Monday, June 24, 2024
HomeLaura PerrinsFree Speech Week: The Trial of Lindsay Shepherd

Free Speech Week: The Trial of Lindsay Shepherd


Some of you may know the sad tale of Lindsay Shepherd. In sum, the Canadian graduate student was subjected to a Kafkaesque trial by her university after showing two Jordan Peterson clips in her communications class.

Shepherd was reprimanded in November 2017 by Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) in Waterloo, Ontario after she showed her class the clips from a 2016 episode of The Agenda with Steve Paikin, a TVOntario current affairs programme, which featured a debate with Jordan Peterson about the compelled use of gender-neutral pronouns. The context of the discussion was Bill C-16, a proposal to add ‘gender identity or expression’ as a prohibited ground for discrimination to the Canadian Human Rights Act and as an identifiable group to the Criminal Code. The Bill became law in June 2017.

According to Toby Finlay, an administrator with the university’s Rainbow Centre, an LGBTQ support group, one student approached them with an expression of concern about the clips.

The Rainbow Centre spoke to Adria Joel, acting manager of gender violence prevention in the university’s Diversity and Equity Office.

On 7 November 2017 Nathan Rambukkana, Shepherd’s supervisor, emailed Shepherd to ask that she attend a meeting the following day with him, Joel, and Herbert Pimlott, head of Shepherd’s academic programme.

Shepherd’s mother suggested that she record the discussion; the other participants did not know they were being recorded.

Crucially, at the meeting and citing confidentiality, the anti-free-speech trio did not show Shepherd the complaint, say who had complained, or explain how many complaints there had been; she was told only that ‘one or multiple students had come forward’ expressing concern.

A shorter version of the meeting is here:

Please do listen closely, as what I am interested in is how those interrogating Shepherd breach any sense of fairness of natural justice. Kafkaesque is an overused term, but this is a prime example: Shepherd is summoned out of the blue to answer a charge not defined and made by people not named. She cannot answer the charges against her because of the evasive language used.

Her interrogators use the all-too-familiar ruse of asking if she would show in class inflammatory material such as white supremacist material.

So not only have they not laid out the charges against her, they are accusing her of showing something she did not show but might show in the future, a kind of pre-crime if you will. They frequently refer to ‘violence’ and how the mere showing of a debate could do other students violence and harm – terms that every single person outside the insane academy would assume means actual physical harm.

Listen out for the words ‘problematic’ and ‘positionality’, opaque terms designed to confuse and stigmatise Shepherd without being specific.

‘These arguments are counter to the Canadian Human Rights code,’ they say, and that showing the video created a ‘toxic climate’ for some of the students.

Another classic is when they say ‘You are perfectly welcome to your own opinions, but when brought into the classroom they can create an unsafe learning environment for students.’ This academic actually said it – because debates can make students unsafe.

Shepherd is accused of transphobia, and causing violence to others. The whole thing is a disgusting attack on academic freedom and not just Lindsay Shepherd. The whole thing has also collapsed into litigation.

Shepherd has gone on to be an advocate of free speech and in May 2018 she received the Harry Weldon Canadian Values Award from Canadians for Accountability for her free-speech advocacy. The following month she received the HxA Open Mind Outstanding Graduate Student award from Heterodox Academy.

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