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Wilfrid Laurier University: Inspiring Censorship

It’s hard to keep up with all the drama steam rolling university campuses these days, and often times I wonder why we should even care, at that age aren’t we all just trying to discover ourselves as we embark on our journey through nascent adulthood? Just let the kids figure it out for themselves, self-discovery after all only comes with experience and self-reflection.

That conventional wisdom is apparently lost on certain campus administrators and faculty, who feel students no longer need to think through issues on their own because they themselves already know what constitutes as true, so why open up issues for debate or discussion? Just ask Communications studies department professor Nathan Rambukkana at Wilfrid Laurier University in Canada, who hauled in his teaching assistant Lindsey Shepard for having the audacity to show a short-clip of a TVO debate featuring two professors from the University of Toronto, Jordan Peterson and Nicolas Matte, debating the necessity of compelled speech (here), mandating proper gender pronoun use, such a as “ze” and “xyr” and whether it should be bound by Canadian law (It was eventually under Bill C-16).

The reason for the inquisition stemmed from a “student complaint” that the nature of the video caused “harm” and created a “toxic climate for students” simply by playing a short video clip that had already been seen by thousands of people on Canada’s version of PBS. Professor Rambukkana accompanied by Professor Herbert Pimlott and Adria Joel, manager of Gendered Violence Prevention and Support, grilled Shepard for almost an hour in what resembled and Orwellian styled modern day witch trial that ended in accusations of transphobia and the potential crime that she had violated Canada’s Human Rights Law by playing a video debate on contemporary issues. Rambukkana stated the need for the arguments to be introduced “critically” and that playing a video of the opposing view by Jordan Peterson (against mandated gender pronoun use) as tantamount to “neutrally playing a speech by Hitler”.

How do we know this? Shepard secretly recorded the conversation on her laptop.

After the recording was released, it sparked quite a large public debate, where donors were threatening to pull funding for what was perceived to be a culture of censorship that runs counter to the spirit of the university, which has enshrined in its motto Veritas Onia Vincit (Truth Conquers All). After some public relations juggling, the president of the college Deborah MacLatchy and Professor Nathan Rambukkana both issued an apology to Ms. Shepard, after the highly publicized recording caused well deserved outrage and backlash.

Oh and another thing, the student that complained, never existed. It was fabricated by the professor and no actual complaint whether formal or informal was actually filed.

As bizarre and dystopian as the above story is, it begs the question, can we as a free and democratic society tolerate views that we disagree with or should we prevent them from ever being discussed for fear that they may offend our sensibilities? Shouldn’t we weigh the merits of an argument through careful scrutiny and dialogue, and continue the debate until we can find common ground before it is turned into policy or at the very least agree to disagree? Or do we simply impose our world view onto others and avoid the difficult task of having those discussions in the first place? Maybe we should start by allowing people to discover that for themselves, instead of preventing them from hearing differing opinions in the first place.

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