Teaching assistant who was sanctioned questions sincerity of Wilfrid Laurier University's apology

Wilfrid Laurier University teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd says she accepts an apology from the school's president and her supervising professor after she was sanctioned for showing a controversial video in class. But she also says the apology is just damage control.

'I didn’t expect their apology to be sincere. I don’t think that they are sincere,'

Laurier Univ. teaching assistant sanction dispute

6 years ago
Duration 5:51
Sanctions, publicity, apology. Wilfrid Laurier Univ. teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd talks to CBC's Aarti Pole about the fallout of showing a controversial video in class

Lindsay Shepherd says she's glad her supervising professor and the president of Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., have apologized.

But she also says she doesn't think they had any other option.

On Tuesday, Laurier's president Deborah MacLatchy issued an apology on behalf of the school to Shepherd. It came after Shepherd, a grad student and teaching assistant, was sanctioned by her supervising professor for showing a controversial video in a tutorial for a communications class.

Shepherd covertly recorded her meeting with her supervising professor Dr. Nathan Rambukkana as well as another professor, Herbert Pimlott, and the manager of Gendered Violence Prevention and Support, Adria Joel. This week, that audio was released to media outlets.

Listen to the audio of that meeting:

Laurier University leads Question Period

6 years ago
Duration 1:10
The freedom of speech issue at Wilfred Laurier university is picked by the Conservatives as their first question on Wednesday

"After listening to this recording, an apology is in order," MacLatchy wrote.

"The conversation I heard does not reflect the values and practices to which Laurier aspires. I am sorry it occurred in the way that it did and I regret the impact it had on Lindsay Shepherd."

Shepherd told CBC News she didn't see where the university had any other option but to apologize.

"This was their only option," she said, adding, "I didn't expect their apology to be sincere. I don't think that they are sincere."

Lindsay Shepherd says she accepts the apology from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., after she was sanctioned for showing a video of a controversial debate in her classroom. (Twitter)

Complaint over video

Shepherd was sanctioned by Rambukkana after screening an episode of the TVOntario current affairs program The Agenda, which showed a panel discussion that included two University of Toronto instructors — controversial psychology professor Jordan Peterson and Nicholas Matte, a lecturer in the sexual diversity studies program.

Peterson is known for being outspoken on issues, including his views on genderless pronouns.

Shepherd was told one or more students complained about the video and Rambukkana told Shepherd showing the video without denouncing Peterson's views was like "neutrally playing a speech by Hitler."

Shepherd went to the media after that meeting and said she felt the university was being unfair in sanctioning her for the video.

Free speech support

On Wednesday, the issue was raised in the House of Commons as Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer made it the first question of the day.

"Will the prime minister join me in condemning the egregious crackdown on free speech at Laurier University?" he asked.

The prime minister was in Toronto at that time, announcing the Liberals' new national housing strategy. So the question was answered in the House by Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan.

"Our government is committed to creating open spaces for Canadians to debate and express their views," she said.

"In a free society, we may disagree with people's views, but we must defend their right to hold them, unless those views promote hate. Intolerance and hate have no place in Canadian society or in our post-secondary institutions," Duncan said. 

The Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship wrote a letter of support for Shepherd, saying it's not the university's job to shield students from certain views.

"The purpose of classroom discussion, though, is not to bring students into any particular set of beliefs or attitudes, but to help them to make up their own minds," the letter said. "Requiring teaching assistants to condemn views as problematic is in conflict with this purpose, as the teaching assistant would then be pressuring the students to reject certain views."
University of Toronto Prof. Jordan Peterson has been outspoken in his refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns. (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

'Part of a larger concern'

On Tuesday in Ottawa, federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer called the meeting Shepherd had with her professor an "inquisition" and said he couldn't believe what he heard.

Debate is not only supposed to be allowed at university, it's to be encouraged, he said.

Listen to Scheer's comments:

"I think that's extremely disappointing that the administration at that university would proceed in that way," he said.

"I believe it's part of a larger concern that I've witnessed and seen and heard feedback from from students and faculty from around the country that there are more and more impediments to free speech on campus."

Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer says he listened to parts of the meeting Shepherd had with her professor and others and he was surprised by what was said to her. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Issue far from over

Shepherd said the issue is far from over considering Laurier is continuing with its third-party investigation into what happened and a task force to look into how the university can foster "important discussions in a thoughtful and determined way."

Shepherd said she's not clear what that means.

"While they did do damage control because they were profoundly embarrassed, it doesn't really guarantee anything for the future if anyone ever finds themselves in my situation," she told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition host Craig Norris.

"It's kind of unfortunate that they didn't make any long-term commitment to protecting the ability to debate topics in the classroom in the future."

She said MacLatchy has reached out to her and asked to meet in person — an opportunity Shepherd said she will accept.

Listen to Shepherd's interview on CBC K-W's The Morning Edition:

'Not some scary monster'

As for her future at Laurier, Shepherd said she's torn on what to do.

She continues to teach her tutorial and said she is being transparent with students and answering any questions they have.

But she has received next to no support from her classmates or department.

"Zero people in my department or the communications studies department have made a point of supporting me," she said.

When she goes to her graduate class, "no one talks to me, no one even looks at me. It's like, whoa, you guys — you guys have an issue."

"I'm a person. So now it's like I've turned into some sort of Jordan Peterson where my physical body and me being somewhere is some sort of threat on a safe space," she said. "I'm not some scary monster."