Alberta vows to ‘strengthen free speech’ on campus after University of Lethbridge cancels talk

Alberta’s minister of advanced education says the province will work towards strengthening free speech on post-secondary campuses.

This comes after the University of Lethbridge cancelled a controversial Calgary professor’s talk, which was scheduled for Wednesday.

Minister Demetrios Nicolaides acknowledged professor Frances Widdowson has made controversial comments in the past, but opposed the talk’s cancellation.

“I believe it is important for our universities and colleges to foster a strong culture of free speech and diverse viewpoints, even when those viewpoints are deemed controversial, or even offensive, barring speech intended to incite hatred or violence of course,” Nicolaides told CityNews in a statement.

Nicolaides says he intends to announce to steps to strengthen free speech on campuses “in the near future.”

“It should be for students, not university administrators, to make the final decision about whether to listen to a speech or not,” he said.

Widdowson, while tenured, was fired from Mount Royal University in 2021 after comments about Black Lives Matter and for claiming there were “education benefits” to residential schools.

Students petitioned to have Widdowson let go.

Wednesday’s now cancelled talk, titled “How ‘Woke-ism’ Threatens Academic Freedom,” was scheduled for inside the campus.

On Monday afternoon, Widdowson said on Facebook she will appear at the university’s atrium for her speech.

“You will have to haul me away by security to stop me,” Widdowson wrote.

Nicolaides noted his support of free speech does not mean he supports Widdowson’s controversial comments.

—With files from Phil Wood, Lisa Grant and Alejandro Melgar

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