Friday December 01, 2017

Friday December 1, 2017 Full Episode Transcript

Note: Transcripts may contain errors. If you wish to re-use all, or part of, a transcript, please contact CBC for permission. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. Copyright © CBC 2017

The Current Transcript for December 1, 2017

Host: Susan Ormiston


Listen to the full episode


[Music: Theme]


If they find me I won't pay it. If they put me in jail I'm going to hunger strike. I am not using the work words that other people require me to use specially if they are made up by radical left wing ideologues.

SUSAN ORMISTON: University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson's impassioned refusal to use gender neutral pronouns was just the beginning. There's a storm brewing on Canadian campuses bringing a chill to conversations about academic freedom and the limits of what students should be exposed to in their quest for education. In an hour we're heading into the eye of that storm to try to decipher where is the line between free speech, education and outright hate. Also today, Russian journalist Elena Milashina is paying a price for exercising her right to free speech to uncover a story that made her and her colleagues a target.


The only way that can stop the people might also think of [unintelligible] of my colleagues as to show them that they will be another one.

SO: Elena Milashina had to leave Russia for a time after exposing horrific stories of abuse against gay men in Chechnya,torture kidnappings, secret jails, even death. Yesterday she received the International Press Freedom Award by Canadian Journalists for Free Expression for her work. Elena Milashina in half an hour. But first Justin Trudeau has big expectations on his shoulders as he heads to Beijing for free trade talks this weekend.


Prime Minister Justin Trudeau he needs to put his priority on this case. He needs to talk to President Xi and talk about this matter and get my parents home. That's what he needs to do.

SO: The daughter of two Canadians being held in China for years over a customs dispute is pleading with the prime minister to hold off talking trade until her parents are home free. It's a tall order. China is Canada's second largest trading partner and its President Xi Jinping has been very clear that he will not bow to the west. That's first up. I am Susan Ormiston and you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current.

Back To Top »

Trudeau's China visit: What's at stake?

Guests: Hongying Wang, Diana Fu


On the closing day of its weeklong congress, China's ruling Communist Party had a message for the world. It is marching in lockstep behind Xi Jinping. Inside the Great Hall of the people he was presiding over his own immortalisation. Those in favour he asks, and those against. With not a hand in sight, 'None' comes the chorus of replies.

SO: A BBC report in October on the Chinese Communist Party vote that made the name and ideology of President Xi Jinping part of its constitution further solidifying his power. This weekend Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will travel to China and meet face to face with President Xi Jinping. The stakes are high. The trip will focus on trade and human rights. But the Prime Minister's office has already said Trudeau will not pursue an official bilateral trade agreement with China. Still the trip comes at a critical time for international trade relations - given the uncertainties around NAFTA the North American Free Trade Agreement. And to discuss what hangs in the balance says Trudeau heads to China is Hongying Wang. She's an associate professor of political science at the University of Waterloo specializing in international political economy and Chinese politics. Hongying Wong is also a senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation and the co-editor of Enter the Dragon China in the International Financial System. She joins me from Waterloo. Hello.


SO: So how does China view Canada as a trading partner?

HONGYING WANG: Well China has always enjoyed relatively good relations with Canada. And although Canada is not a major economic partner for China in the overall picture, I think China very much values its economic relations with Canada in the larger context of good relations, and also with the uncertainty between China and the United States these days. So I think China very much values the trade relations and other economic relations with Canada.

SO: How would you describe the stakes now with Canada going into the trade talks with China?

HONGYING WANG: The stakes for Canada? Well I think Canada has to take China seriously and I think that's what the government now recognizes very clearly. As you've mentioned China is the second largest economy in the world and it's growing so fast that it's only a matter of years - if the current speed more or less maintains at this level - that it will be the biggest economy in the world. And China is also Canada's second largest trading partner. It is definitely a very important economic partner for Canada as Canada tries to maintain its economic prosperity and strives for greater economic achievement in the years to come.

SO: We've heard so much about the uncertainties around NAFTA currently. How does that play into the trade negotiations with China?

HONGYING WANG: I think it gives Canada extra incentives to be more engaged with Asia, with China in particular. Obviously the U.S. is by far the largest trade partner with Canada. It's I think about 76 percent of Canada's merchandise exports, the US economy accounts for that. And China is about 4 percent but it's likely to grow. So the potential is there. So with NAFTA facing a great deal of uncertainty, it definitely adds the urgency to engage in China more productively

SO: Now you know it was Justin Trudeau's father Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who helped open relations between Canada and communist China and back in the 70s. So will that family history help this prime minister in his talks with the Chinese president?

HONGYING WANG: I think it does. And even beyond the Prime Minister's family history I think China has always looked at its historical relations with Canada favorably. And one can go back to Norman Bethune is probably the best known Canadian for generations of Chinese. So the goodwill both for the Prime Minister's family and for Canadian society in general are a very big plus for Canada when it comes to dealing with China.

SO: Now the Prime Minister's office says human rights are on the agenda for this trip as well. Last year China detained a Canadian couple who owned wineries in Canada over a customs dispute and John Chang is still in prison. His wife Allison Lu has been released on bail but can't leave China. Their daughter Amy Chang wants Trudeau to push hard for their release.


Father John Chang he has two tumors in his liver. So they could potentially be cancerous. He's had them for a couple of years now so we always have to keep a close monitor and he's got to be on a strict diet. So it's a worry for us because we know that you know the proper attention is not being put. I was like for the PM to protect and defend any business overseas and since he's going to China I would expect that he delays any trade talks before getting my parents back home safely in Canada.

SO: And there are others. Amnesty International is saying about 16 cases all urging Trudeau to present in his Chinese meeting. How will the Chinese respond, the president, if the Prime Minister pushes him on cases like this couple being held in China?

HONGYING WANG: Well first of all I think on humanitarian grounds these are very important issues to raise with the Chinese authority. I am however not all that optimistic that this could generate a desired response. As you, at the beginning of the program, mentioned China's leadership has consolidated its power and because of China's vastly important economic status in the world it has become, if anything, more resistant to foreign pressure. So even when China was much weaker, more isolated, it wasn't all that ready to respond to foreign pressure. So I'm not all that optimistic that this is necessarily going to generate what we would want to see.

