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Bell: Premier Smith’s free speech point man takes on campus woke crowd

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He’s not amused.

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He wants to make it clear to Alberta’s universities and colleges.

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Freedom of expression is non-negotiable.

On Friday, Demetrios Nicolaides, Premier Danielle Smith’s top man on campus free speech, will now require universities and colleges to actually follow the free speech guidelines they have on the books and report back to the Alberta government.

To him.

“Are they actually sticking to their policies?” asks the Minister for Education.

Good question. The University of Lethbridge clearly gets an unsatisfactory mark in this respect.

Frances Widdowson, a former professor who was fired from Mount Royal University in Calgary, was invited by a professor to speak on the Lethbridge campus about how wokeism threatens academic freedom.

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She’s in big trouble. She believes dormitories were not genocide.

She says the schools have been a misguided effort with often serious problems, using words like coercion and abuse.

About 2,500 signatures from the campus said it was not affiliated with the University of Lethbridge.

First, the university president backed down and gave a thumbs-up. His university has a strong free speech policy.

At least on paper.

Under pressure, he thumbs down to give Widdowson space, deciding that “the damage involved in the conversation is an impediment to a meaningful reconciliation.”

The shunned speaker called it “Pure Wokeism 101, where if you say something that offends someone, everyone has to run around and stop that speech.”

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The ousted academic showed up at the university on Wednesday and a news report says she was met by a mostly antagonistic crowd, which largely drowned her out.

In an interview earlier this week, Widdowson insisted that she is not a hate monger and does not advocate anti-Indigenous rhetoric.

“I’m a socialist,” she says.

“I have no affiliation with any kind of alt-right networks or anything like that.”

Frances Widdowson.
Frances Widdowson. Postmedia file

NDP leader Rachel Notley is not defending the socialist speaker, instead addressing how the Smith administration fails to understand the “incredibly hurtful” situation.

Nicolaides, focusing on his defense of free speech, says Notley and others are confused about the real issue.

“Who decides whether or not a speech should take place on campus? Need 2,000 names, 3,000 names for a petition? What is the barometer?

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“Will Rachel Notley decide who is allowed on campus and who isn’t?

“Is it the university administration that decides which speeches are allowed and which are not?

“The Alberta government should not provide a list of the types of issues that are acceptable and the types of issues that are not acceptable. This is a practice that occurs in anti-democratic societies.

“The only person who should decide is the student.”

You can go to hear a speaker. You can question the speaker. You can skip the speaker. You have the choice.

“If you can’t create a culture of free speech on campus, I’m really worried about the direction our society is going,” says Nicolaides.

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“If we teach that they can scream and yell and turn it off if they don’t like something they hear, what kind of citizens are we helping to bring forth?”

It confuses the politician to see the number of students protesting freedom of expression.

Back in the long-lost days of certain scribblers, students fought for freer speech.

Imagine that.

On Wednesday, the Canadian Association of University Teachers said the University of Lethbridge wrongly canceled the campus lecture.

Was the university committed to freedom of expression?

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While Nicolaides says the thumbs-down speaker’s views disagree with his, he says, “We cannot just allow speeches where we agree.”

And where, in his opinion, should the line be drawn to freedom of expression?

The line is already drawn by the law of the country, and you cross it when you engage in illegal hate speech.

For a man who has a Ph.D. and has spent a long time at university, he really bucks some who think their view is the only one, a fact that so absolutely does not admit of debate.

Nicolaides believes that the vast majority of Albertans agree with him. University should be a place to chew on different ideas.

He sees a different picture.

“We create an environment where you hear someone say something you don’t like and you hit them as hard as you can, get everyone to move on and then they disappear. That’s a scary claim.

“For a democratic society there must be freedom of expression. I know of no democracy created by censorship.”

Well, Nicolaides knows his Greek mythology and that he may be opening a Pandora’s box where the free speech man could get a hard hit once his remarks hit the streets?

“It’s their freedom of expression,” he says.

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