Wilfrid Laurier University bills free speech group $8,055 to host feminist speaker

Although the speaker is left-leaning and a devout feminist, the university is charging the hosts thousands of dollars in security fees out of fear of retaliatory protests.

Ali Taghva Montreal QC

A news release by the Laurier Society of Open Inquiry (LSOI) reveals that Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) is charging the group over $8,000 in security fees to host a talk on feminism and human rights.

A copy of the $8,055 bill by the university's special constable service

The group has started a fundraiser to help pay for the excessive costs. LSOI was founded by graduate student Lindsay Shepherd after she was accused by faculty of breaking the law for showing a video featuring Jordan Peterson to her class. Shepherd was pulled into an impromptu meeting by her superiors and berated for openly discussing the use of gendered pronouns.

Club formed to promote academic freedom

It has now been nearly a year since the recording of the meeting surfaced and Shepherd has been busy hosting events in the Waterloo region that promote free expression and open discussion. The club is not an "official" WLU organization because of a bureaucratic oversight that prohibits graduate students from being club executives. According to the news release, LSOI has over 180 members and has hosted “speakers from across the political spectrum” including: James Kitchen, David Clement, Faith Goldy, Dr. Frances Widdowson and Andrew Lawton.

Recent talk is by a left-leaning feminist

The most recent guest to be invited to speak by the club is the founder of Feminist Current, Meghan Murphy. The talk is set to take place on Wednesday, October 24th and is titled “Does Trans Activism Negatively Impact Women’s Rights?” According to her bio, Meghan holds a Masters in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies from Simon Fraser University. She has also had writing appear on CBC News, The Globe and Mail, and The National Post.

Although the speaker is left-leaning and a devout feminist, the university is charging the hosts thousands of dollars in security fees out of fear of retaliatory protests, even though none have been declared. "I'm a feminist, speaking about women's rights and spaces. Arguing that women deserve their own spaces, when it comes to things like change rooms and transition houses, and that women's sex based rights exist for a reason." said Murphy, " I should not be getting death threats or be afraid of violence for saying these things. And yet I am." Speaking on the security fees Meghan said, "Trans activists and privileged college students have created a climate wherein women's free speech is so dangerous that, now, anyone who wishes to hear us speak must pay thousands of dollars to protect us from harm. It's insanity."

Security fees as a means to suppress free speech

This isn’t the first time that Wilfrid Laurier has used excessive security fees as a means to dissuade controversial topics from being discussed on campus. “The university charges LSOI excessive fees because they want them to pay for others’ ability to protest. The university is saying that LSOI, a group genuinely interested in hearing ideas from across the political spectrum, must use their own funds to pay for others to threaten their event! It is simply unjust,” says the news release. "Students should be learning (especially in universities, of all places) to try to understand, think critically about, and engage with ideologies and concepts, not shout them down or attempt to silence them," said Meghan Murphy. "If students have become a threat to writers, activists, public intellectuals, etc., the university needs to address that. We should be able to have civil discussions on campus."

Not the first time this tactic has been employed

In May of this year, the university charged the group well over $5,000 to host Mount Royal University professor Dr. Frances Widdowson.

Although Dr. Widdowson is a self-described Marxist and socialist, her topic “Does University Indigenization Threaten Open Inquiry” drew the ire and criticism of angry far-left protestors. Detractors accused LSOI and the speaker of being discriminatory towards Canada’s indigenous community. "Considering that universities today are, in large part, responsible for teaching students that controversial opinions or even ideas they disagree with equate to "hate" and are "violent," campuses should be footing security bills to protect speakers from their students." said Meghan Murphy about the tactic. LSOI has faced accusations for having a right-wing agenda, but recent events make it increasingly clear that the establishment is even willing to de-platform left-wing speakers who speak out against accepted dogma.

There are consequences for Wilfrid Laurier University’s actions

Despite issuing an apology to Ms. Shepherd regarding the original incident that sparked this ongoing sequence of events, Laurier is facing multiple lawsuits for its continued behaviour. Both Lindsay Shepherd and Dr. Jordan Peterson are taking the university to court. Shepherd’s lawsuit claims that the university has engaged in continued harassment and negligence towards her. The lawsuit is seeking $3.6 million in punitive damages and was issued after another student filed a separate harassment complaint against Ms. Shepherd which she has called “frivolous”. At the same time, Jordan Peterson is suing the University for defamatory statements which include painting him as a figure of the alt-right and comparing him to Hitler. His lawsuit is asking for $1.5 million in damages.

Could Premier Ford’s new free-speech policies prevent future abuses by university administration?

Beginning in January 2019, the government of Ontario has tasked post-secondary schools with implementing and enforcing policies regarding free speech.

Colleges and universities will be expected to regularly report to the government on their policy’s progress. Failure to do so could lead to funding being withheld from the institution. Whether WLU’s use of security costs to dissuade controversial events from taking place on campus is a violation of the new law is yet to be seen. The Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario will be tasked with monitoring compliance during the Fall 2019 term.

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