SO: And how would you describe the president's response if the Prime Minister pushes him on human rights? How will that play out?

HONGYING WANG: [Chuckles] My guess is that he would say that 'we have a system of rule of law. And the specific cases will work their way through the Chinese legal system judicial system. And I shouldn't be intervening'. I mean I think that's a pretty standard answer which doesn't mean behind the scene there may not be some kind of official attention that might be put in front of the judicial authority. But you know in China the system is really quite lacking in transparency it's difficult to know what happens but on the surface I doubt the leader of China would - that he was necessary going to do something right away.

SO: No. What do you expect will come out of the Prime Minister's visit, then?

HONGYING WANG: I think it's always very good to have high level exchanges for the sake of the larger relationship. And I think what comes out you know may not be something very specific in terms of starting the free trade negotiation. I'm not sure that is the plan. But even if that's not the plan I think it would lay the ground for the start of the negotiation, if that's what both sides would like to see, and then specific negotiations will be left to the experts later.

SO: Well we'll all be watching. Thank you so much.


SO: Honhying Wong is an associate professor of political science at the University of Waterloo specializing in international political economy and Chinese politics. She's also a senior fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation and the co-editor of Entered the Dragon: China in the International Financial System. She was in Waterloo today. One of Prime Ministers Trudeau's biggest challenges in China will be its president Xi Jinping. We'll hear more about the man in a moment but first here's a primer on the assertive and autocratic leader of China.



Born in Beijing in 1953 Xi Jinping is the son of revolutionary veteran Xi Zhongxin. His father was China's propaganda chief who rose to become a vice premier before being purged and Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution. The younger Xi was sent to the countryside for education at the age of 15. He lived in a cave and raised pigs. While in exile, he read his favorite book Karl Marx's 'Das Kapital' three times in seven years. He was finally accepted into the Communist Party in 1975 and studied chemical engineering. Xi rose through the party ranks quickly. In 2007 he was promoted to top leader of Shanghai. The job aided Xi's ascension to the party's all powerful Standing Committee and set him up to succeed Hu Jintao. In 2012 he was picked as president ushering in an era of one man rule. He is married to the famous folk singer Peng Liyuan. Mr. Xi vigorously pursues what he calls a great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

SO: All right to tell us more about the Chinese leader. I'm joined by Diana Fu she's an assistant professor of Asian politics at the University of Toronto and joins me in our Toronto studio. Hello.

DIANA FU: Hi Susan.

SO: Now he's been president for five years yet everyone's talking about how much power he has. Now why is that?

DIANA FU: Well there's a good reason why the Economist magazine actually named him the most powerful person on earth. And that was seen very clearly in the consolidation of his power in the recent 19 Party Congress where Xi declared himself to be among the core leaders in Chinese history. Now this is a symbolic title it doesn't actually give him any actual powers to be the core leader, any additional powers, but it's very important because it signals to the world and especially to the Chinese people that he is on par with the most powerful leaders in the history of the People's Republic of China. So that would include Mao Zedong that include Deng Xiaoping that would include Zhao Zhumeng and in addition as you heard earlier on the show his ideology - the Xi Jinping thought - was inserted into the Chinese Communist Party's constitution. And these two achievements are not something that his predecessor Hu Jintao either had the ambition or the ability to do. So that's why he has been named a most powerful person on earth.

SO: Does he just go ahead and name himself a core leader?

DIANA FU: No of course not. He was named by the party by the Chinese Communist Party and so that is also a sign of the consolidation of his power and that he is able to exert his legitimacy and to get the party to also agree on his legitimacy.

SO: How is Xi different from past Chinese leaders?

DIANA FU: That's a very good question. He is different in the sense that he has been able to consolidate power in a way that past presidents at least his predecessor was not able to do. And when I say consolidate power I don't just mean symbolic power. Xi has also a consolidated agenda setting power right. So everyone has heard about this Chinese dream China [unintelligible] dream. So what does that really mean. Does it mean white picket fences? Does it mean prosperity for the people? Well I would I would say that the Chinese dream is really Xi Jinping's dream and Xi Jinping's dream includes you know providing a moderate amount of prosperity for the vast majority of the masses in China. When looking across the world it includes the Belt Road Initiative, which extends to over 60 countries in which China is really flexing its soft power. Earlier was mentioned that Xi is trying to rejuvenate the Chinese nation and that means more than a rising China. I mean China has already risen but a rejuvenation of the Chinese nation really means re-centering China and bringing China from the peripheries, from humiliation at the hands of foreign powers to really to be the center, to be a global power not just a partial power.

SO: And we're seeing that play out in so much of the geopolitics.

DIANA FU: Very much so.

SO: How did someone who was the son of a man who was purged by Mao accumulate so much power?

DIANA FU: That's a very good question as well so she is a politician that we call a princeling politician, and that's pretty much as close to royalty as you can get in China. It's kind of like a communist or red kind of royalty. And so a being a princeling just means that you the son or daughter of a former senior Communist official. Now you would think that royalty you know associated with growing up with a silver spoon in your mouth, but that is not the case for Xi. As we heard earlier. He actually experienced what in Chinese we call 'Chuku' which is eating bitterness right. 'Chuku' means you get sent to the countryside which he did at the age young age of 15 years old. And he really learned struggle and that kind of experience - firsthand experience - with poverty with struggle really formed him as a politician and no doubt boosted him in his way to the top.

SO: And how do the Chinese feel about him and about his rules so far?

DIANA FU: Well it's very hard to know what the Chinese really feel. What you really understand is how Xi wants himself to be seen and the Chinese media and as well as how Chinese feel in the official media. Right. So one of the telling things about how Xi as a leader wants himself to be seen is that a couple of years ago there was an epithet that the People's Daily which is the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party named him Xi Dada, which in English translates into 'big bossy' or 'Dig Daddy Xi' actually.

SO: [Laughs]

DIANA FU: And it was a term that was first coined by the People's Daily but it's really meant to convey that President Xi is not just a distant ruler, but he's really a patron a father of the masses who cares about people's welfare, just like a dad would. And this actually caught on so much that there was actually a very popular folk song or actually a popular pop song that was called 'Xi Dada loves Peng Mama' who is his wife.

SO: So big daddy loves...

DIANA FU: Loves his wife Peng Mama.

