Canada: student protests suppressed under guise of free speech

 On 30 August, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced he would be forcing universities to adopt an Orwellian “free speech” policy. Under these new rules, student clubs may be dissolved and individual students may face expulsion for simply protesting far-right speakers on campus.

This includes our supporters in Canada belonging to Socialist Fightback Students, who have played a leading role in protests against the far right on campus, and are thus in the direct line of fire.

In response, Socialist Fightback Students and other groups have organised rallies and protests across Ontario against this new anti-protest law. They have also released a petition, which you can sign here. We ask our readers to show their support by signing the petition and sharing it on social media. This law is a direct attack on the rights of students, and must be resisted by all means necessary.

We reproduce here an article on the anti-protest law published in ‘Fightback’ (marxist.ca)


On 30 August, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced he will force all universities and colleges in Ontario to enforce a so-called “free speech policy”. Let us be very clear: this ‘“free speech policy” is, in reality, an anti-protest law; a muzzle for students who are rightly protesting fascists and racists on campus. This Orwellian doublespeak means that Ford will be defending the “free speech” of his right-wing friends, while at the same time stripping that same right away from students and workers on campus.

Ford has also imposed draconian measures to enforce his anti-protest law. According to this new policy, if universities do not comply with this anti-protest law, their funding will be cut. This hypocritical and anti-democratic act is how Ford will “foster learning environments that encourage freedom of thought and respectful and responsible debate”. Thus, under the cover of “free speech”, Ford is attempting to criminalise the right to protest, which in turn will strengthen his conservative agenda on the campuses. In addition to cutting university funding, this law will also:

  • Remove funding and recognition from student unions who do not wish to be complicit.
  • Result in student clubs that protest hateful groups being defunded and dissolved.
  • Result in individual students being disciplined or even expelled.

These actions will have dire consequences for students and workers on campus who do not wish to be silenced by government bullying.

A safe space for the far right

Shortly before releasing the so-called “free speech policy”, Ford hosted a private party at his house, inviting members of free speech clubs and University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson. Last year, Peterson doxxed an activist from Fightback, opening him up to the professor’s rabid fanbase. This activist and many others were immediately met with death threats, anti-Semitic images, racist slurs, and threats of physical violence against family members. Peterson refused to condemn these actions. Thus, the distance between this polished professor and the fascists is not so wide at all. The fact is that Peterson intentionally mobilised a fascist harassment campaign against left-wing activists on campus. These are the very people Ford aims to protect with his new policy.

800px Faith Goldy Corus Image PvObersteinFormer “Rebel Media” reporter and far-right figurehead Faith Goldy will benefit from Ford’s anti-protest law / Image: PvOberstein

Former “Rebel Media” reporter and far-right figurehead Faith Goldy will also benefit from Ford’s anti-protest law. Goldy has had a rough time on Ontario campuses so far. In August 2017, Faith Goldy was asked to speak at Ryerson University. Fightback played a leading role in organising a protest against this meeting that led to the university administration cancelling Goldy’s booking. This episode took place a couple of weeks after the events of Charlottesville, where neo-Nazis gathered to terrorise students, immigrants, and the black community. These fascists did not gather together for a friendly debate, but were looking for violence and confrontation by carrying fire torches and screaming Nazi slogans on a university campus. One white nationalist drove his car into a large anti-fascist protest killing socialist activist Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others, proving just how violent these groups and the ideas behind them are. Faith Goldy was in Charlottesville at the time to support this murderous rally. A few days later, she spoke on a podcast hosted by the openly neo-Nazi Daily Stormer.

Last March, Faith Goldy was invited to speak at Wilfrid Laurier University on closed borders and immigration. She titled her lecture “Ethnocide: Multiculturalism and European-Canadian Identity”. Students protested this event and the administration cancelled it. If Goldy is going to speak on creating a white ethnostate in Canada—a goal that could only be achieved by genocide and mass deportations—she should not be surprised that the very people she wants murdered will have something to say about the issue.

