Quebec’s Academic Freedom Bill 32 needs major changes, critics say


More ministerial power “goes against the very principles of academic freedom”, a teachers’ association added as consultations on the bill began.

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QUEBEC CITY — The chairman of a committee of experts on academic freedom, former Parti Québécois minister Alexandre Cloutier, believes that the bill resulting from the work of his committee should be amended.

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Cloutier spoke on the first day of consultations on Bill 32Academic Freedom in the University Sector Act, and was one of many people to appear before a parliamentary committee to criticize the bill.

He noted several differences between the report and what was in the bill.

“The first recommendation we are going to make to you is to use the definition of academic freedom as we gave it to you in the report. Honestly… that would solve a lot of problems,” he said.

Cloutier also called for an amendment to section 4 of the bill, so that the government create a “committee” and not a “council” that would act on issues of academic freedom, but “only in the event of a dispute”.

Higher Education Minister Danielle McCann said she accepted Cloutier’s comments “very positively.”

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The most controversial aspect of the bill, also raised on Tuesday by groups representing students and teachers, is Article 6, which gives the Minister of Higher Education the power to “direct an institution to teaching to include in its policy any element indicated by the Minister” or “to have the necessary corrections made.

Cloutier said it was normal for the government to want to enforce the laws, “but at the same time, we have to make sure not to be too intrusive in the autonomy of universities.”

He said the committee should follow Quebec’s law on sexual violence, which gives the government the power to intervene when the law has been broken.

Liberal MP Hélène David said Article 6 seems to be universally hated.

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Jean Portuguais of the Quebec Federation of University Professors (FQPPU) called it “quasi-trusteeship”, while the National Federation of Quebec Teachers (FNEEQ) said that giving such powers to the minister “goes against the very principles of academic freedom” by opening the door to “state interference in university policies”.

The FNEEQ indicated that the Minister should issue general conditions governing the rights and obligations in the establishments.

The Quebec Student Union, which represents 91,000 university students, demanded that the bill be completely repealed.

The union “believes that the government should not legislate academic freedom in universities,” said QSU president Jonathan Desroches.

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He said the government should instead encourage universities to develop statements of principles so they can retain their autonomy.

In his opening remarks, McCann promised to listen to diverse groups and be open to amendments.

“But on the principle of protecting academic freedom and ending self-censorship, we are adamant: there will be no compromise.”

Cloutier, vice-rector of the University of Quebec at Chicoutimi, said his report noted that 60% of professors and 28% of students said they self-censored before using certain words. He says that it is important to legislate, to offer uniform protection to all educational institutions in Quebec.

The government ordered the committee’s report following various incidents in the news, including the suspension of a University of Ottawa professor after a complaint accusing her of using the N-word in a discussion in classroom.

Consultations on the bill, which was tabled on April 6 and which the government is trying to pass before the end of next month’s parliamentary session, continue on Wednesday with the Bureau de coopération interuniversitaire.

  1. Each university must adopt a policy on academic freedom and take steps to ensure compliance with it.

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  2. Quebec announces committee to examine academic freedom and censorship

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