SO: Wow. Popular Song.

DIANA FU: Popular song yeah. This epithet actually sort of was phased out in 2016 for unknown reasons. But nevertheless it shows that he really wants people to see him not just as a distant ruler but again as a patron.

SO: And what do you think Western leaders should keep in mind, you know Trudeau's going there this weekend, when they're dealing with his power, the way he's doing this, the Chinese economic and military superpower, all we're hearing about as you say a risen China.

DIANA FU: Yes I mean I think that for Trudeau and really any Western or non-Western Power dealing with China, they're going to have to take a very very tough and unusual tactful stance. So this is Xi Jinping as not a leader that bows to the west. He's not a leader that bows to anyone really. He is actually widely publicized eight internal documents that was released in 2013 that makes it very clear that China is not going to follow western values, that China actually actively rejects Western values. These would include obviously the values that are enshrined in our own Bill of rights and in our own charter of freedoms. And so his dream is one that really is about Chinese values. So what are China China's values? So this would include the value that the collective good of the masses really outweighs individual freedoms. Right. And this is a dream that envisions a moderate degree of prosperity for the masses and it is a dream that is built very much on the slogan and the reality that China has actually lifted 700 million people out of poverty. And Xi intends to continue that. And so because Xi officially rejects Western values of the kind enshrined in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Trudeau is going to have to walk a very very fine line because how do you negotiate with a country that officially rejects your political values? How do you convince the Canadian public that the potential economic benefits of free trade really offsets concerns over diametrically opposing values? And so I think any negotiations with his administration will have to consider how to deal with again, not a rising China but a risen one and an assertive China.

SO: Briefly are you optimistic about this visit to be able to get a closer relationship with China and Canada?

DIANA FU: I'm cautiously optimistic. I think that as the previous speaker said this will be a visit that again seeks to build relationships that seeks to build personal relationships as well as diplomatic relationships. And any specific negotiations will be influenced by how that kind of camaraderie really between the two leaders is forged.

SO: Thank you so much.

DIANA FU: Thank you.

SO: Diana Fu is an assistant professor of Asian politics at the University of Toronto. She was in our Toronto studio. The CBC News is next and then: In Chechnya brutal attitudes towards homosexuality.


Those people, Chechen gays, they were tortured almost to death and those tortures were they tried to be all those gays things.

SO: Russian reporter Elena Milashina risked her life to prove the existence of secret jails, kidnappings and the torture of hundreds of gay Chechen men. That story earned heard death threats against her and her entire paper. She's my guest in our next half hour. I'm Susan Ormiston and you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current.

[Music: Theme]

Back To Top »

Meet the Russian journalist who exposed Chechnya's anti-gay crackdown

Guest: Elena Milashina

SO: Hello I'm Susan Ormiston and you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current.

[Music: Theme]

SO: Still to come: Professors across the country are treading a thin line between free expression and protecting students from hate speech. We'll have that discussion in half an hour. But first, the Russian reporter who's risked it all to give voice to Chechen gay men on the ground.


The torture was various you're beaten, sometimes kicked, sometimes objects are used. But eventually the last resort was always electroshock. Just experiencing the electroshock wants is enough to realize that you don't want anyone else to go through this. I'm afraid for my life and most importantly I'm afraid are the lives of my family back home.

SO: That was a gay man from Chechnya speaking to CBC earlier this year and where he's from. His sexuality is a crime. Chechnya is a semi-autonomous deeply conservative region in southern Russia. In April the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta exposed a campaign of kidnappings, torture and killing being perpetrated against gay Chechen men. Dozens were rounded up, some of them were killed by their own families after being released. Canada has offered asylum to more than 30 men in what has been called in Chechnya a 'gay purge'. The man you just heard was one of them. But for the Russian woman who exposed the story it's been nothing but trouble in her home country. Elena Milashina is an investigative journalist with Novaya Gazeta. She faced death threats for her reporting and currently lives outside of Russia. She's in Toronto where last night she accepted the International Press Freedom Award from Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. Elena Milashina joins me in our Toronto studio. Hello and congratulations.

ELENA MILASHINA: Thank you. Thank you so much.

SO: How did you first learn about this campaign against gay men in Chechnya?

ELENA MILASHINA: Well actually the audience should know that I was working on Chechnya for many years and then got a lot of sources of information there. And one of my sources actually asked me to confirm that there's a fall guy and I can name him already his name R.P. Altimirov who was a famous person in Chechnya. He was known as a showman, a philologist and I was told that he was detained, tortured and actually killed because he was gay.

SO: Could you believe that when you first heard it?

ELENA MILASHINA: Oh yeah. Because I was working in Chechnya for many years. And this was actually a normal thing for Chechnya because people were detained and tortured and killed for many years in Chechnya and the world actually doesn't pay a lot of attention to this situation, although I personally, my newspaper and human rights defenders in Russia were talking about it for many years. Like I said, this situation was very typical. When I started to check this information on this guy, I found out the really shocking situation that he was not the only one.

SO: What kind of other stories did you hear when you dug into this?

ELENA MILASHINA: That a lot of people - it was a whole campaign that was actually the police and police who received order to prosecute to look for all men that there were gays. The other was to clean up the Chechen blood, the Chechen nation.

SO: Clean up.

ELENA MILASHINA: Yes. Just like back in [unintelligible] of last century, at Germany, where LGBT people were put in the camps when there were Nazi. The same situation; clean the blood - Chechen blood, Chechen nation out of them before the Ramadan starts. And only the publicity actually broke those plans of Chechen authorities and they still continue to persecute people for being gays in Chechnya but not as much as many like they did in February and March.

SO: Elena in February and March what types of things happened to these men?

ELENA MILASHINA: Well they were detained by police. They were tortured. The police wanted from them that they confirm they are gays. And then they wanted from them that they name their contacts, people whom they have sex with. A lot of people are detained and tortured, in Chechnya. They reported to the same camps where a lot of people were detained for different reasons. But those people - Chechen gays or those who were suspected in this - they were treated mostly cruelly, tortured almost to death. Like that guy I heard first about, they were beaten and those torturers were not only because they wanted information from them. Those tortures were that they tried to beat them out this gay thing.

SO: Beat the homosexuality out of them, as if they could.

