All Posts Tagged With: "freedom of speech"
PQ’s Drainville cites “security concerns”
MONTREAL – The Quebec cabinet minister responsible for the government’s proposed charter of values pulled out of a debate on the topic Thursday because of security concerns.
Bernard Drainville said he had no choice but to cancel his presence at Montreal’s Concordia University because there was a real risk it could get out of control.
The Quebec Public Interest Research Group at Concordia had promised to protest outside the event, describing the charter as ”xenophobic.”
Drainville said he decided not to take part in the debate because members of the group refused to commit themselves to keep the peace.
BC Civil Liberties Association defends club’s free speech
Cameron Côté, a graduate of the University of Victoria and former president of Youth Protecting Youth, a pro-life student club, has teamed up with the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association to sue the university, “seeking relief from the persistent, illegal censorship of the civil, peaceful expression of pro-life opinion on the campus.”
In 2011, the University of Victoria Students’ Society, which declared itself pro-choice, tried to revoke club status of YPY and, later that year when the club held a “choice chain” event showing provocative images of fetuses to passersby, found them guilty of “harassment” and temporarily took away access to student space.
In 2012, James Dunsdon, the university’s associate vice-president of student affairs, cited the SFSS decision when he told YPY to cancel another planned “choice chain.” After the protest went ahead, YPY members again lost booking privileges and were threatened by Dunsdon with sanctions.
Abortion, Israel and men’s issues are hot topics on campus
Universities are supposed to be safe places to debate controversial ideas but school administrators and students leaders would sometimes prefer instead to enforce their own points of view, even if it means silencing others.
As a result, the limits of free speech are frequently debated on campus. This week it’s at the University of Manitoba where a pro-life group is showing photos comparing abortion to the Holocaust and Rwandan genocide. Student Ashley James told the Winnipeg Free Press that it’s preventing her from focusing at school.
One can bet where the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms would stand. They want controversial speech protected. According to their 2013 Campus Freedom Index, released Tuesday, 23 of the 45 universities graded this year have failed to stop censorship. Each administration and student union was assigned two A to F letter grades, one based on policies and the other on practices. Their conclusion: “Our country’s institutions of higher education have failed in their promise to uphold the sanctity of free speech in its most cherished and necessary form: the discussion of controversial ideas, frank and spirited debate, and the pursuit of truth.”
Artwork deemed “inappropriate” for donor event
Queen’s University student David Woodward’s final project All I Am Is What I’ve Felt got the type of reaction many new Bachelor of Fine Arts graduates dream about: he was asked to take it down, meaning far more people will now see it.
Woodward, 22, was not surprised his work—10 white briefs adorned with cryptic slogans and images, some of them sexual—offended people. Still, he didn’t expect to be censored. He says the work is autobiographical and discusses “the limitations of romantic love.”
It has also stimulated discussion about the limits on freedom of expression at campuses like Queen’s where some employees get carried away in their mission to avoid offending anyone.
Here’s what happened. Woodward was asked by his campus alumni office, along with other visual artists and musicians, to show off his work to potential donors at an event in April. He forwarded a link to a website that showed his product. On the big day, he arrived early and hung his undies.
What students are talking about today (April 4th)
1. Queen’s University instructed security officers to rip down a free speech wall in a student centre because it “allegedly included language that constituted hate speech,” according to an official press release. A video of a blonde-haired officer removing the banner has been widely-viewed on YouTube. The wall, little more than paper with words scribbled on it, was encouraged by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms and erected by the local group Queen’s Students for Liberty. What exactly was so offensive is unclear, but it was bad enough that the administration chose to act. “Queen’s recognizes the right of free speech, but appreciates too the limits on free speech. Hate speech and racial slurs have no place on our campus,” wrote Alan Harrison, Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) in the statement. The Alma Mater Society, which owns the space, put out a statement too. “Queen’s Students for Liberty was given an opportunity to remove these two denigrating comments, and return the space to one of inclusive, free dialogue for all,” wrote president Doug Johnson. “When the club failed to act, the offensive material was removed.” A free speech wall erected at Carleton University in January was torn down by a student who claimed it was anti-gay.
