Skip to main content Skip to local navigation
Home » Limitations to Freedom of Expression at York University

Limitations to Freedom of Expression at York University

Three students in discussion outside the second student centre

KEY PRINCIPLE: York University recognizes that freedom of expression is always subject to reasonable limits.

Broadly, the freedom of expression is not without certain limitations. These limits exist to prevent harm. These limitations are ‘reasonable’ where they allow the broadest amount of freedom of expression without inhibiting the real safety of individuals or the legal and planned objective of an event. A non-exhaustive list of examples of legal limitations on expression is included below.

In addition, at York University, there are limits on expression that are incompatible with the statutory mandate of the institution. The objects and purposes of York University, as set out in its governing statute, include the advancement of learning and the dissemination of knowledge, as

well as the intellectual, spiritual, social, moral and physical development of its members and the betterment of society. Some kinds of expression are inimical to and destructive of these objectives and are therefore limited at York University.

Examples of these limitations on expressive activities at York University include:

  1. unprotected expressions, and
  2. the creation of an intimidating and hostile environment

Unprotected Expressions

The following examples of expressive activity exceed the limits of free expression and are prohibited at York University:

  • hate speech, including speech that vilifies the targeted group by:
    • blaming its members for the current problems in society
    • alleging that its members are a “powerful menace”
    • alleging that members of the group are carrying out secret conspiracies to gain global control or plotting to destroy western civilization 
    • suggesting its members are engaged in illegal or unlawful activities
    • suggesting that its members are themselves illegal or unlawful, such as by labelling them as “pure evil”
    • describing its members as animals or as subhuman, or calling into question whether group members qualify as human beings
  • violence or threats of violence, including intimidation designed to instill a sense of fear in its recipient
  • harassment (engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome), including:
    • physical harassment
    • sexual harassment
    • harassment through digital means
    • stalking
    • hazing
  • advocacy of genocide
  • discrimination against or promoting hatred against an identifiable group
  • expressive activity that is directly incompatible with the objects of York University, which include the advancement of learning, dissemination of knowledge and the betterment of its members. This includes expressive activity that:
    • degrades, denigrates or vilifies persons or groups
    • harasses persons or groups
    • creates an intimidating or hostile environment for York University members such as by bullying or engaging in a course of vexatious or bad faith comments or conduct
  • conduct otherwise creating an intimidating or hostile environment to members of York University

Such expressive activity is not protected regardless of the medium in which it is expressed, including whether that is in-person, through visual or audio media (such as signs, posters, and songs), on an internet platform or social media, or through telephone, broadcasting or other audible or visible means.

As set out in the Code of Students Rights and Responsibilitiesin exercising their freedom of expression, York University students have the responsibility to behave in a way that does not harm or threaten to harm another person’s physical or mental wellbeing and the responsibility to uphold an atmosphere of civility, honesty, equity, and respect for others, thereby valuing the inherent diversity in the University community.

The Creation of an Intimidating or Hostile Environment

Members of the York Community are entitled to express points of view or opinions that are controversial and offensive, and which others may find uncomfortable and disturbing. Free and open inquiry and debate are essential to the advancement of learning and the achievement of York University’s aims.

However, if the expression moves from advocacy for a particular view to targeting persons or groups on the basis of that view, it creates an intimidating and hostile environment and exceeds the limits of free expression. The creation of an intimidating or hostile environment is prohibited at York University. 

Example: Students who express a political position that other students find disagreeable, or distressing would still be protected by freedom of expression. However, if the students advocating that position began to target those who disagreed by bullying, harassing, or otherwise repeatedly engaging in bad faith comments or conduct, that expression is not protected.