ELENA MILASHINA: Yes. A lot of Chechen people think that they are people and the rules of treatment for this and the electricity for example is one of the methods.

SO: Now I can't imagine how you were able to investigate this. Obviously it's very dangerous for journalists such as yourself in Chechnya, exposing that this would happen. Who were you able to speak to? How? And what risks did they take speaking to you?

ELENA MILASHINA: Well before we published the first article, the first story, we had the big problem in confirming the information. When I got to know that there is a whole campaign against the men in Chechnya that considered gays, that was a shocking moment actually because we understood that the Chechen authorities just got to the point where they started to kill people because in their eyes, those people don't deserve to leave. And this was confirmed by the Chechen authorities and many of them who were publicly saying this, that there is no gays among the Chechen nation.

SO: Including the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.

ELENA MILASHINA: Yes he said they are not exist amongst Chechen society and if there were they supposed to be killed. They didn't deny torturers. They didn't deny detentions. They didn't in those secret prisons. They didn't do killings. They denied the existence of Chechen gays and that show that the reaction of Chechen authorities and the reaction of Chechen society actually was unique and very scary and that was first time when they brought together like 15 or 20 thousand people in the mosque of the capital of Chechnya, Grozny, the main mosque and actually announced jihad on all staff of Novaya Gazeta. Not just me, not just my editor in chief, not just my colleagues who were working with me on this story but all people who work in Novaya Gezira there were on the jihad that were announced us. And it doesn't have limits in time. It will continue forever.

SO: Well that makes it extremely difficult. It puts such a chill, a scary terrible chill on you and your colleagues for digging into this. How were you able to proceed? How did you get this information confirmed?

ELENA MILASHINA: Well it happened only after we published. But first of all we had the problem because when we were writing about illegal detention and torture and killing of other people in Chechnya, we always have relatives who confirmed this situation for us. And this time the relatives were pushed to kill their close ones because they were suspected to be gays. So they were not on our side. They were on the other side. And only because I work in Chechnya for many years and had very many sources among the Chechen security and police, I managed to confirm name by name, by facts, that those people are not alive anymore. So I managed to confirm a list of victims because of this campaign. And it took us a lot of work and we still were not sure to publish or not this story because we couldn't name any of those victims, even that once because of the reaction of the Chechen society to this. It was dishonour for the whole family. Even the person was died, even the person was killed, even the person was killed by police but still to name him as a gay it was a dishonour for the family.

SO: So you be putting those families at risk.

ELENA MILASHINA: Yes and that's why we first of all decide not to name anyone. Not the life people who we managed to talk to. Not that dead ones. And we decide to publish this story because there was no any other way to stop this campaign. And I'm very glad that I was working together with the human rights organizations in Chechnya - in Russia actually, first of all Russian LGBT Network. And before the publication my story was published we made hotlines for the victims - emergency line for the victims. It was just a mail on which they could write. The Russian LGBT Network would provide the help for them. We announced this mail all around the Internet very widely, but none of the victims responded and asked for the help. But when they published the story we started to receive from enormous letters from the victims and that made this story and let it continue, because when we save and got those who survived and heard their stories, it was absolutely the right thing to do to publish the first story although we couldn't say a lot but we confirmed everything. We were sure that that was happening. We couldn't prove it. We didn't have paper documentation things to prove it.

SO: So when the others started coming out to you that helped verify to you that this is a large group.

ELENA MILASHINA: Yes. I knew that that was a large, but when we started to receive from five to 10 letters from the victims every day.

SO: Every day.

ELENA MILASHINA: And by the two after two weeks after the first story we received more than 50 requests for help and tens of people already were evacuated from Chechnya with the help of Russian LGBT Network that showed that the situation was tremendously awful. And we managed to stop this campaign.

SO: Elena, during this time after you published the first story and were investigating more stories, what were the threats against you?

ELENA MILASHINA: Well like I said the reaction of Chechen authorities were very untypical because I had threats for writing about Chechnya and personally about Mr. Kadyrov from many many years and many times. But this time it looked like it Chechen authorities and Chechen society got together and got crazy about the fact that I accused them - not in torturing and killing - but in existing of gays among them. My editor in chief was asking and actually demanding for help from the Russian president in this situation because everybody in Russia understands that only Mr. Putin has influence on Mr. Kadyrov. And if Mr. Putin and this situation kept silence, I don't know what will happen with me and with my editor in chief and people who work with me in Novaya Gazeta.

SO: But Elena, Mr. Putin and Mr. Kadyrov have a power relationship and Kadyrov is useful to the Russian president. So what did Vladimir Putin do about the revelation of tortures and killings of gay people in Chechnya?

ELENA MILASHINA: Well when Kremlin understood that this story actually was true, because first of all they didn't believe and ask information from us. And we gave them names and gave them facts that you didn't publish.

SO: You did? You trusted them?

ELENA MILASHINA: Yes we gave them to them. Well in some way yes because we want them to confirm that this situation is true and that the Chechen authorities is killing people for just because their sexual orientation. And after that the rhetorics of the Kremlin changed. When they heard that Kadyrov and Chechen authorities started to threaten journalists, Mr. Putin the Kadyrov to come to Moscow and talk to him precisely about those threats that it's possible thing to do threats against journalists. And it was a signal.

SO: But journalists have been killed in Russia.

ELENA MILASHINA: Not this time. [Chuckles] Not this time because we didn't have that kind of reaction I don't know if I was still like.

SO: Tell me about that.

ELENA MILASHINA: I didn't expect and nobody expected that it would be such a worldwide attention to the situation. There was no any attention to the Russians from the world media or world society. And suddenly it changed and the more world put pressure on the Russian government, more Kadyrov and his people getting recreating crazy about the situation because they look at the situation like I personally inand my newspaper dishonour them.

SO: What has that meant to you personally?

ELENA MILASHINA: No matter that Mr. Putin actually send the signal to Mr. Kadyrov that it's not good to threat journalists and do something against them, we still had to make some security measures on me on newspaper. And my editor in chief newspaper decided that they have to leave the country for a while, till the end of this year or maybe more because I still continue to do my work and write about this story and push this story to the criminal case that I am pretty sure the government's supposed to open on the situation. But I'm doing it and living not in Russia.

