Canada’s Free Speech Wars

In Canada, the assaults on free speech continue like clockwork. Free speech, a self-correcting mechanism that makes possible civil public discourse and social peace in free societies, is increasingly under attack throughout Europe and North America. Canada in particular is on an unwavering path toward cultural suicide. It is a shameful period for Canadians, as the Liberal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues to bow to the demands of favored minorities and the political activists who claim to represent their interests. Indeed, Trudeau has unwittingly become postmodernism’s poster boy. He has abandoned Truth in his unbridled pursuit of power and has further exacerbated what was already a decades-long problem.

As one of the “architects” of the deconstructionist postmodern ideology underlying this trend, Jean-Francois Lyotard maintained that the utilization of language is power. According to Lyotard, the “truth” is controlled by the one who has the platform to speak. Thus, fittingly, authoritarians have incessantly sought to shutdown inconvenient speakers, those who advocate free speech, in an attempt to strip them of any power to persuade. For example, in late September, Liberal Members of Parliament (MPs) walked out on Rachel Harder, who is a pro-life MP who was picked for the status of women committee chair for the Conservative Party of Canada. This disregard, not only for truth but common decency, dialogue, and understanding, has become pervasive across Canada. In a similar vein, there has been new legislation passed in Ontario by the Liberal provincial government lead by the radical Kathleen Wynne, to instantiate ridiculous “safe access zones” of 50 to 150 meters around abortion clinics for the purpose of preventing “harassment.” The fact of the matter is that harassment laws already prevent attempts to block access to clinics. It is just another way for abortion proponents to silence pro-life demonstrators and protect the current abortion laws.

Compelled Speech Demanded by Ontario’s Bar Association
Following the poorly drafted and totalitarian Bill C-16, which compels individuals to use an ever-growing list of personal pronouns for self-identified transgendered persons, the Law Society of Upper Canada (Ontario’s bar association) now demands lawyers submit a “statement of principles” or risk disbarment. Society members have been provided “convenient” statement templates to make the requirement less burdensome. Take, for instance, one of the compelled “principles”:

A recognition that the Law Society is committed to Inclusive legal workplaces in Ontario, a reduction of barriers created by racism, unconscious bias and discrimination and better representation of Indigenous and racialized licensees in the legal professions in all legal workplaces and at all levels of seniority.

Are lawyers now supposed to admit unconscious racism and discriminatory practices? In a National Post article, attorney Bruce Pardy, Professor of Law at Queen’s University, rightly points out that “Forced speech is the most egregious violation of freedom of expression, protected by section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” Thus Canadian authorities are now suppressing unfashionable speech while simultaneously compelling favored speech. On October 10, Jordan Peterson, Pardy and practicing attorney Jared Brown discussed the problems associated with the Law Society’s policy that readers can view on Youtube. Members of the Law Society who want to defend their free speech rights can go here: NoForcedSpeech.ca.

Wilfrid Laurier University’s Suffocation of Free Speech
Canadian institutions of higher learning are increasingly implementing Lyotard’s dictum on power and speech. A communications graduate student teaching assistant, Lindsay Shepherd, was caught recently in a crossfire of controversy at Wilfred Laurier University (WLU) located in Waterloo, Ontario. Shepherd was reprimanded by WLU for presenting a brief clip of a debate concerning the compelled usage of non-gendered pronouns on Steve Paikin’s mainstream public television show, The Agenda. The clip featured two professors from the University of Toronto (U of T), Jordan Peterson, a professor of psychology, and Nicolas Matte, a lecturer at the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, who in the video makes the absurd claim that there are no differences between males and females.

What was Shepherd’s crime? Apparently, she did not condemn the politically unfashionable views of Jordan Peterson who refuses to use non-gendered pronouns as required by the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Instead, she held a neutral position, in order not to influence her students. This is good pedagogy if educating is your objective. However, indoctrination was the goal of the Communications Studies faculty. Shepherd was hauled into a meeting with two faculty members with whom she studied as well as Adria Joel, the acting manager of Gendered Violence Prevention and Support at the school.

In an appalling inquisitorial style, Shepherd’s supervisor, Nathan Rambukkana, asked whether she was sent to WLU by Peterson and accused her of creating a “toxic” environment for students without a single shred of evidence. And most egregiously, Rambukkana and program coordinator Herbert Pimlott likened the defense of free speech to a Nazi propaganda tactic thereby suggesting Shepherd, by presenting the video clip neutrally, was facilitating Peterson’s fascist agenda. They further claimed she violated the school’s Gendered and Sexual Violence policy and accused her (falsely) of breaking the law. She was told that students would not be allowed to hear views they disapproved of and that her seminar notes must be approved by her supervisor from that point on to ensure compliance.