2. Speaking of free speech and hate speech, students at Towson University in Maryland are fighting back against a white supremacist group’s declaration that it will start “night patrols” on campus. At a student-organized rally, the university’s president praised efforts to peacefully oppose the White Student Union. Matt Heimbach, spokesman of white group, told ABC News he believes multiculturalism is being forced on America. Yes, this is really happening in 2013.
3. Stephen Toope, president of the University of British Columbia, annouced Wednesday that he will step down in 2014 and then he gave an interview to The Ubyssey student newspaper. Heather Munroe-Blum, principal of the equally well-respected McGill University, who is also stepping down, did an exit interview of sorts with campus media too. The differences between the questions student reporters asked are a reminder of the contrast between generally sunny UBC students and the almost endlessly antagonistic McGill crowd. McGill student reporters asked questions like, “How can McGill say that it’s part of Quebec, and, at the same time, call tuition fees sacred?” and “Do you think [the police] could have had different tactics?” Meanwhile, at UBC, The Ubyssey reporter asked Toope questions like, “Do you think raising UBC to a global level is one of your core achievements?” For the record, I think it’s obvious that both Toope and Munroe-Blum have been strong leaders.
4. Bill Clinton told reporters ahead of a meeting with student leaders that he sees the cost of college as a major problem. “We can’t continue to see the cost of education go up every decade when wages are flat,” he told Inside Higher Education. “I think the only sustainable answer is to find a less expensive delivery system,” he added, saying the next step is, “for someone to certify what you need to know and then figure out some way of validating the merits of these online courses.”
5. The University of Calgary Dinos sports teams have unveiled a new logo, which is, obviously, a dinosaur. More interesting is that Calgary also announced a five-year partnership that will put Nike swooshes on uniforms. Speaking of corporate sponsorship deals, the Petro Canada Hall at Memorial University in Newfoundland has been renamed for Suncor Energy, which donated $50,000, reports The Muse student newspaper. There once was a time when there would be major outcries against corporate sponsorship deals on campus. Apparently that’s no longer the case.
Whatever happened to debate?
The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) takes issue with a men’s issues club. If it were not so serious, it would be laughable. An organization that collects hundreds of thousands of dollars in mandatory levies from Ryerson students is afraid of three students—two of them women—starting a men’s issues group.
Despite the constant rhetoric about diversity, equity and inclusion, the RSU cannot tolerate ideologies that run counter to its own. The irony of this patronizing attitude towards campus freedom is hard to miss. It’s as if the spirit of closed-minded religious dogma has jumped into bed with modern political correctness to prevent blasphemy against RSU ideological orthodoxy.
The principle is this: if you challenge official narrative, you don’t have the right to speak. But this is supposed to be a university—a place where we learn and debate in an open environment; where those we disagree with are challenged, not with censorship, but with other ideas. To agree to disagree and to respectfully debate—this is true tolerance.
What students are talking about today (March 15th)
1. At a University of Ottawa Campus Pride event last week, a heterosexual man was told by a former vice-president student affairs of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa that he was wearing too much pink and that he must change his clothes. Cody Boast, a third-year political science student, says he showed up to support the GLBTQ friends when Amy Hammett, the former student politician, approached him. Boast told The Fulcrum Hammet likened it to “dressing up like Bob Marley at a Black History Month event,” and forced him to change. Kate Hudson, the current SFUO vice-president student affairs told The Fulcrum his pink clothes, feather boa and flute, “gave the impression that he was mocking the event.” I don’t see why they think it’s their job to police people’s clothes. Boast is welcome at my pride party this summer wearing whatever he likes.
2. “The University of Waterloo is investigating after an anti-abortion Conservative MP was blocked from delivering a lecture Wednesday night by protesters led by a man dressed as a giant vagina,” reports National Post. You can’t make this stuff up. Stephen Woodworth only made it a third of the way through his talk before it was cancelled. A representative of the university said that the MP will be invited back. What might he have said that was so dangerous? Woodworth believes life begins at conception, not birth. He tried to have Parliament study the definition of the words ‘human being,’ last year, but his motion got 91 votes, though from some high-profile MPs, like Status of Women Minister Rona Ambrose and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney supported it.
