Provost’s Lecture Series on Academic Freedom: Sept. 23 with Lynn Smith, O.C. Q.C.

September 08, 2021

You are invited to the first lecture in our Autumn 2021 Provost's Lecture Series on Academic Freedom, on Sept. 23, 2021, with Lynn Smith.

For those unable to attend, this lecture will be recorded and archived at

About the Event:

Academic Freedom and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms: Should Universities be “Charter-Free Zones”?

Lecture by The Honourable Lynn Smith, O.C. Q.C.

Organizer and Moderator: Professor Margaret Schabas, Senior Advisor to the Provost, Academic Freedom

Sept. 23, 2021
5:00 – 6:30 p.m., Sage East, University Centre (6331 Crescent Road)
RSVP by Sept. 22 to (note that in-person capacity is limited)


Canadians often assume that the Charter universally protects rights like freedom of expression and assembly and are surprised to learn that the Charter does not apply everywhere or at all times. Notably, the Supreme Court of Canada held in 1990 that the Charter does not apply to public universities.

The exclusion of universities from Charter application has been questioned by a number of academic writers, who ask why universities should be “Charter-free zones”. They argue that, at a minimum, the freedom of expression guarantees should apply on campus since universities are meant to be locations for the unfettered exploration of ideas. They claim that the Charter's freedom of expression rights harmonize with and support the value of academic freedom. Some lower courts have agreed.

The Supreme Court of Canada has made clear that it will revisit and sometimes reverse its own early Charter decisions – as it did with respect to Criminal Code restrictions on sex work and assisted death and with respect to trade union rights under the freedom of association guarantee.

What if the law changes and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies directly to universities? Would the protection of academic freedom be strengthened, weakened, or remain unaffected, if constitutional freedom of expression rights could be asserted against universities?

This lecture will explore why the answer to those questions is complex. The complexities stem from differences between what is protected by academic freedom and what is protected by freedom of expression and from the significant role that institutional autonomy plays in protecting academic freedom.

View the recording of the lecture.

About The Honourable Lynn Smith

Lynn Smith practised law, taught law at the U.B.C. Faculty of Law (1981-98) and served as its Dean of Law (1991-97).

She was appointed to the Supreme Court of British Columbia in 1998 and sat as a Justice of that Court until her retirement in September 2012.

She teaches a seminar on Charter Litigation at U.B.C.'s Peter A. Allard School of Law and continues to be active in judicial education and continuing legal education.


Physical distancing and COVID-19 protocols will be in place. Due to space capacity, registration is required.

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