Things Shep­herd is not

The Sun Times (Owen Sound) - - FO­RUM - DOU­GLAS TODD

Lind­say Shep­herd, 24, has been ac­cused of many un­seemly things in the past year.

But a sit-down with the for­mer Sir Wil­frid Lau­rier Uni­ver­sity teach­ing as­sis­tant, who was thrust into the news in late 2017 when she ex­posed the way her On­tario pro­fes­sors ac­cused her of cre­at­ing a “toxic en­vi­ron­ment” in her class af­ter rais­ing the is­sue of gen­der pro­nouns, quickly re­veals there is no sub­stance to the de­mo­nized por­trait.

Her for­mer pro­fes­sors, Nathan Ram­bukkana and Her­bert Pim­lott, re­cently upped the pres­sure on her rep­u­ta­tion by counter-su­ing her, af­ter she claimed their ac­cu­sa­tions had made her un­em­ploy­able in academia. That’s de­spite the pro­fes­sors’ early apol­ogy and se­vere ad­mon­ish­ment from their own uni­ver­sity for at­tempt­ing to si­lence her.

Who is Shep­herd? One thing she is not, de­spite ac­cu­sa­tions, is of the re­li­gious right, let alone an op­po­nent of ho­mo­sex­ual re­la­tion­ships. She sup­ports Canada’s gay mar­riage laws. And as a young per­son, she found Van­cou­ver Pride pa­rades to be “kind of fun.”

Re­li­gious be­liefs had noth­ing to do with her de­ci­sion to con­front the profs who com­pared her show­ing stu­dents a TVOn­tario in­ter­view with Uni­ver­sity of Toronto psy­chol­o­gist Jor­dan Peter­son to “neu­trally play­ing a speech by Hitler.”

As she says: “I’m an athe­ist. I’ve never be­lieved in God.”

Shep­herd, who re­turned in De­cem­ber to the Van­cou­ver suburbs where she grew up, is also not a Con­ser­va­tive party sup­porter.

She voted for the Greens in the fed­eral elec­tion and the NDP in the last provin­cial one. She ar­rived by SkyTrain, in the pelt­ing rain, for our in­ter­view, in part be­cause she thinks peo­ple should limit au­to­mo­bile use. This doesn’t mean she lacks a cri­tique of the Greens and NDP’s ap­proach to iden­tity pol­i­tics.

In the face of ac­cu­sa­tions from around the world about her be­ing “trans­pho­bic,” Shep­herd also said she would not have trou­ble agree­ing to the sin­cere re­quest of a trans­gen­der per­son to be called “they.” She does, how­ever, rec­og­nize that an ab­so­lutist ap­proach to trans­gen­der rights is fraught.

Shep­herd helped ar­range a talk in On­tario last year by Meghan Mur­phy, a rad­i­cal Van­cou­ver fem­i­nist who has crit­i­cized a B.C. man who iden­ti­fies as a woman for fil­ing hu­man­rights com­plaints against nu­mer­ous es­theti­cians who re­fused to per­form a Brazil­ian wax on his male gen­i­talia.

Be­fore adding some more things that Shep­herd is not, it’s worth sum­ma­riz­ing the law­suits that now sur­round her 2017 in­ter­ro­ga­tion.

Jor­dan Peter­son (with whom she once briefly shook hands at a pub­lic event) has sued the pro­fes­sors for com­par­ing him to Hitler in their meet­ing with Shep­herd. She had recorded it af­ter be­ing told it would in­clude Adria Joel, act­ing man­ager of gen­der vi­o­lence pre­ven­tion in Lau­rier’s Di­ver­sity and Eq­uity Of­fice. “That was a real red flag.”

The record­ing, she said, was the only way she would be be­lieved. Her law­suit main­tains the con­tro­versy caused by WLU’s neg­li­gence made her un­em­ploy­able in higher ed­u­ca­tion. As she jus­ti­fi­ably says of Cana­dian academia: “It’s a small world.”

Now that the profs have coun­ter­sued (while re­fus­ing to give in­ter­views), the pub­lic waits to see if the case will clar­ify Cana­dian guide­lines on li­bel and free ex­pres­sion in the in­ter­net age, is­sues which Shep­herd used to find un­in­ter­est­ing.

