Statement from the President — Controversial Guest Speaker Appearance

This notice is from the archives of The Notice Board. Information contained in this notice was accurate at the time of publication but may no longer be so.

The University of Lethbridge has become aware of a guest speaker, invited by one of our faculty members, whose views are in conflict with a number of the values held by the University — including the University’s stated commitment to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. We strongly disagree with assertions that seek to minimize the significant and detrimental impact of Canada’s residential school system. I have heard from many students, faculty and staff who have expressed their disappointment that this event is taking place. It is encouraging that a concurrent evidence-based counter-lecture has also been organized, and that the vast majority of our community finds these views abhorrent.

There are some in the community who have asked the University to step in and cancel the Widdowson lecture. Below, please find the University’s position regarding free expression.

The University of Lethbridge’s mandate affirms its commitment to protect free inquiry and scholarship, facilitate access to scholarly resources, and support artistic expression and free and open scholarly discussion of issues.

The opening paragraph of the University’s Statement on Free Expression, as noted above, clearly outlines the principles of free expression and aligns with a commitment to academic freedom which the University of Lethbridge vigorously defends.

Guest speakers who are presenting on campus or to our campus community are afforded the same commitment to freedom of expression as members of our campus community, though the University does not endorse in any way, the opinions and views of any speaker, whether from ULethbridge or the external community. Our university is true to the tenets of equity, diversity and inclusion and is committed to meeting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. These are the values we endorse and continuously work toward.

Freedom of speech is inextricably associated with freedom of expression and is afforded the same commitments with bounds determined by the requirements of Canadian Law. Freedom of expression does not protect violence or threats of violence and examples of how it is limited include Criminal Code hate speech laws, hate and discriminatory speech provisions within provincial human rights codes, and anti-defamation laws.

Members of the University community have the right to criticize and question views expressed on campus, but they may not obstruct or interfere with others’ freedom of expression. Debate or deliberation on campus may not be suppressed because the ideas put forward are thought by some, or even most, to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or misguided. We encourage all members of our internal and external community to carefully evaluate scholarly evidence and rely upon peer reviewed resources in their careful assessment and engagement with the views of speakers. It is for individual members of the University community, not the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves based on the scholarly evidence, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas they oppose.

There are limits to freedom of expression. The University does not tolerate behaviour that undermines the safety of our diverse community, and the University will restrict expression that violates the law, defames an individual, or that constitutes a threat or harassment.

Again, the University strongly believes the viewpoints of this guest speaker are not consistent with the values of our institution. We also know that this issue may personally adversely affect many members of our university community and support is available. For our students, please access assistance by contacting Counselling Services, the Iikaisskini Indigenous Services, or connect with an Elder in Residence. Faculty and staff members can connect with the Employee Family Assistance Program.

Mike Mahon, PhD
President & Vice-Chancellor


Mike Mahon |