[Ed. note: the piece below is offered by Dennis Denisoff, who attended a meeting of the Centre for Free Expression on behalf of ACCUTE in June, and was originally published in our newsletter. ACCUTE members may propose opinion pieces for the blog, provided they engage issues of interest to the broader ACCUTE membership; they are subject to editing for length and other matters. Opinion pieces do not necessarily represent the opinion of ACCUTE or its membership.]
On June 2, 2015, roughly two dozen of us met in an airy room with glass walls looking out at other airy rooms with glass walls – all a stone’s throw from the Covenant House Homeless Youth Shelter, the Evergreen Centre for Street Youth, and some family and women’s shelters whose addresses are not shared. We had been invited by James Turk, the director of Ryerson University’s Centre for Free Expression, to take part in a forum discussing areas of concern on which the Centre might focus, and ways in which it can go about most effectively acting on these concerns.
I was there as the representative for ACCUTE. Other attendees included Hilary Homes – the acting manager of Amnesty International, Brenda McPhail – researcher for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, Rejean Hoilett – President-Elect of the Canadian Federation of Students, Arnold Amber – President of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, and various members of the journalism, library, and writing communities of the Greater Toronto Area and related national associations.
In preparation for the forum, I had read a number of articles on the subject of free expression as it related to current Canadian politics. The discussion took place on the same day as the release of the final report of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and I thought this might be the focus of our discussion; however, this did not turn out to be the case. Rather, the members of the forum raised a range of other topics as well. These included access to information laws, the reduction in government data gathering, a growing sense of selfsurveillance, the closing of libraries, and censorship. With a high contingent of participants working in journalism, much of the conversation was framed within this context, but there were also discussions during the two hours of library- and university-related issues. My concerns regarding the recent loss of funding for the Disraeli Project at Queen’s University was perhaps not met with quite the incensed reaction for which I had hoped, but it was recognized as belonging to the discussion.
Members of the forum spent a major portion of our time discussing issues around curtailments to gaining information that can then be researched, analyzed, and shared with others, including the public at large. As for what the Centre itself might do to enhance free expression, key ideas included the following:
- Creating a central repository or set of resources and contacts readily available to the public
- Developing a speakers bureau so that various associations and groups can more easily arrange speakers on subjects of free expression
- Facilitating discussions and debates of particularly difficult or contentious issues
- Developing education materials for Ryerson students and the public in general, while leveraging research and interests into developing new groups of scholars working together on related issues
- Organizing events of public interest and garnering national attention through regular announcements regarding impediments to free expression
I opened this post with a mention of the Centre’s own location in Toronto’s urban core. Free expression includes both the right to access the views and information of others, and the right to express one’s views through effective media. If there is perhaps one area in which I believe the Centre can give particular attention as it develops, it is to recognize the disenfranchised members of its own immediate community and assist individuals such as homeless youth and abused people in overcoming their unique hurdles to the expression of their own concerns and needs.