Free Speech Has a Friend in Canada

By March 2, 2006

Yesterday I blogged on the ongoing controversy at the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI) over the administration’s decision to confiscate copies of the student newspaper, The Cadre, that contained the notorious Danish Mohammed cartoons. I pointed out that the First Amendment guarantees that we take for granted in the U.S. don’t apply to Canada, where speech can be more easily restricted.

However, like the U.S., Canada is not without its defenders of free speech and academic freedom on campus. The Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship (SAFS) is an organization that stands up for freedom on Canada’s campuses. It has been all over the UPEI situation, and appears to have adopted it as a “case” much as FIRE takes its cases. An excerpt of its excellent letter to UPEI President Wade MacLauchlan:

The decision as to what is to be included in a newspaper must be made by the editorial board, based on their understanding of the newsworthiness of the story. Those who disagree with the newspaper’s coverage or viewpoint can register their opposition through writing letters to the editor, demonstrating, or simply by refusing to read the paper or to advertise in it. Disagreeable speech should be countered by opposing arguments. Censorship is not an acceptable response to the expression of contrary opinions, and especially not on a university campus. Sending the campus police to confiscate copies of the student newspaper is an overreaction and a victory for potential censors who seem to have intimidated the administration of UPEI.

UPEI has given the impression that vigorous debate is to be avoided whenever offence may be taken, or at the very least that such debate is to occur only on terms decided by the university administration. Surely, this is not the image of UPEI that you want to promote.

We call on you to reverse your decision and to let The Cadre do its job.

This letter sounds very much like the letter FIRE would have written to UPEI. Alas, much like many American university presidents that FIRE has had experience with, MacLauchlan seems to have entirely missed the point of what SAFS is saying. SAFS should be commended for standing up for freedom of speech and of the press at Canada’s universities. It’s not just Americans who deserve these freedoms or care about these issues, and those in other nations who are fighting the same fight deserve our support.