SO: Elena in September it was revealed that the Canadian government had secretly ferreted out about 30, I believe, Chechen men to this country. There was an underground pipeline if you will. How did that make you feel?

ELENA MILASHINA: You know I'm so thankful to your country because a huge problem was how to save those people that ask for help. We managed to evacuate them from church now but then it wasn't possible to move them out of Russia. This was the only way to maybe a life safe. But Western countries, Europe first of all, last years they saying that there is no war in Chechnya. There is peace there and nobody's getting killed. Nobody is getting tortured.

SO: So they weren't eligible for asylum.

ELENA MILASHINA: Yes and when Canada and Lithuania they the first countries say "we will accept those people as many as you have." It was a big change and a big shame for European countries actually. Because after that they changed their policy. They decide to accept one, two maybe three people but only after you showed the example of humanity.

SO: I know you have to be careful about revealing a lot about that but are there negotiations going on now to accept more people to Canada from Chechnya?

ELENA MILASHINA: Yes. And actually we hope that Canadian side we'll do some more steps that will help us not just save people but to push Russian government on an investigative process on this crime. Because we have some witnesses that agree to talk publicly to the investigative committee about what they've seen but we need to make them safe and save their families. And in this situation we need help.

SO: And why is the investigation part so important?

ELENA MILASHINA: This crime was awful. With all this impunity they had for many years now they started to kill people just because they don't like them. They don't like their sexual orientation. They don't like the way they get dressed. They don't like the way they are talking about the sororities. The reason they are killing people just for nothing. And this is the impunity that was the main reason why this campaign could happen and this crime should be punished.

SO: What does it mean for you to be recognized for the incredibly dangerous work you did to expose this in Chechnya?

SO: Actually personally I would prefer that nobody knew about me, neither in Chechnya or not in the world. It's for a journalist that publicity it's not the good thing. I can't work in Chechnya now because a lot of people know me there. It just takes a lot of time for my work to go all around the world to talk about this problem and I understand it's necessary thing to do. But as a journalist and as a person who doesn't like that kind of attention and is actually my profession is be behind the camera, not in front of it, take interview not to give interview. It just kind of a tough situation.

SO: Does it make you more of a target possibly? Or could you be even more a target than you have been?

ELENA MILASHINA: I don't know. From one side it's it can save me. From another side, it can make some people more angry.

SO: How would it save you?

ELENA MILASHINA: Well if something happened with me it would not be that easy to close the situation down. It would be a big noise and that could scare people who would want to harm me. But from another side, we're dealing with the very special people in Chechnya and their enemies do not live for a long time.

SO: Are you afraid?


SO: Ever?

ELENA MILASHINA: Well I'm afraid of a lot of things of course but not on Chechnya. When I was starting to work there, actually, it happened after my very famous Russian journalist my colleague Anna Politkovskaya was killed in 2006 and then 2009 actually was killed my very close friend Natasha Estemirova. She was a very prominent Chechen human rights activist and journalist. She was kidnapped and shot several times. The day after I left her apartment and those murders made me really angry. And I was told by other people who were working on Chechnya and those yet not to be afraid at any situation of Chechen authorities. And this is probably the main reason of my work in Chechnya because obviously I was the only one, the only journalist who could write about this situation in Chechnya, that the campaign against Chechen gays was me because I was prepared. I had sources and in situations where it was so hard to confirm this information. Only I managed to do this because I was prepared. And for those years I learned how not to be afraid of those people. They should be afraid of me, not me. And they are.

SO: [Chuckles] They are certainly are now.

ELENA MILASHINA: Well don't you think they are afraid of is publicity, light. Like any evil. They are afraid of being named.

SO: Being outed.


SO: Elena, as a fellow journalist and a Canadian, I want to say congratulations for your honor and thank you for your work.

ELENA MILASHINA: Thank you. Thank you. Like I said kind of showed the world that's the borders doesn't matter anything. When you want to help unsafe people that's just a very good example for many countries.

SO: Elena Milashina is an investigative journalist at the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and she is this year's recipient of the International Press Freedom Award from Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. She joined me here in our Toronto studio. Coming up in our next half hour academic freedom means no issue should be shut down in the classroom. But there is a chill on Canadian campuses. Students and Academics are worried about the impact of speaking out. Now at least one professor says the debate about free speech isn't about free speech at all. We're going there next. I'm Susan Ormiston and you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current.

[Music: Theme]

Back To Top »

Where's the line between free expression and protecting students from hate speech?

Guests: Ken Coates, Jennifer Berdahl, Rinaldo Walcott

SO: I'm Susan Ormiston and you're listening to the Friday edition of The Current.


JORDAN PETERSON: : I'm not using the words that other people require me to use specially if they're made up by radical left wing ideologues and I believe that the reason this has caused so much noise - tremendous amount of noise, tremendous amount of attention on YouTube - is because there are things that are at stake in this discussion, despite its surface nature that strike at the very heart of our civilization.

SO: That's part of the TV interview that sparked the latest flare up around free speech on Canadian university campuses. Jordan Peterson, the controversial University of Toronto professor, was on TVO last year speaking out against the use of gender neutral pronouns. And when Lindsey Shepherd, a graduate student and teaching assistant at Wilfred Laurier University, played some of the program to her class, University administrators summoned here into a meeting and accused her of creating a toxic environment for her students. Lindsay Shepard secretly recorded the meeting and then released it to the media.


I don't see how someone would rationally think it was threatening. I I could see how it might challenge their existing ideas but for me that's the spirit of the university. It is challenging ideas they already have. The thing is can you shield people from those ideas. Am I supposed to comfort them and make sure they are insulated away from this, like is that what the point of this is? Because to me that is so against what a university is about.

SO: The university has since apologized to Lindsay Shepard but her case became the focus of the latest debate about academic freedom. Her treatment by the university raised questions about the balance between protecting freedom of speech and minority rights. So today we're asking where is the line between academic freedom and hate speech. And how are academics navigating that line every day in an increasingly polarized climate. We have three professors with us to help Rinaldo Walcott is the director of Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto. He's here with me in studio. Ken Coates is Canada Research Chair in regional innovation and faculty in the Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan. He is in Ottawa this morning. And Jennifer Berdahl is Professor of Leadership Studies focused on gender and diversity at the University of British Columbia. She's in Vancouver. Hello to all three of you.



