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Better speech?

Wilfrid Laurier University president and vice-chancellor Deborah MacLatchy’s opinion piece seemed like public-relations spin, given the events of the past few months (Not Merely Free Speech, But Better Speech Needs To Be Protected On Campus, Aug. 1).

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She writes: “Inclusive freedom involves a vigorous commitment to free speech, coupled with the assurance that all individuals have an opportunity to engage in free expression, inquiry and learning.”

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Deborah MacLatchy is the president and vice-chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University.

Nowhere in her article did she mention Laurier teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd, who was cruelly disciplined for showing to her class a clip from a TV Ontario show featuring controversial University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson.

I’m reminded of an event in the 1970s, when Ford Pintos were exploding into flame because of the placement of the gasoline tank. The automaker’s response: an advertising campaign with a tagline, “Quality Is Job 1.”

Jim Hickman, Bracebridge, Ont.

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As a professor of political science, I am dismayed by Dr. MacLatchy’s argument that universities need to go beyond protecting freedom of speech and promote some vague notion of “better speech.”

It misunderstands freedom of expression in Canada, which is about public expression and, by definition, can’t concern itself with the content. Legally it can only be limited by questions of libel, slander, defamation, and, especially in Canada, hate speech.

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Many scholars distinguish freedom of speech from academic freedom precisely because academic freedom is based on the quality of that speech and the knowledge of the speakers. If all those clamouring about freedom of speech on campus were seriously in favour of critical debate, they would be extending academic freedom.

I am already in danger of my classroom being reduced to a bad Twitter exchange. The majority of students don’t want controversial videos to replace actual teaching, as Dr. MacLatchy declared concerning the Shepherd controversy last fall. The few students who do are often the ones who haven’t done the reading.

Today, students are exposed to a mountain of extreme ideas. The job of the university is not to just replicate this, but actually teach critical thinking including factual knowledge.

Peter Ives, University of Winnipeg, Winnipeg

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As a professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, I have been embarrassed by many of the actions taken by my university’s leadership over the past year. I thought maybe the agony had ended but the column by Dr. MacLatchy, alas, suggests not.

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The piece, to be sure, does make it clear that universities should promote open inquiry. Duh. Missing entirely, however, are any specifics that would help to promote open inquiry. What about the excessive security fees that Laurier (unlike universities more seriously committed to open inquiry) now seems to be passing on to groups sponsoring controversial speakers whom other groups feel should be denied a platform?

Or what exactly are the guidelines for teaching assistants when they want to promote balanced discussions about topics that may be relevant to the class but not consistent with their professor’s political orientation?

Michael P. Carroll, Waterloo, Ont.

Calling out anti-Semitism

I am fond of Michael Coren but disappointed in his analysis about the current state of affairs in the British Labour Party vis-à-vis the Jewish community (The Anti-Semitism Controversy Inside Britain’s Labour Party, July 28).

To refer to the anti-Semitism in the party as mere “controversy” is disheartening. In fact, it’s a crisis of epic proportion, as recently publicized by three of Britain’s leading Jewish newspapers, which came together in an unprecedented joint message to run the same front page graphic, headlined United We Stand.

Although Mr. Coren says Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn “isn’t anti-Semitic, and neither is his party,” the three papers charged that “the stain and shame of anti-Semitism has coursed through Her Majesty’s Opposition since Jeremy Corbyn became leader in 2015.”

This is not merely a “controversy,” but a very serious matter which is affecting and victimizing many Jewish families, and possibly the very future of the British Jewish community itself. Mr. Corbyn and his party should be appropriately called out for his irresponsible behaviour.

Avi Benlolo, president and chief executive officer, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, Toronto

No place for palms

As a resident of Victoria and former resident of Vancouver, I can attest to the proliferation of palm trees in public and private spaces. I love trees, including palm trees in places such as California and Hawaii. But palm trees in Canada look ridiculous. The axiom of “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” applies.

Cathy Dixon, Victoria

Not all bad apples

Re The McCarrick Scandal: A Rubicon Moment For The Catholic Church (Aug. 1):

For four years through high school, I attended a Catholic seminary run by the Franciscan order. Priests taught us all the classes and gave guidance. I was never touched by any of them or saw anyone else be touched, and they were the finest priests and teachers I ever had.

I did not carry on religious studies into college but those men taught me dignity and a respect for the Catholic religion. There are some bad apples in every walk of life but I never found them in my experience.

Frank Dwyer, Toronto

Plenty of politicians

There has been far too much silliness expressed in the letters to this newspaper arguing that Torontonians will somehow be inadequately represented with just 25 members in council (Less Is More, Aug. 1; Democracy At Stake, July 31).

Comparisons are made to smaller cities with lower ratios of population to councillors, such as Ottawa. Why not go further and consider the many small towns in Ontario with fewer than 1,000 people and councils with a half-dozen or more members? Would their ratio to population be correct for Toronto? Of course not.

There are clearly economies of scale in representation for a large city. Consider that Los Angeles, with a population of four million, fully one-third greater than Toronto, has a council of 15 members.

For political reasons only, amalgamation in 1998 left Toronto with a bloated and inefficient council. It is long past time to fix it and Ontario Premier Doug Ford should be thanked for having the political courage to do so.

F. Michael Walsh, Toronto

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It is not the number of seats at city council that matter. It is the mindset of the people who sit in those seats.

Cornelis van de Graaff, Toronto