NewsFri Oct 16, 2009 - 12:15 pm EST
McGill University Officials Speak Out Against Silencing of Pro-Life Presentation
By Patrick B. Craine
MONTREAL, Quebec, October 16, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - At a 'Controversial Events Town Hall' meeting last week, McGill University Deputy Provost (Student Life Learning) Morton Mendelson came out against the October 6th protests that silenced a presentation hosted by the university's pro-life club, reports McGill Daily. At least two other McGill university officials have also condemned the protests, though it is not clear as yet whether the university has taken action to discipline the protesters.
"The University has been very open with respect to protest, but it also has limits," Mendelson said. "One of the limits we are absolutely adamant about is protest that disrupts the free expression of ideas on campus. ... [It] crosses the line because that protest is attacking or undermining the core value of a university, that is meant to educate, transmit, and discover knowledge."
The presentation, entitled 'Echoes of the Holocaust', was hosted by Choose Life McGill and given by the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform's Jose Ruba. Despite a motion to censure the event by the Students Society of McGill University (SSMU), Mendelson defended the right of Choose Life to express their views.
As Ruba began his talk, protesters interrupted him and took over the front area of the room, preventing him from speaking or showing images on the screen. Ignoring the intervention of security personnel, the protesters drowned out any attempts at speaking with songs and jokes. Eventually the police arrived on the scene and arrested two protesters; but others were allowed to remain in the room and continue to interrupt Ruba until the designated time was up.
Following the event, the SSMU spoke out strongly against the university for allowing Ruba's talk despite their censure, and defended the student protesters. They maintain that Ruba's presentation violates their equity policy because it is offensive to students. The protesters and other students alleged that the talk was, in fact, "hate speech."
"We have to make a distinction between hate speech and speech we may find hateful," Mendelson said. "Just because someone finds something very disturbing and very problematic does not make something hate speech."
At a meeting of the McGill Senate on Wednesday, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum criticized the protesters for not allowing Ruba to share his opinion freely, saying that the protest had brought a "dark cloud" over the university campus, reports McGill Daily.
"The intimidation of protestors was so significant that students who were involved in the planning of the event were intimidated against continuing with their program," she said. "I see this really as blight in the context of a university that is known worldwide for its academic freedom and freedom of speech. ... I urge them to consider reconvening the event right away."
SSMU VP University Affairs Rebecca Dooley said in response, "I want to emphasize to the Senate body that while it is important in terms of freedom of speech, it is also important to consider that environments that are hostile and draw people to one side - hate-speech - marginalize a person's ability to engage in collegial debate."
Provost Anthony Masi then defended the university's position, emphasizing in strong words that they want to encourage open discussion. "[The event] took place behind closed doors, no one was forced [to go]," he said. "We do have rules about where the line is, but the fact of the matter is that we expect major disagreements to be the norm on our campus. Differences of points of view are important, but not intimidation, silencing, or thought police."
Despite the university's condemnation of the protests, CTV reported that no charges had been laid. It is not clear that the university has taken any steps to discipline the students involved. LifeSiteNews contacted the university but did not hear back by press time.
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