The Reality of Free Speech in Today’s World

Disclaimer: Any opinions stated are those of the author alone and do not reflect the opinions/position of HC WLU

The understanding of Free Speech has recently undergone an interesting societal twist. This new dynamic has created both positive and, unfortunately, negative attributes within our society. 

Freedom of speech has helped many minority groups, like the LGBTQ+ community, as well as the civil rights movement of the 20th century, to name a few. This allows communities to rise from a place of darkness or unrighteousness to a place of acceptance and importance. These two movements are great examples of why free speech is so crucial for the progression of societal norms. 
However, negative attributes come in to play when only one viewpoint is accepted as the right approach. The application of this principle is one of the leading factors that is stripping away the rights of individuals to think and act as they please. 

Unfortunately, university campuses are supporting this notion of one-minded thinking, rather than creating a solution for it. And yeah you guessed it, this includes Wilfrid Laurier University.  

There are many examples of Laurier’s student body stating various overruling viewpoints on campus. One that most students should be aware of is the removal of the John A. Macdonald statue in the Quad. 

This took place last year when Laurier stated that they did not agree with the former Prime Minister’s views. John A. Macdonald was a deeply flawed man that held values that are incomprehensible by today’s standards. If we continue to look through the magnifying glass of societal norms, we will quickly find that no one person of significance from the past could be held in such esteem. Laurier’s removal of the Father of Confederation’s statue not only shows the schools lack of ability to consider multiple viewpoints, but it also undermines the foundation of this country. 

Another example, of how Laurier is limiting and devaluing the views of others is the response which arose after Pro-Life demonstrations on campus. 

During the Fall semester of 2016, a Pro-Life activist club at Laurier called Laurier Life Link led a demonstration which included 10,000 small flags in the Quad. Each flag represented 10 fetal deaths through abortion, equalling 100,000 deaths each year. I walked pass this demonstration unsure of what was going on. After approaching a girl standing around the flags, which I later learned is the current president, Christine Schuknecht, I was very happy to have such a respectful and refreshing debate on the topic. I represented the Pro-Choice side of this conflict and she, obviously, represented the Pro-Life. Shortly after having this conversation, students at Laurier began protesting the event with posters supporting Pro-Choice. Unfortunately, this protest led to these students physically removing the flags from the ground as Special Constables stood by.

More recently, on Tuesday, October 24, 2017, the club organized an interactive chalk display which has since caused a lot of outrage on campus.  

I wanted to get to the bottom of what this club’s purpose is on Campus. So, I asked Christine Schuknecht, the president of this club what the goal of LifeLink is. She told me: “The goal of LifeLink is to make students aware of life issues in Canada, especially those regarding abortion. Many people do not know that there are no laws about abortion in Canada. We want to help students make informed decisions and ensure they are aware that there are options besides abortion. Our campus demonstrations are to promote healthy conversations with students about their thoughts on this issue.”

Christine also stated some really important things for students at Laurier to consider about the club: “We are not on campus to judge people on their opinions or experiences with abortion. Our club offers help and support to individuals throughout all stages of this process. We have resources for local pregnancy centres and shelters, as well as post-abortive services such as SilentNoMore. We want to make certain that students know about these resources and are receiving all the help they may need.” 

The Students Union and Wilfrid Laurier University as a whole faced quite a lot of backlash from students since the occurrence of this event. From this backlash arose demands to discourage and ban the presence of any Pro-Life activist groups on campus. These students have discussed these demands on various social media sites and believe that LifeLink is not a safe club to have on campus. 

An academic who made a point in his career to stand by the values and principle of free speech is Noam Chomsky. You may have heard about his teachings within the realm of media, but Chomsky also made a mark on this world with his morals. For example, Chomsky displayed his passion for free speech when he supported a German Neo-Nazi, who released a paper stating that the Holocaust did not exist. Keep in mind, Chomsky did not support the opinion of this man, but he made it clear that he supported the man’s right to express himself. Chomsky’s passion and active commitment for free speech signifies as a great example for others, especially in this time when free speech has become diluted within society. 

For a university body to deny the voice of Pro-Life activist is simply limiting discussion of the topic. Having the ability for both parties to speak allows for a deeper discussion. Where is there a better place for this discussion to occur than on university campuses? Let’s hope that together the future may sway in favour of allowing all sides of the story to be heard.