What other things aren’t ac­cu­rate about Shep­herd, who is due, with fi­ancé Cos­min Dz­sur­dzsa, to have a baby in April?

Amus­ingly enough, she has al­ways gen­er­ally ap­pre­ci­ated CBC News and says of the cen­tre-left-lean­ing pub­lic broad­caster, “I’m not re­ally a de-fund-CBC per­son.”

And when out­raged peo­ple on Twit­ter be­gan ac­cus­ing her of be­ing of the “alt-right,” she had to look up the term. She found a core be­lief of the fringe move­ment is that ul­tra­pow­er­ful Jews are con­spir­ing to con­trol global pol­i­tics and the econ­omy. Shep­herd hadn’t even thought of such a sce­nario be­fore, and it doesn’t make sense to her.

Some­what sur­prised by all the fuss over her sit­u­a­tion, Shep­herd comes across as nat­u­ral and even a bit bash­ful.

It’s been an un­usual path for a young woman who at­tended Cari­boo Hill Sec­ondary school in Co­quit­lam, worked for McDon­alds and “just kind of read a lot” be­fore ob­tain­ing a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in com­mu­ni­ca­tions and pol­i­tics from Si­mon Fraser Uni­ver­sity. Her mother is an el­e­men­tary school teacher in sub­ur­ban Van­cou­ver and her fa­ther a youth coun­sel­lor in Vic­to­ria.

“I was pretty quiet at SFU, I guess. But near the end I started to get a lit­tle frus­trated with my­self, when I would re­act to some­thing and not say any­thing. (I would think) I had a re­ally good point to make, and I missed my chance.”

Shep­herd re­mem­bers one labour stud­ies course near the end of her time at SFU when class­mates made a pre­sen­ta­tion lament­ing how Van­cou­ver’s Down­town East­side and Chi­na­town were be­ing gen­tri­fied by the so-called cre­ative classes.

“They were kind of blam­ing the hous­ing cri­sis on artists. So I ac­tu­ally put up my hand and said, ‘Well, we’re talk­ing about gen­tri­fi­ca­tion. But, re­ally, you’re not talk­ing about some­thing im­por­tant here, and that is that a lot of money is com­ing in from off­shore to get these houses. And is it re­ally gen­tri­fi­ca­tion if every­body in Van­cou­ver is be­ing gen­tri­fied?’”

Her com­ment didn’t go over well with her SFU class­mates. But she says, “These are the kinds of things I’m still in­ter­ested in: What can’t we talk about for fear of seem­ing racist? What are the is­sues that seem pretty com­mon sense, but peo­ple are too scared to say any­thing about?”

By re­fus­ing to al­low her­self to be qui­etly dis­ci­plined by Lau­rier’s fac­ulty, she has shown a cer­tain calm de­ter­mi­na­tion in the face of ad­ver­sity. Among other things, she has been stalked. And she won­ders if she may have per­son­ally ben­e­fited more from the whole Lau­rier af­fair “if I’d just been a vic­tim. But that’s not re­ally me.”

Even though she ob­tained a master’s de­gree from Lau­rier, she has no money, which means her ex-profs will not get any­thing if they win. She is also go­ing to be busy be­ing a mother, but holds out thin hope she could some day be a col­lege in­struc­tor, say­ing, “I like teach­ing.”

Her Twit­ter page, @ NewWorldHo­minin, has grown to 76,000 fol­low­ers. And she oc­ca­sion­ally writes ar­ti­cles for the cen­treright Mon­treal-based mag­a­zine, The Post Mil­len­nial, where her Ro­ma­nian part­ner is an ed­i­tor. She also be­lieves it’s her duty to re­spond to speak­ing and me­dia in­ter­view re­quests.

The irony is that her many on­line and other op­po­nents, by at­tempt­ing to bully her, each week make her more in­flu­en­tial. She’s not about to cower.

“I feel very com­mit­ted to Canada,” she says. “And I feel I’ve got noth­ing to hide.” [email protected]­media.com

DAVE ABEL/TORONTO SUN

Lind­say Shep­herd speaks dur­ing a rally in sup­port of free­dom of ex­pres­sion at Wil­frid Lau­rier Uni­ver­sity in Water­loo on Fri­day Novem­ber 24, 2017.

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