Luckily, Shepherd had the courage to stand up to these three bullies and surreptitiously record them on her laptop. We now have official auditory confirmation for posterity of this type of Orwellian nightmare that is increasingly common at Canadian universities. Just over a year ago, Peterson had warned about such insanity and intolerance. Things have gotten even worse since then. It is precisely what D.A. Carson labeled the intolerance of tolerance, where the traditional meaning of tolerance—whereby one respects those with whom he disagrees—is inverted to mean that one who is tolerant must affirm views he previously opposed. Of course, such a definition of tolerance is incoherent, yet this is precisely the idea prevalent throughout Canada and witnessed in Shepherd’s ordeal at WLU.

Fallout from the WLU Controversy
It was only after Shepherd’s recording was released that WLU felt obliged to offer her an apology. As Shepherd wrote on her Twitter account: “Moral of the story: A university must be repeatedly publicly shamed, internationally, in order to apologize (oh, but keep the task force & investigation). Even then, ambiguous about free speech. Also, make sure to secretly record all meetings or they won’t take you seriously.”

The response offered by the administrators is weak and disingenuous. If they truly wanted to salvage a modicum of respectability, they would take disciplinary action against those who wrongfully reprimanded Shepherd. This is a real opportunity for WLU to champion academic freedom and genuine learning. Instead, they continue to kowtow to irrational fears and demands, while creating safe spaces because the campus is allegedly “unsafe” for transgender people and professors who support them. WLU could easily set an example for the rest of university campuses by removing the Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy (GSVP), which states:

An act or actions that reinforce gender inequalities resulting in physical, sexual, emotional, economic or mental harm. This violence includes sexism, gender discrimination, gender harassment, biphobia, transphobia, homophobia and heterosexism, intimate partner violence, and forms of Sexual Violence. This violence can take place on any communication platform (e.g., graffiti, online environments, and through the use of phones).

This statement undergirds why Adria Joel accused Shepherd of “spreading transphobia” and causing “harm” and “violence.” WLU has not taken any action to remove this Orwellian-style policy and I suspect they have no intention to. Although Shepherd has received significant support from the media, many from WLU still don’t appreciate free speech and continue to create more safe spaces.

Furthermore, it is appalling how few Canadian politicians were willing to express their disgust at Wilfrid Laurier University’s flagrant violation of free speech and academic standards in the Shepherd case. Neither Trudeau, nor the socialist leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, Jagmeet Singh, have defended free speech. The only political leader to do so has been Andrew Scheer, leader of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC). Scheer specifically weighed in on the WLU controversy and condemned its assault on free speech. He asked, “I don’t know why the Prime Minister can’t simply denounce what happened at [WLU].”

In contrast, the Liberal Party’s minister of science, Kirsty Duncan was caught in an instance of doublespeak. She stated on one hand that the Liberal Party upholds free speech unless the views promote “intolerance and hate” while fighting for the Charter of Rights for all Canadians. What does she mean by “hate”—neutrally showing a video of Peterson on TVOntario? It is worth noting that the term hate in Canadian jurisprudence is nowhere to be found. However, “hatred” is defined in case law. What the Criminal Code does prohibit though is “hate propaganda” which is defined as: “any writing, sign or visible representation that advocates or promotes genocide…” However, Bill C-16, the law Shepherd supposedly broke, amends the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code to protect gender expression and identity. Is Duncan suggesting that Shepherd committed hate propaganda? The reason Shepherd’s accusers are wrong is because the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is not meant to protect someone from being offended.

Scheer has also promised, if he wins the Canadian federal election of 2019, to cut funding of universities that do not uphold free speech. Nevertheless, until WLU adopts a policy similar to the University of Chicago on free expression, they will never restore their credibility.

The Associated Ills of Postmodernism
A quick look at the university webpages of Rambukanna and Pimlott will explain why political radicals like these would be so willing to vilify anyone not in their ideological camp. Canadians should be appalled that their tax money is funding what the physicist Alan Sokal labeled “fashionable nonsense.” Sokal in 1996 brilliantly exposed postmodernism’s abuse of science and reason with a submission of a hoax article, with the absurd title: “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity” to Social Text, a prominent postmodern cultural studies journal.