Last April, Goldy appeared on a YouTube channel with a fellow white supremacist recommending her top reads. On her list of book recommendations is For My Legionaries by Corneliu Codreanu. The author of this book was an anti-Semitic fascist leader who called the Jewish community parasitical to humanity and advocated the complete elimination of Jews. Today, Goldy is running for Toronto mayor on a racist and anti-immigrant platform.

Other groups set to benefit from Doug Ford’s fatherly protection are Proud Boys Canada, who recently commented favourably about the “efficient genocide” of Hitler’s Nazi party. These paragons of polite discussion were also implicated in sabotaging socialist meetings in Hamilton. In another instance, members of the alt-right pulled the fire alarm on a Toronto town hall protesting the inauguration of Donald Trump. Socialist posters have been torn down and vandalised with Nazi graffiti. This all goes to show that the far right does not give a spit about free speech. They are just cowards hiding behind it and colluding with the Ford regime.

Freedom from protest

According to the right wing, the left labels anyone who is offensive and has “controversial” views a “fascist”. As shown by the above examples, some of these people are in fact fascists, even if they play hide-and-seek behind the banner of free speech. While not everyone on the right is a fascist, students nonetheless have a democratic right to protest those promoting right-wing policies. The utmost irony here is that Ford is suppressing those critical of his government, shutting down their clubs, removing their funding, and kicking them out of their studies—and he has the chutzpah to do all this under the banner of free speech!

Ford’s dictat is based upon the University of Chicago’s policy that prohibits “ongoing disruptive protesting that significantly interferes with the ability of an event to proceed”. Socialists defend free speech, which includes the right to protest and organise, but here we see that Ford and the right wing have a very different conception of the term. Free speech does not mean freedom from consequences. Free speech does not mean that you will be immune from the justified anger of those you wish to oppress. Ford made a deal with far-right reactionary forces to win the Tory leadership and is now attempting to use state power to protect them while they spew their hatred with impunity. Are we going to allow Doug Ford to define what constitutes “ongoing and disruptive protest?” Is there a maximum number of people that can attend a protest according to Ford? Are chants allowed? Is there a 45-minute maximum protest allowance? The whole idea is absurd and Orwellian in nature. Ford’s lack of concern for free speech is shown by his willingness to use the notwithstanding clause to overrule the freedom of expression of the people of Toronto. Ford just wants to silence his critics and boost his reactionary friends. The hypocrisy that the free speech advocates will not admit is that Ford’s anti-protest law is an affront to free speech itself.

proudboys Image KarlaAnnCotéReactionaries have only ever been defeated when workers, youth and the oppressed have fought them collectively. We cannot trust the state, only our own forces / Image: KarlaAnnCoté

For socialists, free speech is something that pertains to the state. All should have the right to speak, organise, protest, and demonstrate without being molested by the police or barred from employment and education. However, if your racist, sexist, homophobic speech is so obnoxious to the community that it causes people to turn up to your event and denounce you, you should not be protected from such repercussions. Some liberals and reformists say that the best way to expose the far right is to allow them to speak without protest. In a free and polite exchange of ideas, we are told, people will see the shining truth that is liberal democracy! With all due respect to our liberal and reformist friends, this conception is contradicted by all of world history. Politics is not a parlour game, but a living struggle.

The far right tends to rise when society enters into crisis and the liberal status quo is discredited. We see this happening all around the world today. The only way to defeat anti-establishment right-wing ideas is with anti-establishment left-wing ideas. The racists attempt to blame immigrants and minorities for the crisis in society, while socialists lay the blame on those who actually wield the levers of power—the bosses and the bankers. This is why the right wing does everything in its power to silence these ideas, an effort that is assisted by the liberals when they encourage the left wing not to protest. Reactionaries have only ever been defeated when workers, youth and the oppressed have organised to say they will not allow their oppressors to act with impunity. The 1936 Battle of Cable Street that smashed the British Union of Fascists comes to mind. Even Hitler understood this, stating himself that “only one thing could have stopped us—if our adversaries had, from the first day, smashed with the utmost brutality the nucleus of our movement”.

