Withhold funding if universities don’t protect free speech: Scheer
OTTAWA — Conservative leadership candidate Andrew Scheer says universities should lose federal funding if they fail to protect freedom of speech on campus.
A “troubling trend” has surfaced where small groups on campus can shut down events, prevent guest speakers from giving lectures and ban activities or clubs they disagree with, Scheer said in an interview Wednesday. “Campuses are no longer the bastions of free speech that they once were.”
Recent examples include a pro-life group having its event cancelled at Wilfrid Laurier University; a student newspaper at McGill refusing to print pro-Israel articles; and protest surrounding University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson for his views on gender pronouns.
“There are a lot of people who come to campus who say things that are outrageous. And I vehemently disagree with them. That I find offensive . ...
“I just don’t go to them. It’s as simple as that.”
Peterson has struck a public nerve with his refusal to adopt people’s preferred gender pronouns and concerns around the effect of Bill C-16, the Liberals’ gender discrimination bill, on freedom of speech.
The bill, which is currently making its way through the Senate, would add gender identity and gender orientation to the Canadian Human Rights Act, thus making it illegal to discriminate against someone on those bases.
It would also add these terms to a list, in the Criminal Code, of identifiable social groups that may motivate hate crime or “advocating genocide.” (The list already includes sexual orientation, sex and other characteristics — ethnicity, language, disability, etc.)
Cacophonous student protests have surrounded Peterson since he made comments last fall dismissing non-binary gender identities.
The professor received warnings from the university and publicly wondered whether a proposal for federal grant money had been rejected because of the controversy.
Scheer, who opposes C-16, held up Peterson’s right to articulate his point of view as an example of why more incentives are needed to counteract political correctness on campus.
“People can disagree with him. People can refute his points, and stand up for what they believe in. But what bothers me is this sense of shutting out any kind of dissent on certain issues. I believe that Canada is a mature enough country that we can have these debates,” he said.
Under Scheer’s proposed policy, fostering and protecting free speech would become a criterion on public post-secondary institutions’ grant applications to such federal agencies as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Canada Research Chairs.
The goal isn’t to create an extra layer of bureaucracy, Scheer promised. “I would instruct the minister to work with these bodies and come up with an easy way to test for it. I imagine in the early days it would be as simple as responding to complaints.”
Scheer will face fellow frontrunners including Kevin O’Leary, Maxime Bernier and Kellie Leitch at a final leadership debate in Toronto next week. A new Conservative party leader will be chosen May 27.
People can disagree with him. People can refute his points, and stand up for what they believe in. But what bothers me is this sense of shutting out any kind of dissent on certain issues.” Andrew Scheer
Candidate Andrew Scheer speaks during the Conservative Party of Canada leadership debate in February. Scheer says universities should lose federal funding if they fail to protect freedom of speech on campus.