KEN COATES: Good morning.

SO: Rinaldo I'll start with you. What have you been thinking about watching this case unfold?

RINALDO WALCOTT: So what I've been thinking about what's in this case unfold, is that this case is simply a symptom of a much longer cultural war that's being waged in the university as an institution since the 1960s. When women's studies, black studies, ethnic studies and other studies. I'm afraid I am gonna have to [unintelligible] this word, subalterns studies enter the university and have begun to transform the university. And these symptoms, these flare ups that we have in contemporary right now in the Canadian institution are really about claims of indigenising and decolonising university. And suddenly in particular white men, who neutrally were able to get away with all kinds of things are being challenged. And so these eruptions are symptoms of this much longer cultural war.

SO: Ken Coates, what do you think about the way Wilfred Laurier handled Lindsay Shepherd?

KEN COATES: Well as a white male over academic I sort of must say I agree with what Rinaldo said. I think Wilfred Laurier University handled this very poorly. They handled it very poorly as a teacher, who should have been supervising the TA and telling the TA on a regular basis how they should handle their class. I think the complaint system escalated way too quickly into sort of a multi-person sort of discussion with the TA. I think the university was [unintelligible] way too slowly. When they heard about the problem it wasn't until the tape came out that they decided to act. So in one sense I certainly agree with Rinaldo that there's a major sort of ongoing transition underway in universities as they come to terms with sort of the reality of modern society. But I also think there's a really good case study here of how not to handle these kind of conflicts in the classroom , between a TA and a faculty member.

SO: Okay, Jennifer Berdahl, in UBC. What do you think about the Sheppard case?

JENNIFER BERDAHL: Well I agree with the previous comments and I think that we are witnessing a situation in which a TA who was not an expert in an area opened up the classroom to that topic, and was not prepared to critically analyze and help students identify their underlying assumptions and values and help examine the topic with thorough evidence and expertise. And so what she ended up doing was sort of you know parading this video, that is quite incendiary and not being able to help students sort of grapple with it in a grammar section. And I think that the purpose of education really is to identify and challenge our thinking. I think pretty much any topic is on the table but it needs to be done in a very responsible way based on expertise.

SO: Okay let's pick up on that Rinaldo Walcott. Do you think any topic should be on the table? Or how do you navigate the line between free speech and what some would call hate speech?

RINALDO WALCOTT: Well I think in universities all topics are actually on the table. So again I think that these things that erupt are symptoms of this deeper set the questions. What I think is happening in our universities as they diversify even more. Some of us are able to say with really strong evidence that there are some forms of speech that are intolerable, that words actually do hurt and do harm and that ideas actually harm. You know colonisation as an idea has harmed indigenous people. It's also harm black people and black people were in slave out of a particular kind of idea that they were somehow less than human. So the struggle around ideas is central to the university. But also - we also live in a society where it actually limits the speech. This idea that somehow the university is this bastion of free speech, it's a myth that has to be done because we know that professors of color in particular are often subject to forms of restricted speech within the university.

SO: Okay I want to pick up on that with you. So these ideas you talk about, we all know them, but should they be presented and debunked or talked about? Or should they be shut down from the get go?

RINALDO WALCOTT: They are presented and the debunked but they also have a life beyond simply the debunking of them. So for instance when we look at the idea that somehow European civilization is the most important civilization among human kind, we see this represented in the universe to the fact that universities continue to be 90 something percent made up of white people. These are not innocent ideas. So even though there might be some moments of diversification, what we see are a perpetuation of a certain kind of white supremacy logic of the university that in the 90s we used to call Euro centrism. And so part of what's happening is, as that it's exit polls it's fraying at the edges. And we are getting this kind of white crisis in which the pushback is to say 'you're impeding my speech'.

SO: Okay Ken Coates, what do you think of what Rinaldo just presented there?

KEN COATES: I should agree with an awful lot of it. I mean I think people find these kinds of intellectual changes, these new ideas and values, very very challenging. Society finds them challenging, individual faculty members find them challenging, people start to get nervous to get kind of twitchy about 'did I say the right thing? Did I do the right thing?' I really like Jennifer's point when she was talking about the fact that these ideas should be in universities almost all of them. When you [unintelligible] hatred and racism, encouragement of violence against indigenous people, of course shut that down. That's against the Canadian law. But I think you can take almost any topic, other than those ones, and actually deal with it sensitively and expose the students to what you're going to talk about, explain how you're going to bring these ideas forward and go after it. But I think you know let's be real about this and Rinaldo said this very nicely; that in fact it takes a long time to change this great big ocean liner that is the university system. People are there for a long time and they get very nervous about sort of challenges to the status quo. I would also say that these challenges whether it's from African Canadians, whether it's from women from the 1960s, whether it's indigenous peoples who've been fighting for a place in university for 40 years, are actually changing - not only the university for the better - but changing society for the better. It is actually one of the best uses of the university is to sort of be that sort of first place of contact where there's openness and comfort and debate without it being sort of violent and angry. That's what we need universities to do. And we only have to look back as Rinaldo said before, go back over the last 40 years and you see massive and important transitions that have occurred in large part because of the bravery and courage of people standing up and having these kind of conversations.

SO: Jennifer Berdahl I want to ask you about our current times, contemporary times, where ideas get lift on the Internet and social media that they have long lives even when they're not true. So how does that impact what is said and discussed in Canadian university classrooms?

JENNIFER BERDAHL: Oh I think that's a really interesting question. We are really witnessing a change in the dialogue. And the source of information is often getting lost in the concept of expertise and evidence sometimes gets lost in the fray as well. You know I think we see a lot of these problems at universities when the authority to teach and educate gets decoupled from expertise. This is happening somewhat on the internet when you have perhaps people who are not educated on these topics weighing in and empowering people who are also saying things that aren't necessarily backed by scholarship reason and evidence. And then you get this kind of surge of popular support for ideas that might have been discussed and evaluated and debunked in universities for some decades. But nonetheless others might not be fully aware of the sort of deep reasoning and scholarship on these issues. And so you get this culture clash going on between public opinion and universities.

SO: Jennifer what is the difference between say academic freedom and free speech then?

