Bernard Drainville, the Parti Québecois cabinet minister responsible for the controversial Values Charter now before the National Assembly, recently cancelled his appearance in a debate at Concordia University, citing “security concerns.”
He was right to be worried. And he was wrong to cancel.
Drainville was right to be worried because universities across the country have shown an alarming unwillingness to protect the free speech that is the lifeblood of their enterprise. Particularly when controversial public issues come to campus, university administrators, doubtless wary of lawsuits and bad publicity, shrug and refuse to guarantee the safety of participants.
And participants are right to ask for such commitments. Only a few days before Drainville’s announcement, the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) refused to police a debate on the Values Charter that was disrupted by those on the other side of the issue, those who violently support it and who refuse any dialogue with its opponents. CTV Montreal quoted activist Djemila Benhabib as saying she was incapable of being civil to opponents of the Charter. “I cannot talk in any fashion to Islamists,” said Benhabib. “An ocean of blood separates us.”