Canadian students must stand up to censorship

It is depressingly ironic when university events aimed at discussing campus censorship get censored. This is what happened recently at Ryerson University, Toronto. A panel discussion, entitled ‘The stifling of free speech on university campuses’, was shut down by university administrators citing safety concerns after the violent protests in Charlottesville.

Just before the university cancelled the event, a Facebook page called ‘No Fascists in Our City!’ condemned it as a ‘bigoted event featuring some of the most bigoted folks around right now as panelists’. ‘This shit stops now’, the statement continued, ‘either you’re with us or you’re not… We are beyond psyched’.

Who were these supposedly bigoted speakers? The panel included University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson, Concordia University professor Gad Saad, clinical psychologist Dr Oren Amitay and former Rebel Media journalist Faith Goldy. Peterson has since claimed that the university’s decision to cancel the event was motivated by threats of protest, and the organisers have stated that there were requests from university students to cancel the event, too.

Three of the four panelists were well-known academics – this fact seems irrelevant to those describing them as ‘Nazis’. But the vehement reaction from protesters was unsurprising, especially given the fact that Peterson has garnered substantial controversy in the past year for his criticism of Canada’s Bill C-16, which outlaws ‘misgendering’, and his refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns.

There was some small backlash to the event being cancelled, but most of the reactions were indifferent. Groups outside the university also celebrated the cancellation, including the Coalition Against White Supremacy and Islamophobia, and the Canadian Marxist journal Fightback.

This is bad news for free speech. The conflation of any disagreeable speech with hate speech has become commonplace, and, as a result, we’re losing our ability to debate difficult ideas. This is a very Canadian problem. Multiculturalism, and the idea that you must love all aspects of all cultures, has been ingrained in the Canadian identity – our relationship with hate is simply to shun it as ‘un-Canadian’. Thus you have the farcical situation in which a debate about censorship gets censored, in case some of its panelists incite ‘hate speech’.

Instead of going along to the event and arguing with the speakers, students and anti-facists called on the university administration to shut it down. But there is some good news – the event has since been rescheduled and will be held at Canada Christian College in November. Students should take Ryerson’s censorious actions as a wake-up call, and get serious about defending freedom of speech.

Jacob Sünd is a writer based in Canada.

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