'Extreme examples' shouldn't undermine free-speech pledge, Scheer says

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said "extreme examples," like the University of Toronto's telling a white nationalist group it doesn't have permission to hold a rally on campus, shouldn't be used to detract from his promise to halt federal funding to universities that fail to uphold free speech.

Promise was made during his campaign for the Conservative leadership

Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer speaks during an interview in his office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Thursday. He said 'extreme examples' shouldn't be used to detract from his promise to halt federal funding to universities that fail to uphold free speech. (Patrick Doyle/Canadian Press)

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said "extreme examples," like the University of Toronto's telling a white nationalist group it doesn't have permission to hold a rally on campus, shouldn't be used to detract from his promise to halt federal funding to universities that fail to uphold free speech.

"I won't allow kind of those extreme examples to be used as a justification for what's going on campuses here in Canada," Scheer said responding to a question about the Toronto incident and the removal of controversial monuments.

"No one likes when debate gets stifled, when these events get cancelled, whether it's a former president or prime minister of Israel, whether it's a discussion on a panel."

​A group called the Canadian Nationalist Party had set up a Facebook event for mid-September to discuss the nationalist movement, and said on its Facebook page that it would be held at the university.

Founder Travis Patron later said he was rescheduling the event in the wake of clashes between protesters and white supremacists in Virginia that left one woman dead and 19 injured. 

The nationalist group's 21-point platform calls for the removal of the "destructive stance of multiculturalism" from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Scheer told CBC Radio's The House, "I absolutely condemn any type of those racist sentiments or anything that does not promote the values of inclusiveness and tolerance and openness." 

"I'm talking about student groups, I'm talking about events that have been sanctioned and then cancelled because of a small group of radical protesters. I want to sit down and work with university administrators to make sure that doesn't happen."

'Debate about any subject'

Scheer made his promise during his bid for the leadership of the Conservatives, linking it to instances where anti-abortion and pro-Israel events were turned away from university campuses after protests erupted.

The pledge received one of the loudest rounds of applause during his acceptance speech at the Conservative leadership convention in May.

"The foundation of our democracy is the ability to have a debate about any subject," Scheer said at the time.

"That is why I am so committed to defending free speech. I will withhold federal funding from universities that shut down debate and can't stand different points of view."

The University of Toronto wouldn't confirm whether it would have denied the Canadian Nationalist Party a permit if one had been requested, but said it let the group know "they don't have permission to use our space."

University president Meric Gertler said bigotry, hate and violence have no place on campus.

Scheer hadn't yet articulated how his free speech policy would work. The Conservative will debate their policies under their new leader at next year's convention.

With files from The Canadian Press