St. Paul’s cancelled a screening of a documentary on abortion access. Photo: CC, JKelly.
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St. Paul documentary cancellation shows illegitimacy of campus free speech critics

There’s no doubt you’ve heard of the Lindsay Shepherd story, with the massive outcry across the media landscape on how restricting her from showing a Jordan Peterson video violates freedom of speech.

The story was everywhere, with writers like Margaret Wente and Barbara Kay using it as proof that “far-left groupthink” has created a toxic climate on university campuses, and that “the left is no longer able to recognize opposing political thought as thought.”

And yet I don’t see these same writers, normally fixated beyond belief on campus free speech, condemning the cancellation of a documentary about reproductive freedom at Saint Paul University in Ottawa.

As a little refresher for Wente, Kay, and other “free speech advocates,” a woman’s right to choose is legally protected in Canada, and restricting that right goes against section seven of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Why is it that the outcry is significantly louder when it comes to protecting the voice of a transphobic University of Toronto professor, than when it’s about a film that simply shows content about a constitutionally protected right?

Freedom of speech is an incredible privilege we enjoy here in Canada, considering that we are on the higher end of free speech rankings globally. It is an unjustifiable shame that we are diluting this freedom we take for granted down to a talking point used to further political agendas.

It’s even more problematic that these prominent voices I’ve referenced are not politicians, but journalists—those that are supposed to be reporting the truth, no matter what their personal political leaning.

Members of the press who are championing the issue of free speech cannot pick and choose which instances of censorship are indicative of a larger problem on Canada’s post-secondary campuses. This is exactly what Wente, Kay, and others have done, and in doing so they have watered down the issue of free speech to a talking point that is only used when it’s favourable for them to do so.

Is this really what freedom of speech has become? A defense we can throw errantly at well-intentioned people who request that we respect pronouns and avoid racist terminology? An excuse for denouncing political parties, and those who subscribe to certain ideologies? If this is our modern rendition of freedom of speech, we should be ashamed of ourselves.

I don’t think that Wilfrid Laurier University was even close to justified in how they handled the Shepherd case. And I don’t think that Saint Paul University is justified in censoring a constitutionally protected right. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what I think, it matters that these stories are both communicated to the public and injustices around freedom of speech are discussed.

Picking and choosing which freedom of speech violations to report on is a disservice to the Canadian public, and ultimately will lead us to lose sight of what this incredible freedom we enjoy is truly about. And I’ll give you a hint—it isn’t politics.