What students are talking about today (March 14th)
1. Here’s a reminder of how student governments in the United States have much different concerns than our own. The student congress of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill recently changed the rules to make it harder for campus gun clubs to use student money to buy ammunition, reports Mother Jones. Following high-profile mass shootings on campuses, a number of states have passed laws preventing concealed guns on campus. More controversially, others, like Colorado and Utah, have laws that require colleges to allow concealed weapons.
2. Student newspapers across Canada, from The Argosy at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick to The Meliorist at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta are publishing odes to St. Patrick, whose holiday for Irish Canadians and those who drink too much is coming up on Sunday. Meanwhile, Western University, in the town that hosted the famous St. Patty’s Day Riot last March, is offering some tips. Some are no brainers, like, have a plan of how you’ll get home (transit? taxi?) and don’t leave drinks unattended. More interesting are the reminders from Campus Police that keg parties are illegal, that drinking underage can lead to $125 tickets and that London’s new Nuisance Party Bylaw means rowdy hosts can face $500 fines. The lesson? Go to someone else’s party.
The fire alarm went off, but free speech prevailed
I was expecting the police officers, the provocative placards, and the rent-a-protesters with neon hair and black face coverings.
I was also expecting the fire alarm to go off—and it did—five minutes after Janice Fiamengo’s lecture started in the nearly full George Ignatieff Theatre at the University of Toronto on Thursday evening.
After all, the last time a person spoke against academic feminism on campus, when Warren Farrell visited in November, approximately 100 protesters barred the doors. They wouldn’t try that again, but I figured they’d try to shut things down, and fire alarms can be effective if, during the confusion, enough people give up and leave.
What I wasn’t expecting was a full house 20 minutes later, after the fire department gave the all clear, or that the controversial University of Ottawa professor would make it all the way through her lecture What’s wrong with women’s studies? without an angry mob attempting to shout her down.
Don’t misunderstand me. They denounced her lecture vigorously, but not until the question and answer period after she spoke. During the lecture, most people were respectfully silent.
The general non-violence of the evening—save for the childish fire alarm routine—is a sign of progress. There were no immediate reports of injuries or arrests. The academic’s voice remained strong. The University of Toronto’s Statement on Freedom of Speech and its Policy on the Disruption of Meetings, mentioned though not read by the moderator, served their purposes well.
So what exactly was so controversial? Few protesters ahead of the meeting could offer specific reasons, except that her talk was promoted by A Voice for Men, whose associates have said some hostile things to women. It’s true that Fiamengo dislikes most of today’s academic feminism, but I think the most offensive thing she said was that, when the Titanic sank, 75 per cent of women survived, but only 18 per cent of men did, because men are somehow naturally heroic.
The rest of the talk was a fairly common critique of feminism. She called it empty, incoherent and dishonest. She said its obsession with violence results in police charging men for assault, while absolving women. She denounced a family law system she says is biased against fathers. She said she is infuriated by “affirmative action where men are passed over time and time again.” She talked about the hypocrisy that women’s studies sees violence around every corner in Canada, but turns a blind eye to the deadly oppression of women and sexual minorities in the Islamic world. And so on.
She also praised a local Toronto feminist, Steph Guthrie, who was interviewed in Metro News about the upcoming talk. Guthrie told the paper that instead of trying to shut Fiamengo down like they did to Warren Farrell, Fiamengo’s detractors should go to the lecture, ask tough questions and debate.
And that’s what many of the would-be hecklers did. In order to stand up to that Q&A microphone and challenge her with dozens of balding men glaring and videotaping, they had to have at least listened to Fiamengo’s arguments well enough to come up with their own rebuttals. That left them scribbling down on notepads and keying into smartphones in eager anticipation while she spoke.
That’s not to say many minds were changed. Many asked questions that betrayed either their admiration or disgust for Fiamengo. In fact, some of them didn’t ask questions at all, and instead just ranted about personal grievances at the hands of those evil women or those evil men.
But there were interesting back-and-forths, including one between a self-identified McGill student who asked Fiamengo to explain why “only 25 per cent of parliament is female-identified.” (I wonder how she knows all 308 member of parliaments’ gender identities, but never mind.) “There’s a difference between equality of opportunity and equality of result,” Fiamengo replied.
