Landing : Athabascau University

Permissions for research surveys??

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By Rory McGreal September 25, 2012 - 12:15am Comments (4)

The last I heard, Canada was a free country and anyone has the right to ask anyone anything without permission.  I have been asked to give my permissions for researchers to survey my students.  As far as I know, it is up to each student whether or not they participate. My permission is not necessary.
I support  research and I have no objections and would encourage any student to participate, but I am not giving consent to a process that is unnecessary and in opposition to the spirit of the Canadian Charter of Rights. In Canada you do not need permission to ask questions or conduct surveys. You may, as a researcher, request co-operation from the institution and the teacher. That is quite different than requesting permission.

Am I mistaken on this???



  • sarah beth September 25, 2012 - 12:29am

    Has access to research subjects ever been taken up as a Charter issue? I would be interested in learning more about how various aspects of academic research are understood as "free expression" or other kinds of rights. I had understood that we don't have the same kind of "freedom of speech" in Canada that they do in the US. 

    (I feel like I should at least offer helpful speculation. The only reasonable reasons for asking permission that I can come up with are 1) an ethics thing: making sure you won't penalize students who participate, or 2) a courtesy thing: making sure you don't feel like the researchers went behind your back. But count me firmly in the "better to apoligize later" camp anyway.)

  • Rory McGreal September 27, 2012 - 4:32am


    I was concerned that the university was requesting my formal permission to speak with my students. I would appreciate an informal request or simple notification. The problem with formal permission is in a scenario where  a professor does not want anyone to know what is happening in his/her course and researchers are doing an investigation. A prof has every right to not co-operate but he/she has no right to prevent anyone asking questions.

    All the best.


  • sarah beth September 27, 2012 - 1:08pm

    Oh, for sure. I could scrape up a couple of plausible reasons, but I don't find either especially compelling. 

    I was just curious about your claim that asking permission goes against the spirit of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Whether it does or not, that doesn't mean asking permission is a good idea -- I'm just interested in the ways we leverage "rights" and their enforcement in academic and research contexts. The libertarian-style argument that I can say anything I want to anyone I want because I have freedom of speech isn't quite what the Charter provides. Whether or not Canadian courts will hear an issue as a Charter issue (and give the person complaining standing to make the case) is a big deal. 

    I did a search to learn more about whether access to research subjects might be covered by freedom of expression, and I didn't find anything about that, but I found a good summary of some related issues in an opinion on Charter protection of privacy and the confidentiality of academic research, and a couple of bulletins from CAUT about academic freedom and freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and the Quebec student strikes. It was a neat way to get sidetracked from what I should be doing! I'm glad you provided an excuse to look it up, and I would be very curious to hear more about how academic research and the Charter have interacted. 

  • an unauthenticated user of the Landing January 30, 2013 - 7:53pm

    I do not know what the context of the question is and I would welcome an explanation.

    My understanding of what I think the issue is, is that survey's conducted for research at Canadian universities are governed by the Tri-Council Policy Statement (TCPS) Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans.  Anyone affiliated with a Canadian university who conducts research (including surveys) with humans that does not comply with that policy can lose their tri-council (NSERC, SSHRC, CIHR) funding.

    - Jamie B.