JENNIFER BERDAHL: Well free speech is central to democracies. It is the idea that we can freely express our feelings, our opinions and again they don't have to be rooted in reasoning or they can be completely ignorant or wrong. But academic freedom is really the freedom to teach and learn. The whole purpose behind academic freedom is to protect the university's core mission of advancing and disseminating knowledge and understanding and using evidence and reason to do so. And so free speech and academic freedom can get confused at universities again when power and expertise gets decoupled. A student may be allowed to exercise free speech in a classroom by a professor when the student is ignorant on a topic and wants to express their opinion even if it is uninformed. So the teacher can then guide the student through their reasoning, their underlying assumptions and values and evaluate them with evidence in the field. When it comes to a professor or an instructor role at a university, it's not a matter of free speech. It is a matter of academic freedom and academic freedom doesn't entail the equality of ideas. It is defined as the freedom to engage in professionally competent teaching and research.

SO: Okay Rinaldo bring you in here. I want to talk about students now. We've heard a lot of criticism from some that students have too much power in universities right now. What do you think?

RINALDO WALCOTT: I actually think that there are a couple of things that again that reproduces that myth. One is that you know all of the management of students in universities often happens through diversity offices, sexual violence offices and so on. If we actually compare student movements today to student movements of the 60s we will be shocked to realize that, for instance, students are not shutting down universities in North America on mass. Students are not forcing professors to flee campuses on mass as we saw in the 60s - 68 as being that signal moment. So there's this kind of ongoing myth. In fact what universities are really good at? They're really good at managing students' outrage, managing students' disappointment by offering them task forces, committees and these what they call diversity officers to quell dissent within the university. I want to add something to Jennifer's point about academic freedom which is that academic freedom also requires us as researchers and professors to be responsible in our news and creation of knowledge. And this is why so many of our universities have ethical review standards and boards to make sure that we are responsible. So often when we talk about academic freedom we talk about this kind of free flowing way but part of it brings with it this particular kind of responsibility that many of us should also exercise in our classrooms which is not to harm our students.

SO: Ken Coates, on this idea of students having too much power the tyranny of small groups of students in universities.

KEN COATES: I think it's utter nonsense. I think students have a kind of power they should have and that's the power to sort of pick the courses they take, to pick the processors, to give evaluations of teachers, to complain if they have seen something they don't like in the process, to be part of a vibrant open debating sort of community that takes these issues out, that advances new ideas and new suggestions. If I look at this whole process and sort of say what's the one thing that makes me saddeat about this, it is the fact that there's a lot of the commentators and stuff have really got over the top. But for Laurier. I mean it sounds like the entire university system has been brought to its knees because some lesbian gay bisexual transsexual folks are asking for some measure of equality and understanding within the university environment. That is simply wrong. And I don't think students have too much power. I think we've got we have done, as Rinaldo said and we sort of find a way of institutionalizing it. We saw at Wilfred Laurier for example of how the institutionalization backfired. But I think we actually need to sort of be aware of the fact that the students are still having to struggle. We have lots of areas across this country where women are not finding it as a very comfortable place to be, in certain programs and certain faculties. We still have a lot of folks who are gay and lesbian who are not always welcome within institutions. We certainly have a lot of people of different minority backgrounds who struggle for recognition and acceptance. So I don't see it as a power struggle that if this is not a power struggle students are winning.

SO: Jennifer Berdahl do you see that, student feeling unsafe in some cases in the university environment and what's your obligation as a professor to address that?

JENNIFER BERDAHL: I have not personally witnessed - I guess in my classroom - this dynamic. I try to manage it very carefully. I teach gender diversity and leadership and I think the role of the professor is to create a safe environment for students to explore all kinds of opinions and assumptions and then critically evaluate them. So for example I'll have an MBA student say 'I would never hire a mother'. And you know that's a pretty offensive thing to say. But you know you stand there calmly and you ask 'Okay why do you say that?' And you start getting them to reveal their reasoning. You ask other students to weigh in. And you have a healthy discussion and then you present the research and evidence on you know work life balance of productivity of mothers etc. And you help them sort of educate themselves on that and perhaps debunk it. But you know some students are reporting that they feel unsafe for silenced in their classrooms and it's hard to tell to what extent is it that those classrooms are just challenging their assumptions in a way that they don't like.

SO: Rinaldo help me understand what's going on today inside the classroom. Are you cautious today about the topics and the language you use?

RINALDO WALCOTT: Not at all. I teach difficult material. I teach material about black life. I teach material about queer life. I teach material about, if today's World AIDS Day, about HIV AIDS. I'm never cautious about the material that I teach. Now I teach largely upper level undergraduate courses and graduate courses. And so in some ways the students who come to those courses self-select. But I think it's a question of pedagogy. And I think if you engage in forms of pedagogy that are meant to demean, to harm and to debate the substance of some people's humanity of course some people in those classes are going to respond to that and some of them are going to challenge you around the ways in which you're demeaning their lives. But if you teach from a place, if you practice a pedagogy that is about both one of questioning and searching but also one of valuing human life you don't have these kinds of problems. I mean in the areas of women's studies that I teach in gender studies sexuality studies these are difficult areas and I've not experienced this in my career of over two decades.

SO: Difficult and changing.


SO: All the time.

RINALDO WALCOTT: All the time.

SO: Ken Coates some pundits have made the case that you know politically correct views are the only ones allowed on campuses these days. What do you make of that?

KEN COATES: Well they don't seem to be in the same campuses I've been at and I've taught at universities from New Brunswick to British Columbia and overseas. There's lots of different ideas at universities. I have met colleagues who are quite conservative in their approaches, some who are very doctrinaire leftists on the other hand. We have people complaining about the doctor and are leftists and complaining about the doctrinaire conservatives. We have people who complain about the fact that professors don't tell you what their views are. I don't think it's anywhere near as sort of risky. I think I'm more worried about self-censorship. I'm more worried about faculty members, TAs or whatever who are afraid to do exactly what Jennifer and Rinaldo had been talking about. Students are not vulnerable little creatures. They are actually smart young people trying to make their way in the world, to understand how things go. As long as you do exactly what we're not just talking about, use a proper pedagogy, don't dump your ideas on people, engage with them and discuss it with them. I find it really concerning when people all of these columns coming up talking about this politically correct university and how ideas are being shut down. It just does not accord with my experience over many many years teaching at a number of different universities.