Only one person really lost her temper, after making a thought-provoking query about the impact of Fiamengo’s assertion that “children need their fathers” on lesbian parents. Fiamengo responded by suggesting there’s research that children do better in two-parent households. She didn’t like the answer. “That’s heteronormative bullshit,” the woman screamed, before a dramatic exit.
I don’t know that Fiamengo made a sound academic case. What I do know is that she deserves respect for gathering evidence and calmly presenting it. She also offered advice all students should heed. “Educate yourselves so you can challenge [each other],” and, “do it will style, not hatred.”
She’s right on that. The freedom to debate unpopular ideas is something universities have a duty to protect. On Thursday night at the University of Toronto, that ideal was challenged but prevailed.
It’s not really about the censorship
When Stephanie Wolfe banned her students from citing the Onion, “literally a parody,” and Fox News, “a biased news station,” she was not firing any kind of ideological salvo. This West Liberty University Visiting Assistant Professor was probably, like most of her peers, pressed for time and a little nervous about taking over for a full-time Professor. The syllabus contains typos, internet phraseology, and is generally slap-dash as students have come to expect from the necessarily distracted young paupers who now teach many of their undergraduate courses.
Though the school would of course assassinate the poor woman before letting her make a statement, I think it’s safe to assume she didn’t put up much of a defence of her offhand prohibition. She’s sorry, the school’s president is sorry, the syllabus is corrected, and Megyn Kelly got to indulge her passion for poorly concealed sneering. Shouldn’t we all be happy, now?
What students are talking about today (January 14th)
1. Lena Dunham’s HBO series Girls won the Golden Globe for best TV comedy series last night right before the highly-anticipated premiere of the second season. I’d argue the opener was a bit of a letdown. Lead character Hannah (played by Dunham) has smartened up a bit by rejecting her mean sort-of-boyfriend in favour of new guy who presumably treats her better. If she gets too mature, that’s a problem as her Gen-Y cluelessness provided so much of the comic relief and provoked so many of the broader societal questions. Some of the other characters, including straight-laced Marnie, seem to also be changing in ways that make them less believeable. Interestingly, Dunham seems to have acknowledged those who accused Girls of being too white; her new fling is a black man.
University defends controversial campus conference
This post first appeared on Michael Petrou’s The World Desk blog on Macleans.ca.
My article about a conference at Carleton University honouring Iran’s founding dictator Ayatollah Khomeini prompted a condemnatory letter from several prominent Iranian scholars to Carleton President Roseann O’Reilly Runte, as well as responsive missives from O’Reilly Runte and from John Osborne, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.
I’ve reprinted the exchanges below. Tracking the dates and salutations, it looks possible that I’m missing one of the letters. If so, its absence here is unintentional. I have also deleted email addresses and phone numbers that appeared in the email address lines, and have added the full name of recipients where they were otherwise abbreviated. Everything else is posted here verbatim.
A good chunk of the debate centres on free speech. Osborne casts himself as a defender of the principle. “It is my duty as a scholar to vehemently oppose any attempts to restrict freedom of speech, and I shall do so until my dying breath,” he writes.
As it happens, I’m a free speech fundamentalist. If Carleton students want to hold a conference praising a murderous advocate of child rape, and if the university is content to host and promote the event, that’s their right. (Under Khomeini, Iran lowered the age when a girl could be “married” to nine; and the old man himself wrote that it was permissible to receive sexual pleasure from babies.)
Charter of Rights applies, says judge
Campus free speech advocates are celebrating today, thanks to University of Calgary graduates Steven and Keith Pridgen, 22, and their unwillingness to accept their alma mater’s punishments.
The Alberta Court of Appeal upheld on Wednesday a ruling that the twin brothers were wrongfully punished for criticizing Aruna Mitra, their law professor, in 2007 Facebook postings.
The university put them on six months probation until they agreed to write a written apology for the statements, which the dean had deemed defamatory after a complaint from Mitra.
Let the kid wear his offensive Jesus shirt: Pettigrew
This week, Nova Scotia student William Swinimer was suspended from his high school in the town of Chester Basin for wearing a t-shirt that read, “Life is WASTED without Jesus.” While school officials say the shirt is inappropriate, Swinimer says he is merely standing up for his religious beliefs and exercising free expression.
