Government of Alberta silent on free speech protections for elementary students

‘We haven't incorporated specifically the Chicago principles,' or another free speech policy for K-6th grade, Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides told Rebel News.

Government of Alberta silent on free speech protections for elementary students
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The Government of Alberta supports free speech protections on college campuses, but has not committed to adopting the “Chicago principles” for elementary and secondary school students.

“We haven't incorporated specifically the Chicago principles,” Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides told Rebel News

At the instruction of former premier Jason Kenney, Alberta’s 26 publicly funded colleges and universities were compelled to endorse free speech guidelines known as the Chicago principles, or develop a separate, consistent policy. All institutions complied with the deadline of December 15, 2019.

Last February, a Leger survey found that 80% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that universities should mandate free speech. 

“There really is an appetite for letting speakers and professors speak their minds on campus,” said Ian Large, executive vice-president for Leger in Alberta. “I think that’s [a powerful] message.

The survey followed controversy regarding former Mount Royal University (MRU) professor Frances Widdowson, who planned a contentious talk at the University of Lethbridge on the topic of residential schools last year.

Roughly 2,500 students petitioned to cancel her address on “woke” university policies and their threats to academic freedom.

The University of Lethbridge then rescinded the space previously offered to the former professor in solidarity with victims of residential schools and in support of reconciliation.

“It should be for students, not university administrators, to decide whether to listen to a speech,” Nicolaides said at the time.

MRU fired Widdowson in 2021 after she questioned the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s labelling of the residential school system as an act of genocide.

The minister clarified that his comments should not be misconstrued as support for statements by Widdowson. 

Nevertheless, the protest prompted free speech report cards for public universities by the provincial government.

“Post-secondary campuses are where learners [can] develop critical thinking, communication, and debate skills. For that to occur, students must be able to engage with different ideas and viewpoints,” Nicolaides earlier told Rebel News.

“I will continue to explore other steps our government can take to protect freedom of speech on campus.”

However, a similar willingness has not been demonstrated in earlier education.

On Friday, the Government of Alberta tabled changes to its kindergarten to grade 6 social studies curriculum that include the adoption of First Nations, Métis and Inuit content in grades 1, 2 and 3.

Content on discrimination and racism has also been added in grades 3 and 6, according to a technical briefing.

Nicolaides clarified that students learn about free speech as a fundamental right and principle in early education.

“There is content in elementary … that focuses specifically on civics and citizenship,” said the minister.

“Under that stream … they learn about opinions, they learn about developing opinions, they learn about fundamental rights and freedoms as well,” he added.

73% percent of respondents to the Leger poll aged 18-to-34 said all viewpoints, except hate speech, should be welcomed on campuses. Older demographics supported that statement in even greater numbers.

53% of respondents in the younger age group added that controversial views should be barred from post-secondary education, while older groups supported that sentiment in the mid-30s to low-40s percent range.

Almost two-thirds (64%) of post-secondary students support legislative protections for free speech.

The majority of decided voters supported government intervention to allow for the free exchange of ideas, including Conservative voters (78%) and their NDP counterparts (53%).

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