Some bastion of free speech

By  Nicole Lau, Youth Speak News
  • March 20, 2008

It is ironic to me that university institutions whose primary goal is to foster curiosity and the thirst for knowledge should work so hard to stifle groups and messages which run contrary to its politically correct ideology.

Recently the Canadian Federation of Students of Ontario (CFS-O), an umbrella group of student federations, declared itself to be a pro-choice institution. At its January meeting a motion was passed expressing support for pro-choice student governments across the province that deny the rights of pro-life groups on campuses.

The CFS-O represents 300,000 university students and in the past has been neutral on abortion. What is amazing is that this motion provides legislative grounds for student administrations province-wide to use as justification for shutting down the activities and events of pro-life clubs in Ontario universities. The motion also resolves to fund and distribute “pro-choice organizing kits,” which will include information on “anti-choice groups and the conservative think-tanks that fund them.”

What this means for student pro-lifers is that their activism is now deemed inappropriate for campus audiences.

This is an instance of particularly heavy-handed repressiveness, considering that no other existing student club would be officially denied status due to differences of opinion.

The morning of Feb. 29, the York University student government shut down the event “Abortion: A women’s right or moral wrong?” sponsored by the York University Society for Bio-Ethical Awareness. The reasons provided were that “abortion is not an issue to debate” and the debate was comparable to “debating whether a man can beat his wife.”

Why exactly does a well-represented, balanced debate cause such fear and censorship? Since when does the right of free speech on university campuses extend only to those whose views are endorsed by the student government? Why do they hold exclusive rights to determine ideological purity? How is it desirable that the ideas fostered on university campuses require approval from the top, from the authorities? Most of all, what’s wrong with informed and reasonable discourse on controversial issues?

In fact, our institutions should encourage students to think for themselves and to make their own decisions. In the past this kind of censorship has in fact led to a dictatorship of ideas and homogenization of culture.

It is intellectually dishonest to promote this specific agenda and to silence anyone who contradicts it.  Truth, rather than the CFS-O’s notion of “tolerance” (which actually is rather intolerant), should be given the highest importance.

Canada, with its pride in multicultural diversity, deserves better than to fall into this trap.

Progress is derailed when contenders of opposing views are not given the right to speak. How is there freedom of speech if you are only allowed to keep your views to yourself? How free is a society that advocates political correctness at the expense of the freedom of thought?

(Lau, 19, studies history at the University of Toronto.)


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