In September the American Political Science Association is supposed to be holding its annual conference in Toronto — which isn’t actually in America. When it emerged that it is, in fact, in Canada, Professors Robert P. George, Harvey Mansfield, and some 60 other members issued a strong statement calling on APSA to seek assurances from government up north that “the civil rights and liberties of members to free speech and academic freedom will be secure”. (Matthew J. Franck wrote about it over in the Benchmemostan province of the NR caliphate.) The gist of the argument is summed up here:
The incident has given momentum to a U.S. petition arguing that the right to free speech is threatened in Canada. The petition refers obliquely to this case and two others: the human rights commission complaints against Mark Steyn/Maclean’s, and the Christian pastor Stephen Boissoin, whose homophobic letters ran in a local paper. Its 60 signatories include some of the world’s most respected political scientists. In all three cases, says signatory Harvey Mansfield, a professor at Harvard, Canada failed to give sufficient protection to people with opinions that differ from the status quo.
The APSA petition says that “while we know of no direct suppression of academic freedom that has yet occurred in Canada” they’re concerned about the pressure to avoid controversial topics. They might want to dispense with the qualifier. Frances Widdowson is no right-wing nut like me but an impeccably respectable Marxist who made the mistake of “differing from the status quo“:
Speaking at the 2008 meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association (CPSA), Widdowson, a policy studies professor at Mount Royal College in Calgary, argued our Aboriginal reserve system isn’t working. It encourages unemployment and alcoholism, since there are few jobs on reserves, she said. Policies that encourage First Nations to live separate lives merely prop up a broken system; the best way to help natives achieve health and prosperity is assimilation. Her paper also criticized Aboriginal traditional knowledge, arguing that some claims didn’t hold up to scientific analysis, and discussed a “development gap” between natives and settlers, implying the Europeans were more advanced.
The presentation got heated. Some of the political scientists started shouting at Widdowson… Some members said her presentation was “hate speech,” and called for her to be investigated under the criminal code. A few wanted McGill-Queen’s University Press to be censured for publishing Widdowson’s recent book, Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry: the Deception Behind Indigenous Cultural Preservation. Others wanted the chair of the lecture censured for hosting a presentation where such ideas were voiced.
The CPSA is “investigating the matter, and a committee will be formed to look at hate speech” — in effect, to self-censor pre-emptively in order to avoid the possibility of “human rights” complaints. Once a government gets comfortable with regulating opinions, even institutions that exist for the very purpose of examining ideas learn to get with the program. The difference between APSA and its northern cousin is instructive, and the professors should make their conference plans accordingly.