Canadian Universities Pledge
“(W)e [our vice-chancellor and higher education provider] commit to not using Non-Disclosure Agreements to silence people who come forward to raise complaints of sexual harassment, discrimination, abuse or misconduct, or other forms of harassment and bullying."
Signing the pledge means the institutions agree to never use non-disclosure agreements — also known as NDAs, gag orders and confidentiality clauses — in cases involving sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying or other forms of misconduct. They also ensure that victims can speak about their experiences, and that harmful behaviour is not hidden.
The pledge does not apply to NDAs used to protect commercially sensitive information, such as intellectual property and trade secrets.
If you attend a university in Ontario, the Ontario government passed legislation in December 2022 banning universities in that province from using NDAs in cases of faculty/student sexual misconduct (see Strengthening Post-Secondary Institutions Act Schedules 1 and 2). The legislation came into force in July 2023.
We are currently working with universities in other provinces, especially where NDA legislation has been tabled (British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Ontario), to encourage them to take the Pledge.
If you represent an Canadian post-secondary institution, and you want to sign the Pledge on behalf of your institution, please contact Stacey Buchholzer at firstname.lastname@example.org
How the Pledge Began
On January 18, 2022, Michelle Donelan, Minister for Further and Higher Education in England, announced that universities must stop using NDAs in complaints of sexual harassment, bullying and other forms of misconduct. She said, “I am determined to see this shabby practice stamped out on our campuses.”
Because of the time it would take to legislate, especially during a divisive period in the English government, this voluntary pledge was a first step backed by Minister Donelan and Can’t Buy My Silence. The Pledge committed a signatory university to:
“…commit to not using Non-Disclosure Agreements to silence people who come forward to raise complaints of sexual harassment, abuse or misconduct, or other forms of harassment and bullying.”
With the initial support of four university Vice-Chancellors and ongoing lobbying by student union groups, by May 2022 — just four months into the campaign — the number of university pledgers had risen to 58. (This includes additional pledgers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which do not fall within the jurisdiction of the English Minister of Education.) A policy for reporting and investigating alleged breaches of the Pledge has also been developed.
On February 7, 2023, English Parliament voted through an amendment to the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, which requires all English universities and their constituent colleges to stop using non-disclosure agreements to cover up sexual misconduct, harassment and bullying. The bill will be in force in early 2024, and there are currently 90 English university and constituent colleges that have pledged.
Legislative Change In Canada
Legislative change has moved much faster in Canada. Provincial bills have been tabled in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia which extend the same ban on abusive NDAs to all workplaces — including universities — in cases of harassment, discrimination and other abuses. A ban went into effect in PEI in July 2022.
In May of 2023, Senator Marilou McPhedran tabled the federal Can’t Buy Silence Act, which would bar federally funded agencies from using federal dollars to fund or enforce NDAs in cases of harassment and discrimination.
In addition, an amendment to legislation on sexual violence prevention in Ontario universities and colleges that was passed by a cross-party coalition of MPs became law in 2022. This prevents Ontario universities and colleges from enforcing any agreement that directly or indirectly prohibits the institution, or anyone related to the institution, from disclosing an allegation or complaint that an employee committed an act of sexual misconduct toward a student.
Can’t Buy My Silence has begun the University Pledge work across Canada, in particular in the provinces where legislation has been introduced to build support and public awareness of NDA abuse in universities.
Nova Scotia Universities Become First in Canada to Take The Pledge
Can't Buy My Silence worked with two major Nova Scotia universities, Acadia University and University of King's College, and on December 7, 2023, they made history by becoming the first post-secondary institutions in Canada to voluntarily sign a pledge vowing not to use non-disclosure agreements, or NDAs, in cases of harassment, discrimination and other abuses.
“This is an important pledge we’re proud to sign. The misuse of NDAs can create a harmful culture of silence surrounding sexual violence, harassment, and other forms of abuse,” said Dr. Jeff Hennessy, President and Vice-Chancellor of Acadia. “It’s important that victims and our community not only recognize the support readily available but also feel empowered to openly share their experiences.”
“For a long time now, King’s has been engaged in difficult and necessary work to create the cultural shift required so that our community is truly safe and welcoming to all,” said University of King’s College President William Lahey. “By adopting this pledge, we are taking an important step forward on that journey.”
“We applaud Acadia and King’s for taking this important step to protect students, faculty and staff,” says Dr. Julie Macfarlane, Emerita Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Windsor and Member of the Order of Canada, who co-founded Can’t Buy My Silence with Zelda Perkins, the first person to break her NDA with Harvey Weinstein. “Leaders in academia, government, business and other areas of society are beginning to understand the harm that NDAs do, and they’re standing up and saying, ‘This is unacceptable.’
"It’s high time we put an end to this shameful practice and adopt policies that ensure survivors get to speak their truth,” said Dr. Macfarlane. “And the institutions leading that charge will be on the right side of history.”
Please check to see if your university has signed the pledge (See list below) and if not, please consider sending them this letter urging them to do so!
The following universities have signed the Pledge to stop using NDAs in cases of sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying and other forms of misconduct. This list is updated weekly.
University of King's College - Nova Scotia
Acadia University - Nova Scotia
Columbia College - British Columbia
Can't Buy My Silence reserves the right to remove the name of a Pledge signatory if there is evidence the Pledge has been breached. Only if/when there is a satisfactory resolution to the alleged breach will the name of the provider be reinstated on the list of signatories.
GUIDELINES FOR IMPLEMENTATION
Guidelines for Implementation of the Pledge have been drafted with the team at CBMS. These are important for the practical implementation of the Pledge, and we encourage you to share them with your own university.