Message from President Jacques Frémont to our uOttawa Community
Ottawa, March 30, 2021 -
Dear members of the uOttawa community,
In recent months, polarizing events concerning the nature and limits of academic freedom and the responsibility of the University of Ottawa as an academic and research institution have generated a great deal of turmoil in public opinion and exposed some divisions within our own academic community.
In light of these events, and in an ongoing effort to reconcile the issues at stake, namely those related to academic freedom, including freedom of expression, the institutional autonomy of universities, and the values of equity, diversity, and inclusion, the University of Ottawa has asked former justice the Honourable Michel Bastarache, C.C., Q.C. to chair a new committee. This committee will assist the University in better fulfilling its mission of teaching, conducting research, and serving the members of our community, both Anglophone and Francophone alike. It will be mandated to independently review the following subjects in order to issue recommendations on:
- The issues at stake, including those involving: academic freedom, including freedom of expression and the institutional autonomy of universities; equity, diversity, inclusion and the pursuit of true equality with the inherent legal aspects of these issues;
- The challenges that these issues present for the University of Ottawa, a bilingual university, in fulfilling its mission of teaching, conducting research, and serving the community;
- The lessons learned from similar incidents that have occurred at the University of Ottawa and elsewhere in Canada; and
- The best approaches and mechanisms to be used by members of the administration and University community for reconciling the issues at stake and in such situations as they arise.
The committee will consult members of the University community, conduct the research it deems necessary, and submit its report to the President, the Senate, and the Board of Governors. This committee will reflect the diversity of the faculty members and will submit its report in the summer of 2021.
In closing, I also wish to reaffirm the University of Ottawa’s deep dedication to the Francophonie and its longstanding and ongoing commitment to promoting and protecting the interests of the Francophone community, at the regional, national, and international levels. This commitment – my own and ours as a community – is more crucial than ever. And it is with this in mind that Professor Sanni Yaya, our Vice-President, International and Francophonie, will soon launch a series of consultations within the faculties to determine the best ways to fulfill this commitment, both here and abroad.
To learn more about this announcement, I invite you to watch my speech on the creation of this new committee or read my complete statement to learn more about today’s announcement.
President, University of Ottawa
About The Honorable Michel Bastarache, C.C., QC
Mr. Justice Bastarache, B.A., LL.L., LL.B., D.E.S. received eight honorary degrees. He was called to the Bar in six provinces. He worked for the New Brunswick and federal governments. He was Vice-President and Director of Marketing at Assumption Life, later President and Chief Executive Officer of Assumption Life and its subsidiaries. He was law professor and Dean at the University of Moncton Law School and Associate Dean, Common Law Section, University of Ottawa. He practised law in Ottawa and in Moncton. Mr Bastarache was appointed to the Court of Appeal of New Brunswick in 1995 and the Supreme Court of Canada in 1997. Mr Justice Bastarache retired from the court in 2008 and practices law under his own name. Mr Bastarache was a member of the Interim Constitutional Court of Kenya. He was also Commissioner for La Commission d’enquête sur la nomination des juges au Québec. He was the Independant conciliator for the indemnification of victims of sexual abuse for the dioceses of Bathurst and Moncton. He is now the Independent conciliator for the indemnification of the female members of the RCMP victims of sexual harassment. He is vice president of the Administrative Tribunal of the Association of American States in Washington. He is editor and principal author of three books and was awarded a dozen awards, especially Companion of the Order of Canada and Officier de la Légion d’honneur.
Dear members of the uOttawa community,
I understand and share your devotion to our University and its values. And I know that the period of turbulence we have experienced over the past several months has upset many of us. I am speaking to you today to update you on the situation.
The comments of one of our professors on Twitter have have made our University the glaring focus of media attention.
Our institution, like other universities, must strongly condemn all forms of racism and discrimination. We are a single, unified community where everyone must have the opportunity to study, teach, and work in an environment of mutual respect and collaboration.
The debates we may have at home, or amongst ourselves, must be candid. However, I will never agree that a fight against a given cause should serve as a pretext to insult other groups. We cannot overstate it: the outrageous tone, rhetoric, and nature of certain tweets published over the past few days that rehash prejudices about Quebec and Quebecers are completely unacceptable. They have hurt several people, both inside and outside of our community.
This recent controversy takes us, once again, back to the basic principles of our mission: academic freedom, including freedom of expression, the institutional independence of universities, and values of equity, diversity, and inclusion.
All universities in our country and in North America must deal with these types of situations. We must draw from our experiences, and those of others, to find the best ways to reconcile the principles at stake and we must also ensure that we have at our disposal all the tools we need to manage such situations. These issues must be discussed and analyzed not in the space of 280 characters, but in a methodical, thoughtful and composed way, as one would expect at a university.
In light of these developments, Honourable Michel Bastarache, C.C., Q.C., has agreed to chair an independant group that will review the lessons to be learned from recent incidents that have occurred both here and elsewhere in Canada. He will be assisted by uOttawa professors and will seek out the engagement of members of our community. By late summer 2021, this group will publish a report that will be made public.
Moreover, the debates of the past few months have also highlighted the enriching and challenging nature of a bilingual university. They have revealed that bilingualism is not only a simple combination of English and French languages, but also one that involves cultural issues that often converge but may sometimes diverge. Let me be clear: the University of Ottawa remains strongly attached to its Francophone roots. More than ever, we must take note of this legacy and use it as a catalyst that is even more central to our actions. At a time when access to higher education in French in Ontario and elsewhere in Canada has never been more threatened, we are called upon to do more. We owe it to ourselves and to La Francophonie of Ontario, Canada and beyond.
Therefore, I have asked Professor Sanni Yaya, the Vice-President, International and Francophonie, to mobilize Francophone forces on our campus. He will listen to them and take into consideration their dreams, hopes, and ideas. I am sure there will be many voices to be heard and it will be important to take into account how opinions differ and the nuances from each faculty as well as the multifaceted dimensions of the Francophonie on campus. I know that he can count on your support. His new recommendations will complement our current Action Plan for the Francophonie.
Until then, I expect that we will put aside our differences and participate in good faith in the two initiatives being launched today, so that, together we can shape our collective future.
President and Vice-Chancellor