SO: Jennifer I just wanted to ask you, you know there has been such a vigorous debate about this recently and you know we often call many guests to come on our program and speak about challenging subjects. And in this case a lot of professors we talked to did not want to come on air talk about this and on a panel. So what does that suggest to you?

JENNIFER BERDAHL: Well I think it suggests that professors don't feel the freedom to speak out about these issues without the fear of really severe repercussions. My colleague Mary Bryson At UBC for example really paid a price when she was on a panel with Jordan Peterson last year and then you know received death threats etc. afterwards. So I think a lot of people especially people with marginalized identities or who study and advocate on behalf of marginalized and historically oppressed groups are afraid in this climate to take a public stance and perhaps face the backlash of trolls on the Internet.

RINALDO WALCOTT: If I might add to what Jennifer just said, I think it's really important that it's not simply that we say 'people' but to say 'the right wing'. In these debates there's been a lot of talk about the far right and the far left but it's largely the right wing who will mobilize and organize to harass and drum different views off of the table. We have actually not seen the left organize in this kind of way to drum different views off the table, but we see it from the right wing. We should be clear that that is their own form of hypocrisy, that they claim to want free speech but when they encounter speech that's contrary they have no space and time for it.

SO: Ken Coates is that what you see, that it's the right not the left?

KEN COATES: It certainly is and this particular issue, I'll use an example. I teach in a field of Indigenous Studies and have a very long time. And if you go back 15-20 years the kind of conversation we're having now was often directed to faculty members who talk about Indigenous issues and students who are upset about the kind of comments about decolonization and marginalization and things of that sort. They thought Canada did much to indigenous people. So I think we've seen this kind of stuff over long period of time. I think the far right has really engaged in this particular debate and trying to sort of use it to embarrass and humiliate universities. I will go back, if you don't mind, and talk really quickly about this business of having trouble getting people to come on the air to talk about these things. I mean I think we need to recognise that faculty members are encouraged to be courageous, encouraged to be out there and share their views. I would have nothing wrong if somebody who had been on this panel, took a sharply divergent view from ours and the three of us seem to agree on most of the things. I findit disturbing that people would be afraid to do that although I do think the business of sort of engaging the public is something that universities does not right now have as a strong point.

SO: Jennifer just very briefly on that last point some would say that the left as well is trying to shut down discussion of topics that they don't agree with.

JENNIFER BERDAHL: Well I mean I think that what people are talking about there is perhaps feeling afraid of making a mistake, when people talk about politically correct language, fearing that if they use their long term or say the wrong thing they're going to get attacked. But really universities are places where you have to be able to admit your mistakes. You have to be able to learn, to correct each other, to discuss these things. So perhaps people on both ends of the spectrum are vociferously defending their views. But I think as long as we do so respectfully with reason and with scholarship and evidence in a university context then we're doing what we should be doing.

SO: That's what everybody wants. We've just got a minute or two left. Rinaldo, very briefly where are we going on this? There's clearly tension.

RINALDO WALCOTT: So I think where we're going. First I want to say that there's no equivalent to campus watch from the left. There's no equivalent of the dangerous professors left on the left that we see has been produced by the right. I think where we're going is that we're going to continue to see this kind of white crisis within the university as people who've been traditionally shut out continue to insist that the university is a place that we belong. That we continue to insist that because we belong there that the university has to transform itself so that we are not subject to forms of verbal violence, so that the kind of routine ways in which our lives have been demeaned and dismissed previously by forms of knowledge production are ameliorated. And so this is not going to get any easier but I think the future of the university is a promising one. It's going to look much different. It's going to be far more inclusive and I think people like myself who are committed to making university transform. We don't intend to back now.

SO: Ken Coates about 30 seconds left. Where are we going?

KEN COATES: Many years ago Pierre Berton wrote a book called The Comfortable Pew in which he argued that the churches in Canada become very complacent and relaxed. If universities become complacent and comfortable and they're not achieving their mission. It has to be a place where people of all different backgrounds, different ideas come forward and challenge Canada to be a better place. And when I see these kinds of debates, the fact that we're even talking about it as much as we are, still says to me that universities are continuing to do the job they have to do.

SO: Great thank you very much all three of you. Rinaldo Walcott is the director of Women and Gender Studies Institute at the University of Toronto. He's here with me in studio. Ken Coates is Canada Research Chair in regional innovation and faculty in the Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan. He's in Ottawa today, and Jennifer Berdahl is Professor of Leadership Studies focused on gender and diversity at the University of British Columbia and she is in Vancouver. Well that's our program for today. Stay tuned to Radio 1 for Q. The 2003 film The Room is widely considered the 'greatest bad movie ever made'. For his latest project actor, producer and director James Franco wanted to tell the story of the making of that film, now a global cult hit. So coming up James Franco talks to Tom Power about the Disaster Artist; his new film about Tommy Wiseau, the enigmatic figure behind The Room. Remember you can always take The Current with you to go on the CBC Radio app. It lets you browse through past episodes and listen in just a few seconds, you can search for stories you missed or want to hear again or listen live to your local CBC station on your smartphone or from your tablet. Well it was University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson's refusal to use gender neutral pronouns that ignited this latest firestorm of debate around academic freedom on campus. Vivek Shraya knows intimately what it's like to be called by the wrong pronoun. The award winning South Asian Canadian musician came out as trans last year. And this summer she and the Queer Songbook Orchestra released an album called Part-Time Woman on they dedicated to anyone who has been mis-gendered, made to feel not feminine enough or struggled to find home in a language that resists complexity. We'll leave you this morning with Part-Time woman. I'm Susan Ormiston. And thanks for listening to the Friday edition of The Current.


[Song: Part-Time Woman by Vivek Shraya and Queer Songbook Orchestera]

I don't shave

I don't wear makeup

No skirts

I don't dress up

What does that make me?

Does that make me a part-time woman?

How many high notes do you have to reach?

How many hours do you have to bleed?

Or will I always be a part-time woman?

I don't shave

I don't wear lipstick

I am not polished

I don't fix it

What does that make me?

Does that make me a part-time woman?

How much weight do you have to lose?

How many hours do you have to prove?

Back To Top »

CBC would like to acknowledge the support of the Broadcasting Accessibility Fund.