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CAUT statement on police actions against peaceful protesters on campus

(Ottawa – May 10, 2024) The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) defends the right to free expression and assembly on university and college campuses and condemns those institutions that have or are threatening to have police forcibly remove and arrest peaceful protesters.

Universities and colleges must be places that foster debate, dialogue and free expression. The forcible removal and heavy-handed arrests of peaceful student protesters who pose no demonstrable threat to campus safety are inimical to the mission of post-secondary institutions and contrary to the democratic rights expressed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

CAUT policy emphasizes that police and campus security services must never be used to constrain academic freedom, free expression or peaceful assembly. The police should be permitted to intervene on campus only where there is a clear and imminent threat of violence, violation of criminal law by an assembly, or a serious violation of the rights of others. Simply asserting that peaceful assemblies are “trespassing” on university or college property is not justification enough for abrogating fundamental democratic rights.

University and college leaders have a positive obligation to defend expressive freedoms and the autonomy of their institutions. They fail in that duty when they capitulate to political and donor pressure to silence debate.

Academic institutions must be places that encourage dialogue in the pursuit of understanding and knowledge. There is no justification for police crackdowns on peaceful assemblies on campus.