On April 22, 2022, the Mount Royal Faculty Association (MRFA)—the union that is representing me in my wrongful dismissal case against Mount Royal University—sent out a “preface” for its Spring Retreat Program. The Spring Retreat is an annual event designed to help Mount Royal University (MRU) faculty members connect with one another and improve their teaching, research, and service abilities. In this preface, the MRFA provided “guidelines and standards of behaviour to support spaces which promote respectful interactions” and “minimize harm.” To this end, it asserted that members must “not engage in offensive or hateful comments … at any time.” One member of the MRFA Executive Board stated that this was to make the Spring Retreat “a more inclusive, consent-focused event.”
This code of conduct, however, contradicts MRU’s Expression and Free Speech Policy, which declares that “[t]he University unequivocally embraces its institutional responsibility to ensure the free and open exchange of ideas in the spirit of intellectual and critical enquiry.” The Policy came about in response to a free speech directive of the Alberta government and was intended to ensure that discussion and debate would not be suppressed even if the “points of view being expressed are thought to be offensive, unwise, immoral, extreme, harmful, incorrect or wrongheaded.”
The contradiction between the Retreat program’s preface and the Policy was not an oversight; it was due to an increasingly vocal faction of the MRFA that supports the suppression of ideas in the name of “inclusion.” In the past, this had been justified on the basis that some ideas constituted “hate speech,” “harassment,” and “discrimination,” Take, for example, an MRFA event on academic freedom held on May 14, 2021. At this event, a prominent member of the MRFA dismissed the claim that academic freedom was threatened at MRU. He referred to what he called “phantom threats to academic freedom” and maintained that they were being
used as justifications for inviting or defending speakers who hold toxic, discriminatory views of all kinds. Whether these be the homophobic and transphobic arguments of so-called radical gender critical feminists, white supremacism and xenophobia dressed up as cultural geography and immigration studies, atheism and secular humanism as a cover for Islamophobia, or the pervasive, ongoing, relentless, anti-indigenous views to which everyone in attendance here…has been relentlessly subjected to over and over again in every academic venue imaginable. In every one of these instances the imperative protecting academic freedom at MRU has been used to legitimize and defend public expressions of views that, in my estimation, are hateful and discriminatory.
Although this MRFA member did not mention the names of those who he believed espoused “hateful and discriminatory” views, they were well known to anyone who had been involved in discussions at MRU. They included the views of Meghan Murphy, who presented her position at the Rational Space Network event “Does Trans Activism Negatively Impact Women’s Rights?” in March 2019. He also referred to the Armin Navabi talk on how Islam could not be reformed—a controversial event in its own right, as the Rational Space Network tried to rebook it after it had been canceled (and later postponed) by MRU administration. The other two “hateful and discriminatory” views concerned the op-ed written by former MRU contract faculty member Mark Hecht in September 2019—a piece denounced by about 30 faculty members in a secret letter to administration. Finally, he mentioned my own criticisms of Indigenization. The reference to my own work was of particular concern because the idea that my views were “anti-indigenous,” “toxic,” “hateful,” and “discriminatory” formed the basis of my termination from Mount Royal University. The assertion that these four people—Murphy, Navabi, Hecht, and me—were espousing “hateful and discriminatory” views indicates how erroneous accusations have been used to exclude unpopular ideas in the name of “inclusion.”
The question of what constitutes “hate speech” in Canada is controversial, but it was officially determined by the Supreme Court of Canada in its 2013 Whatcott decision. In this decision, the Supreme Court gave the following definition of what constitutes “hate speech”: “hatred…must be interpreted as being restricted to those extreme manifestations of the emotion described by the words ‘detestation’ and ‘vilification’.” Mr. Justice Rothstein elaborated upon this by stating that “[r]epresentations that expose a target group to detestation tend to inspire enmity and extreme ill-will against them, which goes beyond mere disdain or dislike. Representations vilifying a person or group will seek to abuse, denigrate or delegitimize them, to render them lawless, dangerous, unworthy or unacceptable in the eyes of the audience. Expression exposing vulnerable groups to detestation and vilification goes far beyond merely discrediting, humiliating or offending the victims.”
In its recent Ward decision, the Supreme Court discusses discrimination. In order for someone to experience discrimination, three conditions must be met. First, there must be “a distinction, exclusion or preference”—that is, an action—that “affects [a person] differently from others to whom it may apply.” Second, it must be established that “one of the characteristics expressly protected … [in human rights legislation] … was a factor in the differential treatment complained of.” Third, and most importantly, it must be shown that the “differential treatment impairs the full and equal exercise or recognition of a freedom or right guaranteed … [by human rights legislation] … Hurtful expression relating to a protected ground … and harm suffered are insufficient to constitute discrimination … .” The Supreme Court argues that “the social effects of discrimination, such as the perpetuation of prejudice or disadvantage,” must also be present in order to claim that discrimination occurred.
One can see, therefore, that the four examples, to which the MRFA member referred last year, were not “hateful and discriminatory.” All of them criticized certain ideas and were not even directed at particular groups. In my own case, for example, some considered criticisms of the concepts of “misgendering fatigue” and “indigenous science” to be “hateful,” “harassing,” and “discriminatory,” and I was subjected to three investigations on this basis. The acceptance that my legitimate criticisms somehow created a “toxic workplace” appeared to justify excluding me from the “inclusive” 2022 Spring Retreat.
This, it should be understood, is part of a reactionary agenda that has been called “reified postmodernism” by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay—a de-Enlightenment project known colloquially as “woke-ism.” “Woke-ism” is a form of identity politics that has become totalitarian. It puts all MRFA members on an intersectional “positionality” scale of oppression and maintains that those who are perceived to be the most oppressed have the most right to speak. Those who are assumed to be oppressors, on the other hand, should be silenced if their views are believed to cause harm. This is because “woke-ism” considers oppressors to be “punching down” on the marginalized and preventing them from overcoming their disadvantage.
These arguments, which are aggressively asserting themselves at MRU and within the MRFA, were responsible for imposing a code of conduct upon all members. Although the MRFA pretends to be concerned about “inclusion,” it actually acts to exclude those views that challenge “woke-ism.” This “woke” agenda is destroying the academic character of Mount Royal University because it acts to “exclude” controversial viewpoints. In order to pursue the truth, professors need to consider arguments with which they disagree and follow the evidence wherever it leads. “Woke-ism,” on the other hand, has a predetermined answer and acts to punish anyone who challenges its dogmatic assumptions. It creates “exclusionary inclusivity”—language that would be right at home in George Orwell’s dystopic novel 1984.
Image: Markus Spiske, Public Domain