Avvy Go is clinic director of the Metro Toronto Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic; Dora Nipp is CEO of the Multicultural History Society of Ontario; and Winnie Ng is the CAW-Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy at Ryerson University.
Amid growing controversy over the published views of Professor Ricardo Duchesne, who has repeatedly argued that Asian-Canadians are harmful to the country, the University of New Brunswick is cowering behind academic freedom without adhering to its tenets. Mr. Duchesne spreads falsehoods about an entire community and in doing so betrays the standards of academia by engaging in racial caricature and perpetuating intolerance.
Mr. Duchesne's writing has anti-Asian themes; most recently, he asserted that Asian immigration has "damaged Vancouver" and the speed of this migration has transformed Vancouver from a once "beautiful British city" to one of "Asian character." Mr. Duchesne's posts appear on a website he co-founded, which self-describes itself as a "group of public-minded individuals who believe the European heritage and character of Canada should be maintained and enhanced." In a May, 2014, post he warned of a "re-imagining the history of Canada in such a way that white Europeans are portrayed as oppressors and non-whites as victims with the goal of taking Canada away from the Europeans and transforming the nation into multicultural and multiracial society." Efforts by Asian and African Canadians to claim their rightful place in Canadian history are framed by Mr. Duchesne as "assaulting European civilization."
In claiming this, Mr. Duchesne ignores the historical fact that the "founding" of Canada took place on the land of indigenous peoples, and that in the name of "preserving European civilization" systemic exclusion and colonial domination has been inflicted on the First Peoples. It is hard to avoid reading Mr. Duchesne's notion of "European civilization" and "Britishness" as something resembling white supremacy.
It matters not to individuals like Mr. Duchesne that Chinese people first landed on Canada's west coast in 1744, came to pan for gold in 1858, and in 1881 were brought to Canada to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway. It appears immaterial to Mr. Duchesne that Chinese Canadians have a longstanding presence in Canada. Similarly, South Asians have made Canada their home since the turn of the last century.
Despite their contributions, Chinese faced tremendous discrimination in Canada. As soon as the railroad was completed, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald imposed a head tax on all Chinese immigrants and denied them the right to vote. In the shadow of federal anti-Chinese legislation emerged provincial and municipal laws and regulations that had impacts on the social, economic and political life of the Chinese – including those born in Canada. These were carried out in the name of preserving the "European" character of Canada. Meanwhile, South Asian immigrants – who were part of the British Empire – did not fare well either, as their entrance was curtailed by the Continuous Passage Regulations in 1908.
Mr. Macdonald's legacy, both good and bad, is now being examined as Canadians celebrate his 200th birthday. His supporters argue we should not apply today's ethical standard to judging his racially discriminatory acts. If the first Prime Minister had time as his defence, what is Mr. Duchesne's excuse? After all, it is 2015 and one expects a more enlightened populace today – one that includes all peoples and rejects the portrayal of Canada as one preserved for "Europeans" only.
Duchesne is a professor of history and sociology, but he has brought the academic profession into disrepute.
Mr. Duchesne's intolerant statements will run the risk of inciting fear and resentment toward Canadians of Asian heritage by reinforcing stereotypes of the ethnic Chinese as perpetual foreigners. He glorifies scholarship and writing that fuels xenophobia and provides fodder for white supremacy. Mr. Duchesne is a unicultural ideologue. As an academic discipline, sociology is interested in examining the truths and motives behind cultural mythologies, not in perpetuating them. Duchesne's rants are an apostasy to sociological thinking.
The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada's Statement on Academic Freedom (2011) affirms that unlike the broader concept of freedom of speech, academic freedom must be based on institutional integrity, rigorous standards for enquiry and institutional autonomy. The Statement sets out the responsibilities of academic freedom, which include: evidence and truth must be the guiding principles; academic freedom should be exercised in a reasonable and responsible manner; faculty must be committed to the highest ethical standards in their teaching and research; faculty should examine data, question assumptions and be guided by evidence; and faculty and university leadership are obligated to ensure that students' human rights are respected.
The purpose of academic freedom is to prevent a chill on the pursuit of knowledge and to safeguard diverse viewpoints. However, in Canada no right is absolute; in the case of academic freedom, this right starts to unravel when academics hide behind academic freedom to espouse untruths that actually inflict harm. If the staff and faculty of UNB are truly committed to academic freedom and academic excellence, they should join the Asian Canadian community in condemning racism in any form in Canada.