BLATCHFORD ON STI­FLED SPEECH.

Windsor Star - - NP - CHRISTIE BLATCHFORD Na­tional Post cblatch­ford@post­media.com

There are “omi­nous” signs that Wil­frid Lau­rier Univer­sity’s in­de­pen­dent fact-find­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the Lind­say Shep­herd af­fair is aim­ing its guns at none other than Lind­say Shep­herd her­self.

Shep­herd is the 22-yearold grad­u­ate stu­dent and teach­ing as­sis­tant who last month was reamed out by her su­per­vi­sors for hav­ing shown two classes a video ex­cerpt of the con­tro­ver­sial Univer­sity of Toronto psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor Dr. Jor­dan Peter­son dis­cussing the new gender-neu­tral pro­nouns in a tele­vised de­bate.

Now, the Na­tional Post has learned, de­spite pub­lic procla­ma­tions that sug­gest the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is aimed at merely gath­er­ing the facts of Shep­herd’s brow­beat­ing, the in­ves­ti­ga­tor him­self says he has been “re­tained to an in­de­pen­dent, con­fi­den­tial factfind­ing ex­er­cise with re­spect to em­ploy­ment-re­lated mat­ters” aris­ing out of the Shep­herd tu­to­ri­als.

As a TA, of course, Shep­herd is an em­ployee of the univer­sity.

In none of Univer­sity pres­i­dent Deb MacLatchy’s sev­eral press re­leases on the sub­ject was there any men­tion of the in­ves­ti­ga­tor’s task be­ing em­ploy­ment-re­lated.

Howard Le­vitt, the well­known Toronto em­ploy­ment lawyer who rep­re­sents Shep­herd pro bono, wrote Rob Centa, the lawyer Lau­rier hired to con­duct the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, last week­end, ask­ing for the de­tails of the com­plaint or com­plaints made against her.

In re­ply, Centa told him “I do not be­lieve there is a doc­u­ment that con­tains a ‘com­plaint’ made about Ms. Shep­herd nor is there any­thing I would de­scribe as a for­mal com­plaint un­der any WLU pol­icy.”

But per­haps most sur­pris­ingly, Centa also an­swered Le­vitt’s ques­tion about the terms of his man­date by say­ing it is an em­ploy­ment-re­lated mat­ter.

“It’s cer­tainly omi­nous,” Le­vitt told the Post in a phone in­ter­view Wed­nes­day. He said it sounds like the univer­sity is tak­ing “a back­end run” at her, and that he’s ad­vis­ing Shep­herd not to meet Centa.

“I think it’s a trap,” Le­vitt said.

Centa told the Post Wed­nes­day evening in a brief phone call that he ap­pre­ci­ated the op­por­tu­nity to com­ment but “there’s noth­ing I can say,” in­clud­ing an­swer­ing the ques­tion the Post put to him, which was, “Whose em­ploy­ment” is he in­ves­ti­gat­ing?

But Le­vitt isn’t the only one troubled by the way the univer­sity’s two-pronged ap­proach to the Shep­herd af­fair — the Centa re­view and a task force that will ex­am­ine the in­ter­sec­tion of free speech and diver­sity rights — re­mains opaque.

Shep­herd her­self was nom­i­nated to the task force, but the Grad­u­ate Stu­dents Union then de­cided its pres­i­dent would rep­re­sent “all voices” of grad­u­ate stu­dents — this at the same time she ex­pressed sup­port for how the “lived ex­pe­ri­ences of trans­gen­der and non-bi­nary stu­dents” have been dis­counted in the Shep­herd nar­ra­tive and ac­knowl­edged that harm has been caused to some stu­dents.

Then the Nov. 30 dead­line for ap­ply­ing to sit on the task force was ex­tended, and pleas from Lau­rier pro­fes­sor David Haskell, for in­stance, to pub­licly post the ap­pli­ca­tions haven’t yet seen re­sults.

Haskell, a dig­i­tal me­dia/ jour­nal­ism as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor, was also alarmed by MacLatchy’s re­cent ap­pear­ance on TVO’s The Agenda (the same show that aired the con­tro­ver­sial Peter­son de­bate). Host Steve Paikin asked di­rectly if MacLatchy thought Shep­herd did any­thing wrong, and the Lau­rier pres­i­dent dodged the ques­tion.

Also on Wed­nes­day, MacLatchy is­sued “a mes­sage of sup­port for the LGBTQ2 com­mu­nity” in which she pledged the school would re­main a safe and en­gag­ing place for all stu­dents.

An­drew Robin­son, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor and pro­gram co-or­di­na­tor of Hu­man Rights and Hu­man Diver­sity at Lau­rier, says he is troubled by the fact the com­plaint process doesn’t ap­pear to ex­plain the Centa re­view.

Un­der the school’s 29-page “gen­dered and sex­ual vi­o­lence pol­icy and pro­ce­dures,” stu­dents can dis­close an in­ci­dent of vi­o­lence, make a re­port or file an of­fi­cial com­plaint.

Only the lat­ter two meth­ods ap­pear to gen­er­ate a pa­per trail.

Yet with Centa say­ing there was no for­mal com­plaint, and the pol­icy say­ing only of­fi­cial com­plaints can gen­er­ate an in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Robin­son asks, “If there was an of­fi­cial com­plaint, why isn’t Lind­say be­ing pro­vided with a copy of it? And if there wasn’t … why is the univer­sity con­duct­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Lind­say’s tu­to­rial at all?”

Le­vitt says he’s not had a case quite like this.

“This is the new age,” he said. “Po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness is de­scend­ing into all strata of so­ci­ety.”

Shep­herd was sum­moned to a meet­ing the week af­ter the tu­to­ri­als, with her su­per­vis­ing pro­fes­sor, Nathan Ram­bukkana, her pro­gram co-or­di­na­tor, Her­bert Pim­lott, and Adria Joel, act­ing man­ager of the school’s Gen­dered Vi­o­lence Preven­tion and Sup­port pro­gram.

At the meet­ing, which Shep­herd recorded, she was told she had le­git­imized Peter­son’s view by not first de­nounc­ing it (“it ba­si­cally was like … neu­trally play­ing a speech by Hitler …” Ram­bukkana fa­mously said), was iden­ti­fied as “trans­pho­bic” and told that she must not show any more con­tro­ver­sial videos in class and that she should sub­mit her les­son plans to Ram­bukkana in ad­vance.

Shep­herd later re­leased the en­tire record­ing pub­licly, and once peo­ple heard with their own ears the con­de­scend­ing and hec­tor­ing tone of her pro­fes­sors, there was a huge out­cry both on and off cam­pus about her treat­ment and the univer­sity’s du­bi­ous com­mit­ment to the prin­ci­ples of free speech and de­bate.

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