On Oct. 19, Socialist Fightback Students (SFS) Waterloo hosted a public discussion on Premier Doug Ford’s anti-protest law. This event was part of a series of province-wide actions against Ford’s so-called “free speech” mandate for universities and colleges set to be implemented January 2019. Ford’s mandate is in reality an anti-protest law which aims to clamp down on students rightly protesting fascists and racists on campus. Ford’s doublespeak on “free speech” is an attack on our democratic right to protest, and is therefore an attack on free speech.

The Waterloo event brought out 30 people, including club representatives from Students for Palestinian Rights and the GLOW Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity. Jessica Cassell, editor of Fightback magazine, led the discussion. She started by explaining how Ford is forcing universities to sanction any “ongoing disruptive protest that significantly interferes with the ability of [an] event to proceed,” threatening to defund them if they refuse.

Cassell pointed out that protests are an important form of free speech, and that it was only through “disruptive” protests or strikes that workers and students were able to gain many of the civil liberties they enjoy today. She also explained how there is no single definition of what constitutes “disruption” under Ford’s mandate. Is a protest of 100 students disruptive, or must it only be less than 90 students? Are chants disruptive, or must it be a silent protest? In practice, such questions are left to unelected university administrations to decide.

It is clear whose speech will be protected and whose speech will be muzzled with this mandate. The far-right groups that spew their hate speech on campus are the ones getting a helping hand from their friend Doug Ford. It is ordinary students and marginalized individuals that lose with this policy, since they are being stripped of an important weapon in the fight against oppression: the right to protest.

Cassell’s talk was followed by an open discussion, in which attendees voiced their deep concerns for the rights of oppressed groups and drew links with the decay of capitalism as a whole. Among the topics raised was how to effectively fight right-wing populism, as well as the tactics used at Waterloo in response to far-right and white nationalist speakers such as Faith Goldy, invited to Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) by student Lindsay Shepherd under the guise of “free speech”. Fightback activists highlighted the need for the trade unions and student unions to mobilize rallies and demos against Ford’s anti-protest law. Only through unity and militant class struggle can we effectively defeat Ford’s anti-working class policies.

Waterloo far-right activities must be protested

If any place in Ontario has experienced far-right activities under the guise of free speech, it has been Waterloo, with the events organized by Shepherd and her group Laurier Society for Open Inquiry (LSOI) at WLU. While portrayed by the media as an innocent victim of university censorship, Shepherd has used her newfound fame to organize events featuring public figures known for their neo-Nazi sympathies such as Goldy, who was invited by the LSOI to speak on the need to create a white ethno-state in Canada. The LSOI has also invited Frances Widdowson, a university professor who has whitewashed Canada’s residential school system, and most recently Meghan Murphy, an anti-trans feminist who claims that trans inclusion hurts the women’s movement. Fascists, racists, and transphobic ideas are not supported by the overwhelming majority of students on this campus, hence the protests held against them. Students have a right to protest ideas and actions which demonize marginalized groups, and must do so lest these ideas become normalized. The proliferation of such hateful sentiments shows just how urgent it is for the student community to collectively mobilize and defy Ford’s anti-protest law.

As of now, the University of Waterloo has not denied that it will implement the anti-protest law as per Ford’s request. Student activists should therefore place no faith in the administration to resist Ford’s mandate. It is vital to bring together left-wing, labour, and community organizations on campus to mobilize and tell the administration that curtailing our democratic rights will not be tolerated. It is up to us to put fire under their feet and force them to reject Ford’s mandate. We encourage all students and student clubs who are interested in getting involved in the campaign against Ford’s anti-protest law to contact us.

For more information on the anti-protest law, you can read our in-depth analysis of it here.

To sign the petition against the law, follow the link here.

To follow and participate in Fightback’s province-wide campaign against Ford’s new law, see the schedule of events here.