School board superintendent Nancy Pynch-Worthylake says the board is going to hire an expert to mediate the dispute.
Since I am already in Nova Scotia and am always right about everything, let me save the good people of Canada’s Ocean Playground some money by explaining what that exquisitely-named functionary should do.
Let the kid wear his shirt.
Some people in B.C. have their panties in a twist
I would guess that the vast majority of Canadian Muslims, thoughtful, tolerant, law-abiding citizens, must really hate it when their fellow Muslims go crazy over the barest of perceived slights.
If my guess is right, there must be a lot of sighing going after news broke yesterday that a brou-ha-ha had erupted at Thompson Rivers University over a photo of a woman wearing a niqab and abaya (garments sometimes worn by some Muslim women that cover almost the entire body) while looking at a bra.
Occupier says he was unfairly targeted
A 44-year-old man who participated in a protest at Western University has been banned from the campus for one year, reports the London Free Press. Mike Roy was protesting an Israel On Campus event at the University Community Centre on Feb. 2 when he and about 25 other demonstrators were asked to leave. The protest, while peaceful, was unauthorized. Roy is a contributor to the campus radio station and has acted as a spokesperson for the Occupy London Movement. He says he was unfairly targeted and has started a petition to have the ban overturned.
The University of Waterloo is once again preparing for protesters who might try to shut down a speech, reports The Waterloo Record. The university says it will protect 80-year-old Charles Rice with extra police when the Catholic professor emeritus gives the annual Pascal Lecture on Christianity next Tuesday on the topic of morality, enlightenment and The Natural Law. The former professor is opposed to same-sex marriages and abortion, which has caused some students to oppose the lecture. Protesters successfully shut down a talk by writer Christie Blatchford when she first tried to speak to an audience of 27 people at the university about her book on the Six Nations occupation of Caledonia in November 2010. Her rescheduled speech drew a crowd of 300.
Five-day protest over student fees for radio station, QPIRG
A five-day occupation of the James Administration Building at McGill ended Sunday when city police gave the remaining nine protesters five minutes to collect their belongings before they were read an eviction notice and then booted from campus.
Then, the university released a new protocol for “demonstrations, protests and occupations.”
In a release, Provost Anthony Masi noted that McGill is already “embarking on a comprehensive consultation process and dialogue into the ways in which freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly can be protected as appropriate means of protest and dissent.”
UNB ratifies pro-lifers as Carleton considers ban
There was good news and bad news this week for pro-life groups on Canadian campuses.
The University of New Brunswick Student Union has ratified the Students for Life Club, reports The Brunswickan. Amanda Magee, club president, told council that her group wants to have an open debate about abortion. They will provide information booths, but will not be seek out women directly.
Meanwhile, the Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA) has decided it will let the following referendum question stand in the next general election: “Are you in favor of banning groups such as Lifeline, the Genocide Awareness Project, Campaign for Life Coalition and other organizations that use inaccurate information and violent images to discourage women from exploring all options in the event of pregnancy from Carleton University?”
Pro-life groups have been controversial at the Ottawa school. The club Carleton Lifeline was decertified by CUSA after five pro-life students were arrested on campus for attempting to erect a graphic display in 2010 called the Genocide Awareness Project, which showed pictures of fetuses.
Brandon Wallingford, the CUSA Arts and Social Sciences Councillor, was quoted in a press release by Carleton Lifeline yesterday saying that the referendum question infringes on freedom of speech. “It is disturbing that there are those who wish to ban opposing points of view instead of engaging in the type of mature discussion that universities used to be famous for,” he said.
Would that stop hate or stifle free speech?
Jewish organizations are calling on the University of Toronto to cancel an 18-week seminar series led by Toronto-based Islamic scholar Abdullah Hakim Quick. They say Quick has made homophobic and antisemitic comments in the past and should not be allowed to speak on campus.
“The unfortunate truth is that when you have speakers like this, that are divisive, it hurts communities,” says Avi Benlolo, President of the FSWC. “We hope that the unviersity will make the right decision to cancel it or put it on hold pending review,” he adds.
U of T spokesperson April Kemick told CJN that the “event is a booking by a campus group—one of hundreds that happen over the course of the year—and there is no connection to the university.”