."

Close to 30 student unions across Quebec signed a joint statement on Wednesday calling the bill an "attack" on educational institutions.

"It's a call for repression of the student community and a populist means to rally the population against progressive ideas," the statement said. The student unions said the bill instrumentalizes academic freedom in order to claim the right to make discriminatory or provocative remarks.

"Academic freedom doesn't protect the right to say anything," the statement read. "Rather, it protects the rigorous pursuit of knowledge, the pursuit of a just and egalitarian society, and the challenge of power by scholars."

If passed, universities would have one year to create an academic freedom policy and a council to oversee any complaints filed.

Minister McCann was asked Wednesday about how she can defend the use of such slurs in the classroom and she responded by saying the bill would protect racialized students.

"This is a very important question because I'm very sensitive to those students. It's in their interest to have this bill because I think universities have a very important role in society and the students … I meet them regularly and I understand. But at the same time we have to preserve the learning. It has to be of high quality. They have to be able to debate and that is why academic freedom is so important for them also to debate those subjects," McCann said.

"When you talk about a book where there's a word that may shock you, well, there should be a dialogue about that."

If passed, Bill 32 would also mandate universities in Quebec to appoint a person responsible for implementing the policy and grant the government powers to make corrections to a university's policy deemed non-compliant.

The current session at the National Assembly wraps up in June. 

With files from CTV News' Kelly Greig and The Canadian Press