Potential Legal Liabilities Arising from Proposed “Dissent and Dialogue” Programme

Parliamentary Question, 7 Oct 2019


Ms Anthea Ong asked the Minister for Home Affairs with respect to the cancellation of the Yale-NUS “Dissent and Dialogue” course (a) whether he agrees that the course entails “elements that may subject students to the risk of breaking the law and incurring legal liabilities”; (b) what laws may be broken and what kinds of legal liabilities may be incurred by (i) students (ii) faculty and (iii) institution; © whether the Ministry provides guidelines to academic institutions on such legal risks; and (d) what is the Ministry’s position on online sentiments that having a course on dissent is an “unpatriotic act” and the hate speech that is directed at Yale-NUS students.

[The Minister for Education (Mr Ong Ye Kung): Mr Speaker, Sir, can I take Question Nos 4 to 6 and part of Question No 7 together, please?

Mr Speaker: Part of Question No 7? So, will Question No 7 be asked again, subsequently?

Mr Ong Ye Kung: Yes, it will be.

Mr Speaker: Okay, proceed.


So, to answer Ms Anthea Ong’s question, which was posed to the Minister for Home Affairs as Question No 7, the legal risk was real. AUs and their staff and students are not exempt from the law.]

Mr K Shanmugam: The Minister for Education had earlier answered parts (a), (b) and © of Ms Anthea Ong’s question. On part (d), I think that the heart of the Member’s question is speech and the limits to that speech. I think her question relates to people expressing their views that there was dishonesty, unpatriotic actions, and whether they should be allowed to say those things; and the Member has asked for the Ministry’s views.

There are criminal, civil laws that govern what people can and cannot say in public. These laws apply to the online space as well. If you defame, there can be civil action; sometimes, it can be criminal defamation as well. If you harass people, that can be an offence, sometimes. Civil action is also possible, civil remedies are possible. If there is speech that has been directed at some students and they believe that a criminal offence has been committed, the students can file a Police report — I am sure they are aware of that.

If the Member is of the view that more regulation of the online space is necessary, going beyond the current laws and that such speech should be regulated, she can let us know — precisely what she has in mind to be regulated? I assume that she is not suggesting that we prevent people from expressing their views on whether some actions are patriotic or unpatriotic. And I think the Member will know that in the online space, people will say what they like. We strengthened the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) a few months ago to allow people to take action, give individuals more power. If it is untrue, they can take steps. If they are harassed, they can take steps. So, we are empowering the individuals. But if the Member feels that is not adequate, she can let us know.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Anthea Ong is a Nominated Member of Parliament. (A Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) is a Member of the Parliament of Singapore who is appointed by the President. They are not affiliated to any political party and do not represent any constituency. There are currently nine NMPs in Parliament.)

The multi-sector perspective that comes from her ground immersion of 12 years in different capacities helps her translate single-sector issues and ideas across boundaries without alienating any particular community/group. As an entrepreneur and with many years in business leadership, it is innate in her to discuss social issues with the intent of finding solutions, or at least of exploring possibilities. She champions mental health, diversity and inclusion — and volunteerism in Parliament.

She is also an impact entrepreneur/investor and a passionate mental health advocate, especially in workplace wellbeing. She started WorkWell Leaders Workgroup in May 2018 to bring together top leaders (CXOs, Heads of HR/CSR/D&I) of top employers in Singapore (both public and private) to share, discuss and co-create inclusive practices to promote workplace wellbeing. Anthea is also the founder of Hush TeaBar, Singapore’s 1st silent teabar and a social movement that aims to bring silence, self care and social inclusion into every workplace, every community — with a cup of tea. The Hush Experience is completely led by lovingly-trained Deaf facilitators, supported by a team of Persons with Mental Health Issues (PMHIs).

Follow Anthea Ong on her public page at www.facebook.com/antheaonglaytheng

A full-time human, and part-time everything else.