John Carpay, B.A., LL.B., is the President of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. Here we talk about some of his work.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was family background regarding language, culture, geography, and religion/irreligion?
John Carpay: Born in the Netherlands; came to Canada at age 7; grew up in BC (Kitimat and Williams Lake); raised Catholic; B.A. in Political Science from Laval University; LL.B. from University of Calgary.
Jacobsen: You have argued Canadian universities remain tolerant of behaviors preventing free speech, such as obstructionist tactics of activists. What are some of the prominent examples that come to mind – an event or two, and an individual speaker or two?
Carpay: Case 1, at the University of Victoria:
Youth Protecting Youth (YPY), a registered student club is “a group of undergraduate students from the University of Victoria who share a common love and respect for all human life, without regard for gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, level of development, or physical capabilities.”
On the morning of November 16, 2017, YPY members erected a display in an area of the UVic campus known as the “Quad”, consisting of 10,000 small blue and pink flags planted into the ground. The flags represent the approximately 100,000 abortions that occur in Canada annually. The purpose of this and other similar flag displays are to raise awareness of the fact that Canada has no law regulating abortion. YPY had emailed Campus Security to notify them of the event on November 15.
At about noon, UVic students began to gather to protest the display. The protest became larger as time went on, increasing in number and intensity. At approximately 1:30 pm, the crowd of protesting students grew to approximately 30 individuals. Some of the protesting students became verbally aggressive and told YPY members that they would remove the flags themselves if YPY refused to do so. Concerned about the protesting students’ threats, YPY called Campus Security. Many protesting students then began pulling up the flags and putting them in piles.
As the protesters began to destroy the flag display, two Campus Security officers arrived, but declined to take any action. The officers simply watched as the protesters dismantled YPY members’ flag display. The officers explained to YPY members that they must remain “neutral” and that they could not take any action to protect the flag display because it could be interpreted as Campus Security taking a position in support of YPY. The officers further explained that intervention could “escalate” the situation.
Unopposed, the protesters completely destroyed the display.
Case 2, McMaster University:
On March 17, 2017, a debate took place at McMaster University on the subject of gender identity, political correctness and free expression. The debate, which was to include three McMaster professors and University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson, was disrupted by students and protesters who used tactics including clanging cowbells, blowing air horns and chanting to drown out Peterson’s remarks. One individual was seen blowing an air horn very close to Peterson’s ear. Another person reportedly threw glitter on Peterson’s face and suit. Eventually, Dr. Peterson retreated outside the hall, where he continued speaking while standing on a bench.
One day prior to the event taking place, the President’s Advisory Committee on Building an Inclusive Community issued a statement which read that it was “deeply troubled that Dr. Jordan Peterson has been invited to speak at McMaster.”
McMaster University failed to provide adequate security to ensure the debate could proceed as organized.
Jacobsen: Free speech seems like an increasingly important topic to some academics and postsecondary students. Why is this the case? What are perennial, and then modern, threats to its practice in Canada as a whole and especially in academic settings as well?
Carpay: Universities only became known as bastions of free expression in the 20th century. Before that, universities routinely placed restrictions on offensive and controversial expression, i.e. John Wycliffe being banned from Oxford for translating the Bible to english in the 1300s; Oxford’s ban on an openly gay student magazine called the Chameleon in the 1800s; American professors fired and discredited for expressing opposition to the Draft; Anti-Vietnam protests banned at Berkley, and the list goes on. Ironically, many of those who were sympathetic to, or part of, the campus anti-war movement of the 60s and 70s now find themselves in positions of power at these universities. Yet, rather than learn from their experience being on the butt end of censorship, they employ the same silencing tactics against the new generation. Ultimately, universities are image-obsessed; they wish to avoid controversy at all costs, despite the fact that controversy and discomfort are often prerequisites to intellectual discovery. They will always trend towards restrictions on expression, unless professors, students and concerned citizens take a stand against these tactics.
Jacobsen: Who are prominent spokespersons on free speech in Canada who you admire or, even if you disagree with, those who you consider important voices on the fundamental principle of freedom of speech?
Carpay: Jordan Peterson has been able to reach millions of young Canadians through his Youtube channel and speaking engagements, and has been something of a lone wolf among faculty in taking a stance against compelled speech. This is much needed at this point in our culture and history.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, John.
Image Credit: John Carpay.