Canada: Where Free Speech Goes to Die
The land where debate is harmful and words are violence
On January 10, CBC reported that protestors had stormed Montreal’s McGill University and shut down a talk on “sex vs. gender.”
“Advocates say debating trans women's rights is harmful to all women,” the subtitle of the piece proclaims.
The talk in question, titled The Sex vs. Gender (Identity) Debate In the United Kingdom and the Divorce of LGB from T, was to be given by McGill alumnus and human rights lawyer Robert Wintemute.
It was to be hosted by McGill University's Centre for Human Rights and Legal Pluralism and was described as a discussion about:
whether or not the law should be changed to make it easier for a transgender individual to change their legal sex from their birth sex, and about exceptional situations, such as women-only spaces and sports, in which the individual’s birth sex should take priority over their gender identity, regardless of their legal sex.
This sounds like a very fitting discussion for a centre for human rights and legal pluralism.
But alas, the talk was not to be. Not only do advocates consider such a discussion itself to be harmful, but Wintemute is a trustee of the LGB Alliance, which the CBC article slanders as a “hate group” that “fights against transgender rights.”
Riled by such mischaracterizations and inflamed by an authoritarian spirit, more than 100 protestors stormed the talk while holding aloft signs that read “trans rights aren’t up for debate.” They unplugged Wintemute’s projector and threw flour at him, forcing the event to shut down.
Few, if any, of the protestors likely had any idea about the unique perspective of the man that they did not allow to speak.
As Adam Zivo points out, Wintemute is a gay rights activist who regularly supports cases that challenge anti-gay discrimination.
Furthermore, Wintemute is one of the original signatories of the Yogyakarta Principles, a foundational document of the worldwide push for gender self-ID. However, he has since become critical of the principles pertaining to self-ID.
He attributes his change of heart to the fact that he decided to actually listen to the concerns of women.
Regarding the protest, Wintemute noted that he had come to McGill to speak about how the trans rights movement intimidates women.
“I have to thank the protesters for giving me first-hand experience of that intimidation,” he said.
Sadly, this was not the first time that a rabid protest has been sparked in response to a speaker characterized as “transphobic” in Canada. In fact, this is very much the norm.
One of the first and most notable such protests was against a 2018 Jordan Peterson lecture at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario called The Rising Tide of Compelled Speech in Canada.
Peterson had been widely smeared in the Canadian media as “transphobic” for his opposition to Bill C-16 (which added “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the Canadian Human Rights Code) and for his refusal to use students’ “preferred pronouns.”
This sparked fury over his lecture, which drew a crowd of 200 protestors who hammered on the doors and windows of the lecture hall while shouting profanities. A woman was even arrested for breaking one of the stained-glass windows on the historic building.
Likewise, when writer and speaker Meghan Murphy booked an event at the Vancouver Public Library to have a discussion on gender identity and women’s rights in early 2019, trans activists tried to have it shut down.
While the library did not cancel the booking, it released a statement calling Murphy’s views “concerning” and would only hold the event at 9:30 pm on a Thursday night for “security reasons.”
Later that year, Murphy held another talk at the Toronto Public Library. The librarian, Vickery Bowles, came out strong for free speech, telling CBC:
Sometimes ... when you're defending free speech, you're in a very uncomfortable position where you're defending perspectives and ideas and viewpoints that many in the community, or a few in the community, whatever, find offensive.
But it's at that time that it's most important to stand up for free speech. That is what makes Canada a democratic country, and that is what we need today more than ever.
Unfortunately, many in the crowd of hundreds that showed up to protest the event did not agree and proudly held up signs like “hate speech isn’t free.”
They jeered and shouted threateningly at attendees, who had to be escorted out of the back door of the building by police.
Murphy was set to speak at a panel discussion in Vancouver at Simon Fraser University a few days later, but the venue had to be changed due to security concerns.
The event, called How Media Bias Shapes the Gender Identity Debate, caused controversy from the moment it was announced. The student society, the graduate student society, the teaching support staff union, and the university’s “LGBTQIA2S+” club all called for it to be cancelled.
Eventually, the university’s security director said the risk was “11 out of 10” and noted concerns about violence from a group called Coalition Against Trans Antagonism.
Thankfully, the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver was able to hold the panel discussion on short notice. Dozens of protestors showed up, one even holding up a cardboard guillotine, but the event went ahead.
One has to wonder if the success that protestors recently had in shutting down Wintemute’s talk has set a dangerous new precedent.
It is disappointing and downright frightening that many Canadians do not appreciate and understand the value of free speech, much less open debate. They accuse the speakers discussed here not only of transphobia but also of homophobia, but they don’t pause for a second to consider how the fight for gay rights would have been won or ever even started without the freedom to voice unpopular opinions.
Today’s social justice warriors, without a hint of irony, associate freedom of speech with privilege and ignore, at their peril, that truly marginalized people actually need and benefit from it the most.
Canada is lost—its fervent ideologues basking in their intolerance of tolerance and its masses just hoping not to become their next target.
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