The far-right: violent in word and deed

The words of the far right are not victimless. Their belief that unemployment and poverty in society are due to immigrants, Muslims, women, and other oppressed groups leads to violent actions. Last January, the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec was the victim of a brutal mass shooting. Alexandre Bissonette, who professed to being an avid Trump supporter, pro-white nationalist, and anti-feminist, murdered six people and wounded a dozen more. Bissonette felt emboldened by the wave of Islamophobia and xenophobia that was peddled not just by far-right nationalist groups, but by politicians and talk radio stations who have used Islamophobia to divide workers. Since the election of Trump, the rise of right-wing populism in Canada has become a reality, and Ford is its new poster child. Given this threat, it is vital that such hateful ideas are vigorously protested lest they become mainstream and lead to further acts of violence.

The reality is that the far right is losing the battle of ideas and organisation. White nationalist gatherings have been met with huge counter-protests in the hundreds and thousands. These protests clearly show how marginalised far-right ideas are in society. In March of this year, alt-right leader Richard Spencer stopped his college campus tours after being met with a string of protests. Due to this mass opposition Spencer said, “antifa is winning” and explained how his tours are no longer any fun. With the far-right movement failing, and being dwarfed by much bigger mobilisation on the left, Ford is trying to extend a lifeline to his racist friends. It is clear that Ford is hypocritically policing free speech for some and allowing it for others, which means that any and all opposition to far-right ideas on campus will be seen as a form of disruptive protest.

Ford’s protest ban will also silence pro-choice activists fighting for the right of women to have a free and safe abortion. On 5 September, Fightback and pro-choice activists protested the disgusting and traumatising images of dead fetuses held up by a religious fundamentalist anti-abortion group at Ryerson student clubs day. Fightback and pro-choice activists held up big banners to cover the traumatizing images and make it known that these misogynistic and sexist images are not welcome on campus. The anti-abortion group soon packed up and left. Many students, especially young women, thanked us for taking a quick stand.

This situation could have ended very differently under Ford’s new policy. Those protesting the anti-abortionists could find themselves harassed by cops and campus security, in the name of defending the “free speech” of fundamentalists attempting to traumatise the community. Their clubs could be de-chartered and de-funded. Students could find themselves under academic discipline. This is why reactionary groups like Campaign Life Coalition are putting their support behind Ford.

Defend the right to organise against the right!

Marxists are the most consistent defenders of democratic rights against state repression. We do not call on the state or university administrations to repress the far right, as such calls are counter-productive. The far right are merely the hired dogs of the bosses and their state, and any laws passed to supposedly police the right will be used against the left while they turn a blind eye to the racists. Students must rely on their own collective strength to mobilise mass protests against fascist and racist speakers on campus. We cannot rely on the bourgeois state to protect our freedom of speech as it can be taken away in an instant. The state will only move against the right wing when their hateful rhetoric provokes an even larger mass mobilisation on the left. The key thing is to mobilise!

stop ford anti protest bill Image FightbackStudents cannot allow Ford to throw the far right a lifeline. The only way we can prevent this is by exercising our own right to protest and assemble / Image: Fightback

It is vital that Ford’s anti-protest law be defied and made impossible to implement. We demand that university administrations uphold the right to protest without state repression or academic sanction. In other words, we demand that universities uphold genuine free speech of those opposed to Doug Ford’s government and his racist allies. The University of Chicago guidelines must be explicitly rejected as an attack on free speech. We also demand that all student unions defy the law, and refuse to be complicit in its implementation. The Canadian Federation of Students must play a lead role in this. Anything less is a betrayal and will lead to a silencing of dissent on campus, and the eventual disappearance of student unionism.

Students cannot allow Ford to throw the far right a lifeline. The only way we can prevent this is by exercising our own right to protest and assemble, a historic right won by the labour movement itself. Students must reach out to the labour movement to join the fight against the suppression of protest. The far right robbed Heather Heyer of her freedom of speech when they mowed her down in Charlottesville last year. We cannot allow them to create the conditions for another atrocity.