The issue of free speech, particularly on university campuses, has emerged as a political lightning rod in the past couple of years, with both the political left and right accusing each other of abusing a basic right for their own ends.
On the left, accusations are made that the right wants to legitimize hate speech under the guise of free speech. The notable examples include University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson’s campaign against using gender-neutral pronouns, which has been denounced as transphobic. And there has also been a concurrent rise in white-supremacist posters found on university campuses across the country, ranging from seemingly innocent messages such as “it’s OK to be white” to blatant white supremacy saying “(((Those))) who hate us will not replace us.” The triple parentheses is a dog whistle mostly used by those on the far right to identify Jews and other groups seen as “undesirables.”
On the right, the accusation is that the left is stifling free speech through word policing and over-sensitivity to what had once been innocuous words or phrases. The case that immediately comes to mind is the widely-publicized incident at Wilfred Laurier University, where a teaching aide was severely chastised for showing a clip of Peterson debating a sexual diversity professor to explain how gender-specific pronouns fundamental to the structure of the English language impacted the long-standing views of appropriate gender roles. The right also made the simplistic claim that M-103 stifles free speech because it made criticism of Islam illegal, despite M-103 being a non-binding parliamentary motion that called on the government to condemn Islamophobia in light of a spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes.
But universities operate with a different purpose in society, one that involves the exchange of new ideas and concepts, ones that not every student will have been previously exposed to or be comfortable with. But in the current atmosphere, there has been a struggle to delineate where to draw the line between free speech, however distasteful, and hate speech, which is not protected in Canada.
Therefore, do you think educators should be able to show distasteful or even hateful speech for learning purposes a place in colleges and universities?