Getting to the bottom of free speech

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Re: “Student councils must decide where to draw the line on free speech”
Jan. 23, 2009

To the editor:
When I was a student at McMaster University last year, there was a controversy over the use of the word apartheid to describe the wall that had been built around Palestine. The use of such a loaded word, carrying with it references to racism, was offensive to some and the use of the word in posters advertising a week of activities related to the situation in Israel-Palestine resulted in the posters being banned and a much livelier discussion of the issues. Similarly, in reading the article about a pro-life club being lent support by the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, I was struck by the use of the term genocide to describe abortion.

In fact, the Pro-Life Calgary group’s activities were stated to be part of the Genocide Awareness Week. Apparently, the visuals that are referred to in this article are pictures of both unborn fetuses and victims of the Holocaust shown in comparison. While I do not have any issue with this group receiving support on principle, I do find it interesting that the use of the term genocide in such an incorrect and melodramatic way is not challenged at all " even by the authorities who attempted to eject the group from the campus.

Genocide is the concerted destruction of an entire group of people, connected by race, ethnicity or geography. The real issue here is not that the group was ejected, but rather that there was a real problem with their campaign, which was not discussed at all. There is a reference to the group using “graphic images,” but no clarification of what these images were meant to represent.

There are reasons for disallowing groups to exist or advertise on campus, and interestingly, in a previous issue of The Gazette, there was a discussion of the response to the SPHR erecting a “mock wall” and the club being de-ratified as a result. It would seem that certain groups have more support for free speech than others.

I would expect that linking the term genocide with the practice of abortion was a greater issue than the fact that the Canadian Civil Liberties Association provided support for free speech. Perhaps at greater issue is that free speech is not given equally to everyone.
" Julianna Beckett
Library and Information Science I

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