Free speech debate continues to rage in Alberta

By Adam Ziccarelli

Just how free should free speech be? That debate rages on in Alberta after a petition forced the University of Lethbridge to deny space to a controversial speaker.

“Let’s stop the preventing people from speaking. This is a huge mistake and it should never happen,” said Dr. Frances Widdowson, former Mount Royal University professor.

Dr. Widdowson delivered a presentation titled Indigenous ways of knowing to a philosophy class on Tuesday. But the U of L denied her space on Wednesday for a presentation of “How ‘woke-ism threatens academic freedom.'”

Widdowson has drawn criticism for her views on black lives matter and suggests there was an educational benefit to residential schools.

Students at the University of Alberta believe freedom of speech is an integral part of the learning experience, provided it’s not rooted in discrimination.

“When it comes to tough topics like that, I think that’s personally the most important time there is to talk about it. I think, not only is it important to have a knowledge of the history of the country, even the dark side,” said one student CityNews spoke to.


Another saying, “I think everyone should be able to express themselves however they want and not feel pressured to act a certain way.”

A professional that specializes in freedom of speech on university campuses says it’s a tricky balance.

“The complexity between wide latitude for expression in order for a university to do justice to its mission, while also mitigating potential expressive harms,” said Dr. Dax D’Orazio, department of political science at Queen’s University.

He adds that guest speakers are complex because universities must decide how opinions and studies align with their mandate. But, if not allowed to speak, it can create the perception that they’re anti-free speech.

“The university has to decide from a policy perspective whether or not to give them a platform,” said D’Orazio.

The minister of advanced education told CityNews in a statement this week that the government will be announcing new steps to strengthen free speech on Alberta’s post-secondary campuses in the near future and that it should be for students not university administrators to make the final decision about whether to listen to a speech or not.

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