Laurier won't censor speech, says draft statement on free expression

Wilfrid Laurier University - which has become embroiled in free speech controversy - has released a draft statement on freedom of expression. It says the school won't censor speech, but instead suggests people with opposing views should articulate their dissenting views.

Task force says statement will 'protect free expression for all at Laurier'

Lindsay Shepherd, as seen in her Twitter profile photo, was sanctioned by a professor after showing a controversial video in a class, which sparked a discussion about freedom of expression on campus. The university's task force on what should be done moving forward released a draft of its statement on Monday. (Twitter)

The chairperson of a task force looking at creating a statement on freedom of expression at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont., says he believes they've come up with something that will "stand the test of time."

The university has been embroiled in free speech controversy since last fall, when teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd was sanctioned for showing a contentious video in a class.

The draft statement was released Monday afternoon and the task force is now seeking feedback until May 14.

"We believe that the statement as written will serve to protect free expression for all at Laurier, including — perhaps most importantly — those whose viewpoints have been and continue to be marginalized," Rob Gordon, the task force's chairman who is also the university's vice president of research and acting provost, wrote in a statement on the school's website.

"The task force was keenly aware that to be effective, the statement must stand the test of time and protect expression under any campus leadership or in any social or political climate," Gordon wrote. "We believe our statement achieves that."

Won't censor speech

The statement notes it will not be the university's role to censor speech.

"To grant the institution such power sets a dangerous precedent," it says.

It notes, though, that freedom of expression cannot be illegal and the school reserves the right to "reasonably manage the time, place, and manner of expression."

The statement said at times, people or groups on campus "may find it difficult to engage in or respond to free expression" and people may feel marginalized or be negatively impacted.

It noted the school takes the well-being of everyone on campus seriously and encourages people to speak up.

"Rather than attempting to silence speech, Laurier community members are encouraged to articulate dissenting views in meaningful ways through, for example, participating in debate, expressing opposition by hosting alternative events, inviting speakers to express opposing views, and/or engaging in non-violent protests."

You can read the full draft statement here

Faith Goldy, as seen in her profile picture on social media, does not support Canada's current immigration policies. She was unable to give a talk at Wilfrid Laurier University in March after someone pulled a fire alarm. She will return to Waterloo on Monday to give a talk. (Facebook)

New Faith Goldy talk planned

The statement was released the same day student Shepherd announced an on-campus group was being pushed off campus for an event.

In a tweet, Shepherd said a group she helped to form — Laurier Society for Open Inquiry — has invited anti-immigration speaker Faith Goldy back to Waterloo to give a talk.

Goldy was on campus in March to give a talk, but a fire alarm was pulled before she was able to speak. Protesters also stood outside the building she was set to speak in.

Shepherd admitted on Twitter executive members of the group disagreed on whether Goldy should be invited back but ultimately decided to go ahead with a second talk.

Goldy will be joined by University of New Brunswick sociology professor Ricardo Duchesne, who has been criticized by colleagues for his views on immigration. Duchesne has argued the influx of Asian immigrants threatens Canada's European character.

The talk is scheduled April 30 at the University of Waterloo's Theatre of the Arts because Laurier "refused to accommodate our event," Shepherd said. 

University 'did not 'refuse''

However, the university said it "did not 'refuse' to accommodate this event."

The university said in an emailed statement that an event planning meeting with the faculty sponsor to discuss "safety, security and other related planning matters" happened too late to schedule the event for April 30.

"The faculty sponsor did not make himself available to discuss these issues either in person or by phone for an eleven-day period after the room-booking request," the statement said. 

"It is both reasonable and important to expect that all parties associated with an event of this nature take the time to discuss key planning issues in a timely manner to help ensure the safety of attendees, participants and others." 

Laurier Univ. teaching assistant sanction dispute

5 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