By Tim Waggoner
KINGSTON, ON, November 19, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Queens University in Kingston, ON is coming under criticism for hiring six “dialogue facilitators” to roam its campus and intervene in student conversations in order to promote “diversity” and deal with what they deem to be any “offensive” material.
The six graduate students from diverse backgrounds have been hired to encourage discussion on race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and other social issues, as well as step-in when they hear conversations that could be deemed “offensive.” Each facilitator went through an 11-day training course to prepare them for their roles and have been granted free room and board as well as a yearly stipend as payment.
Critics of the program are questioning what constitutes offensive language, and are worried this initiative will be a step towards effectively squashing free speech rights on the Canadian university.
Social conservatives in Canada have in the last several years expressed increasing alarm at escalating efforts to silence “offensive” speech – efforts that, in practice, have led primarily to the targeting of those with politically incorrect views, particularly Christians with traditional views on sexual morality.
“As Catholics we are very concerned about this because the Church teaches that practicing homosexuality is sinful and homosexual sexual orientation is disordered,” said Suresh Dominic, spokesman for Campaign Life Catholic, about the university’s program. “I am wondering now if Catholics at Queens are going to be discriminated against for openly stating their faith.”
Dominic’s comments are especially significant in light of the number of Canadians who have been brought before the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) in the last 5-10 years for having defended Christian teaching on homosexuality.
Section 13-1 of the Human Rights Act gives the CHRC authorities the power to deem some speech “hate speech” and has been used quite liberally in attempts to charge many outspoken commentators for committing “hate crimes.” These include Christian pastor Steve Boissoin, who was fined and ordered to apologize by a human rights tribunal after publishing a letter to the editor in a local newspaper, expressing his disagreement with homosexual “marriage,” and Scott Brockie, a Christian printer who was fined for refusing to print materials for a homosexual organization.
In a LifeSiteNews.com interview, Theresa Gilbert, executive director of National Campus Life Network, echoed Dominic’s concerns, questioning what the “facilitators” might deem to be “offensive.”
“We have already had clubs across Canada opposed, banned or discriminated against regardless of what they do but merely because of the fact that they are pro-life,” said Gilbert. “Will pro-life students at Queens be discriminated against for their perfectly legitimate pro-live views?”
Other opponents of the Queens program have made jabs at the fact that students are being paid to eavesdrop on other students’ conversations – a factor that could suffocate rather than promote constructive conversation on social issues.
“Having a program like this in place could stifle public discussion if people are worried their private conversations are being monitored,” said Angela Hickman, managing editor of the Queen’s Journal, as reported by the Globe and Mail. “For a lot of people, their opinions get formed in conversations and so stifling that is dangerous.”
An editorial in the Queen’s Journal said the program “seems to be an inadequate, lacklustre attempt to deal with social inequalities—and especially racism—on campus.”
“It’s unlikely six facilitators in a crowd of thousands will have much impact on fostering dialogue in residences,” it reads.
“On the other hand, if they do become regularly involved in conversations, they risk hostility from students who don’t want to be approached in what they consider private social settings. The resulting dialogue likely won’t be productive or effective if students feel they’re being cornered and become defensive.”