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Quebec Academic Freedom Bill: More clarity needed, says CAUT

(Ottawa – April 7, 2022) The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) is welcoming parts of the Quebec government’s proposed bill on academic freedom, but says important clarifications and amendments are needed to ensure academic staff retain already existing legal rights.

CAUT Executive Director David Robinson says it is encouraging that the legislation has adopted a broad and liberal interpretation of academic freedom as encompassing the right of academic staff to teach, to research, to participate in and criticize the governance of their institutions, and to engage in public debate and criticism without institutional censorship.

“This comprehensive understanding of academic freedom is already recognized in legally binding collective agreements negotiated between academic staff associations and university administrations,” Robinson notes. “For almost all academic staff in Quebec, academic freedom is legally codified in and enforced through collective agreements. When disputes arise, they can be adjudicated through the mandatory labour arbitration process, which provides for an expert and independent dispute forum with legally binding decisions.”

Robinson says the proposed legislation might help extend legal protections to those, such as academic administrators, who are not covered by academic freedom language in collective agreements, but it should not contradict or conflict with the legal rights and enforcement tools available in labour law.

“Access to an independent adjudication process, as provided by Quebec’s labour law, is absolutely essential. The legislation’s requirement that universities create a council to hear academic freedom cases raises questions about the independence of those bodies if they are constituted by university administrations, as well as jurisdictional issues with the province’s mandatory labour arbitration process.”

“For academic staff, the strongest protection for academic freedom in Quebec and the rest of Canada has been through labour law,” says Robinson. “The legislation should not jeopardize that legal foundation.”

CAUT encourages the government of Quebec to work with the province’s academic staff associations to refine and clarify the legislation.