Recently, in a desperate attempt to defend the humanities and their longstanding corruption while ostensibly lauding free speech, Ira Wells, Professor of English at U of T, who had taught at WLU in 2011, wrote an irrational tirade against Peterson. Among many other details, he mischaracterized Peterson’s political leanings, libeling him an “Alt-Right” figure. He fumbled on IQ research, claiming that Peterson’s IQ defense is on “shaky grounds,” which it is not. Furthermore, his caricature of Peterson’s position on postmodernism revealed the extent of his own ignorance of the subject. The fact that he can demonstrate one common theme within postmodernism seems to betray its “spirit.” The “framework” or “method” of deconstructionism, for example, makes it impossible to coherently affirm anything since the whole point of postmodernism is to deny “logocentric” ways of knowing. It is only when you step outside of deconstructionism and actually use the “oppressive patriarchal tool” of logic to analyze postmodernism that you can affirm or refute anything. In a collection of essays titled Postmodernism and Christian Philosophy, Philosopher Brendan Sweetman explains the difficulty in analyzing Jacques Derrida’s deconstructionism:

I am especially concerned to attempt to state Derrida’s main thesis clearly, for it seems to me that this is one of the main difficulties with the philosophy of deconstructionism. Derrida and his disciples seldom provide a clear account of the main points of their philosophy. There are varying reasons for this, of course, not least their claim that they are not asserting a philosophical theory, or even a position, at all. This reluctance to state clearly what it is they wish us to take away from their thought has the effect of at once isolating deconstructionism from philosophical debate, while at the same time protecting it from critical examination.

To add to this ambiguity and even incoherence, it should be noted that in all of Derrida’s texts (roughly around 60 that have been translated to English), he purposely used his terms differently in each, which can be seen as part of the deconstructive “strategy.”

However, the incoherence and chaos of deconstructionism is not the central problem but an intellectual strategy for a larger, more sinister goal. Postmodernism is used by social activists to bring down the power structures of Western civilization, namely, free market capitalism and Christian values. Along the way, science, reason and logic have become targets. Derrida, in his text Moscou aller-retour, admits that his philosophical system of radical epistemological skepticism and its subsequent political implications, is based on Marxism: “Deconstruction never had meaning or interest, at least in my eyes, than as a radicalization, that is to say, also within the tradition of a certain Marxism in a certain spirit of Marxism.” This quotation reveals the connection between postmodernism’s method of deconstructionism and neo-Marxist activism. Not surprisingly, Canadian universities that stifle free speech the most have devoted the greatest effort to promoting identity politics.

Which is why Peterson should seriously consider finally implementing his planned website intended to expose course curriculums and professors who indoctrinate students with postmodern and Neo-Marxist ideology. Much maligned by the U of T Faculty Association, the proposed website is currently on hiatus. It would allow students to avoid such courses before registering for classes and could lead to funding cuts in the coming years. It is time to put an end to the reign of terror at the hands of ideologically possessed faculty members.

Free Speech and the Human Person
Although Shepherd thought of herself as a person of the left before her ordeal, she has clearly distinguished herself from radicals like Rambukanna and Pimlott who have zero interest in freedom of expression (until it is theirs being threatened). They would much rather push their ideology than foster intellectual development. It is quite unfortunate that a young intelligent woman like Shepherd, who is keen on learning about the world, is now questioning whether academia is right for her. Her experience at WLU has perhaps shown that trudging through a masters and a PhD is not worth the effort because of the ideological constraints. Even though conservatives (and a shrinking number of old-time liberals in the press) predominantly defend freedom of expression in public, it is a cause that should be championed by all Canadians who truly believe in the human person and democratic institutions.

Similar to Shepherd’s leftist self-identification, the great Thomistic philosopher, Jacques Maritain, saw himself by temperament as a man of the “left.” Maritain also warned against the great dangers from the extreme right (although Nazis initially emerged from the left) and Communists on the left. Closely bound up to Maritain’s political philosophy was his moral philosophy. In The Person and the Common Good, Maritain recognized that “[t]he end of society is neither the individual good nor the collection of individual goods of each of the persons who constitute it” but rather “[the] end of the society is the good of the community, the good of the social body.” This is what I believe Shepherd and those who stand up for freedom of speech and expression have realized. Hopefully, we will all get there together, sooner than later.

Scott Ventureyra

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Scott Ventureyra earned a doctorate in theology from Dominican University College in Ottawa, Canada in 2017. He has published in academic journals such as Science et Esprit, The American Journal of Biblical Theology, Studies in Religion and Maritain Studies (the journal of the Canadian Jacques Maritain Association). He has also written for magazines such as Crisis and Convivium and newspapers such as The National Post, City Light News, The Ottawa Citizen and The Times Colonist.

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