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Andrew Potter, the author of a controversial article on Quebec society that was published in Maclean’s magazine, resigned his position as the director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada.

Hossein Taheri

McGill University Principal Suzanne Fortier wanted Andrew Potter to step down, ignoring options short of the departure of the former director of the Institute for the Study of Canada, a former high-profile trustee of the research centre has claimed.

"I suggested alternatives to demotion, such as a reprimand or a suspension," said Ken Whyte, a Canadian media executive and past editor of Maclean's Magazine in an e-mail interview with The Globe and Mail. "These seemed of interest to many people I spoke to at McGill and MISC, but they would not and did not fly with the Principal's office, where Suzanne Fortier was arguing that he had to go," he wrote.

Until recently, Mr. Whyte was one of the trustees on the Board of the Institute. But he handed in his resignation Wednesday night – "about one month late," he wrote.

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Opinion: After Potter: Media pool or knowledge institution? Universities can't be both

"I've been proud to be associated with McGill and [the Institute] for a dozen years. … but I can't abide how they've managed the Potter affair," he added.

McGill University reiterated that Dr. Potter stepped down of his own accord, a position it has maintained since the beginning of the controversy.

"Subsequent to the article in Maclean's, Dr. Potter sought advice from various members of the McGill community, including the Principal. Following these discussions, he took the decision to submit his resignation from his role as Director," a statement from the university said.

Mr. Whyte said he decided to speak out now because he wants to counter what he thinks is a chill on open debate.

Several editors or columnists have resigned or been demoted in the past month because they took unpopular public stances, Mr. Whyte said.

They "are all out because of a zero-tolerance approach to controversial opinion. And all of them apologized, profusely, yet were still forced out, or found their positions untenable and had to resign," he wrote.

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Mr. Whyte himself has been the target of intense criticism for starting up a fundraiser on Twitter for an "appropriation prize." The fundraiser was prompted by another resignation, that of author Hal Niedzviecki as editor of Write magazine, a publication put out by the Writers' Union of Canada.

In an editorial for an issue devoted to Indigenous authors, Mr. Niedzviecki encouraged writers to "win the Appropriation Prize."

"Get outside your own head. Relentlessly explore the lives of people who aren't like you," he wrote.

While he stands by the ideas in the piece, Mr. Niedzviecki said he is deeply sorry his remarks hurt Indigenous writers.

Two other editors have resigned or were demoted as a result of their comments on that controversy. An "Emerging Indigenous Voices" crowd-funding campaign has since garnered more than $45,000 on Indiegogo.

Dr. Potter resigned from the Institute in late March after writing a controversial opinion piece on Quebec society. In the article that was published in Maclean's, he argued the province was lacking in social and community trust.

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Dr. Fortier has previously said that the decision came after he spoke to her.

"Andrew asked to see me and talk to me," she said in an April interview with The Globe. "We discussed the issue. … Right from the beginning, I assured him that he should not worry about his job at McGill, that he was not going to be fired from McGill, he enjoys the academic freedom [of a faculty member.] And then we talked about his role as the head of the Institute, and that his own credibility, as well as the credibility of the Institute, were deeply affected by this article," she said.

"My view is that he probably came to the correct conclusion," Dr. Fortier added.

Before taking over as director of the MISC, Dr. Potter was an author and journalist, with a PhD in philosophy from the University of Toronto. He also served as editor-in-chief of the Ottawa Citizen.

He announced that he is resigning via Facebook and has not commented on the controversy since.

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