A Response to the Letter from the LSU President
By Josh MacMillan, NCLN Campus Coordinator
Good luck holding an unpopular opinion at Wilfred Laurier University (WLU), because according to the Laurier Student Union (LSU), you will get no protection.
LSU President Tyler Van Herzele, an elected representative of the student body who “works with key university and community personnel to advocate on behalf of all undergraduate students,” recently set a precedent that completely sidelines them.
In an open letter dated December 7, 2016, Van Herzele made a statement about an event held by the pro-life club, Laurier Lifelink in October. The club had hosted the WeNeedaLaw.ca flag display, comprised of 10,000 small pink and blue flags, each representing 10 abortions that happen each year in Canada. The event is meant to inform students about the facts about abortion in Canada and start a discussion on it. Half-way through the day, the display was destroyed by protestors.
The event was approved by the LSU. The space was properly booked. Everything was in order according to the LSU and LifeLink President Stephanie Breukelman. Yet, in light of the complaints and destructive action on the part of some members of the WLU Community, LSU automatically places the blame on the pro-life club and does not give them a fair hearing. The LSU plainly refuses to acknowledge that LifeLink has had their rights to free speech trampled upon, and was treated unjustly, regardless of the content of the display.
In the letter, Van Herzele states that “discussion of controversial issues should [not] be avoided” on the Laurier campus, and that the LSU “remain[s] dedicated to supporting the fundamental freedoms all Canadians share, including the ability to openly express opinions and beliefs.” Yet, in the same breath, he blames LifeLink for creating an “adversarial tone” which “evoked a confrontation which eliminated the possibility of respectful dialogue and created an unsafe environment for all students.”
This “adversarial tone” was simply a visualization of facts and the promotion of healthy discussion between students about these facts. It was, in fact, the protesting students who tore down the display and who “eliminated the possibility of respectful dialogue” and “created an unsafe environment.” Where is this so-called “dedication” to free speech? Obviously at LSU, there is none for pro-life students.
Van Herzele has made it ominously clear that this kind of treatment is not over. “We are working… to ensure this does not happen again…[by] revising several clubs policies to ensure future events, particularly those engaging in controversial or polarizing topics, respect the multitude of personal experiences and perspectives on campus.” What does this mean? By uttering not a word to defend the pro-life students from the unjust actions of mobs (simply because they are challenging students to think about “controversial issues”), it makes it very clear that Van Herzele does not have the best interests of all students in mind, but instead believes that mob rule silencing minority and unpopular opinions is justified and should be defended.
It is clear from this letter that LSU and its President are opposed to free speech and are not taking any action to defend free speech. Laurier LifeLink was told in a meeting the “concerns expressed by the Laurier community members were discussed and clear expectations were set for any future events.” Yet, the protestors who tore down the display were not told that what they did was unacceptable, nor were any expectations set for conduct at WLU that does not censor the free expression of others. Until a statement is issued to the contrary, it is clear that the LSU does not encourage “intellectual and social inquiry,” nor is dedicated to “valuing the existence of a variety of viewpoints and opinions.”
We encourage you to demand that the LSU Board and its President, Van Herzele, make clear to the WLU community that mob censorship is not acceptable on a University Campus and that they uphold the right of Laurier LifeLink to host events just like any other clubs, without fear of censorship for expressing what may be an unpopular belief. You can contact the LSU by filling out the Customer Service and Satisfaction Policy Feedback Form, located to the right of the letter linked here, or by contacting Van Herzele directly at:
Tyler Van Herzele
519.884.0710 x 3409