Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Cowardice at Carleton U.

A controversy is swirling on the campus of Ottawa's Carleton University. A motion is to be presented in a few days to the Carleton University Students Association (CUSA) to deny CUSA funding or space to an organized campus anti-choice group called Lifeline Carleton. (This one ought to put conservatives on their mettle, and I shall be interested to read what they have to say about it. Will they defend social conservatism to the point of supporting compulsory taxation on its behalf?)

Some are framing the whole thing as a freedom of speech issue, but it's not. Carleton has broad official policies favouring diversity, human rights and respect. If diversity is going to be made to encompass bigotry and intolerance, then the word simply loses its meaning. So I emerged to send the following letter to The Charlatan, Carleton's student newspaper:

Dear Editor:

I applaud the proposal to deny CUSA funding and space to an organization that promotes a message that, if ever it became law, would result in misery and back-street abortion deaths for Canadian women.

Make no mistake--this is not about "free speech," or open debate, although there are those who, for their own reasons, might want to frame the current discussion that way. Simply put, this is about maintaining diversity and respect, consistent with Carleton's declared human rights policy. If there is "intolerance" being shown, it is intolerance of intolerance.

The proposal now in front of CUSA goes part of the way to redeem Carleton's reputation after the unconscionable award of an honorary doctorate to a local activist homophobe earlier this year. No one is telling the "Lifeline" folks that they can't meet or discuss their reprehensible positions--just that student resources, collected and maintained for the benefit of all students, should not be used for this purpose. Makes sense to me.


I received within the hour a hastily-written email from the editor. We can't use the word "homophobe," she said--it's libellous. The reference was to Rabbi Reuven Bulka, about whom I blogged here, back in the summer. Briefly, the man sits on a so-called "Scientific Advisory Committee" of NARTH, a cranky US-based outfit that believes homosexuality is a disease, and that pushes something called "reparative therapy" to cure it. So I called the editor.

"We can't call him a homophobe," she insisted. A journalism professor told her this could lead to a lawsuit. "But...but," I sputtered, "calling homosexuality a disease is homophobic." "Sorry," she said. "I know a lot of gay people see it that way..."

"OK, then," I said, " call him an "anti-gay activist." "Can't," she said. "He's an anti-poverty activist. He doesn't do enough in Ottawa to merit the other term. But we have a compromise position."

"OK," I said. "And so do I."

"What if we said, 'unconscionable award of an honorary doctorate of laws to Dr. Rabbi Reuven Bulka*, who sits on the Scientific Advisory Committee of NARTH, an organization that considers that homosexuality is an illness to be cured.'"

I tried not to wince. "How about, 'unconscionable award of an honorary degree to Dr. Rabbi Reuven Bulka, who believes homosexuality is a disease.'"

"But that's not a provable fact," she said. "Are you suggesting," I asked, "that he would sit on an advisory board of an organization that exists to push a 'cure' for homosexuality, and not have that position himself?"

"We can't prove that he thinks that way," she said. (Certainly if NARTH had a broader focus, she would have had a point, but it doesn't.) "The professor we consult knows a lot about media law, and we could be sued."

"Well, I've blogged on this and no one's lifted a legal finger."

"Blogs aren't like newspapers," she said, indicating the depth of her knowledge of media law.

"Let's forget it, then," I said. "I'll blog about it instead."

And so I guess I'm back.

*I was informed that a person with many titles must have them all published before his or her name. "If he had a knighthood, would he be Sir Dr. Rabbi Bulka?" "That's correct," she told me. "It's the new CP style."

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