Academics Sue University of Lethbridge for Cancelling Speaking Event


Two professors and a student are suing the University of Lethbridge (UofL) for violating their right to freedom of expression and assembly by cancelling a talk by one of the professors on the topic of the perceived threat of “wokeism” to academic freedom.

The lawsuit, filed on July 26, was launched by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) on behalf of former Mount Royal University associate professor Frances Widdowson, UofL professor Paul Viminitz, and UofL student Jonah Pickle.

The event, which was to be held earlier this year, featured Ms. Widdowson as a guest speaker on the subject of “wokeism” and academic freedom.

The plaintiffs contend that by cancelling the event, the UofL allegedly infringed on their rights to freedom of expression and assembly under the Charter.

The filing also seeks an injunction requiring the UofL to reverse its decision.

The JCCF said the event, scheduled for Feb. 1, was for attendees to “assemble and engage in social and democratic discourse.”

“The UofL boasts how the institution provides a liberal education, preparing students ‘to think critically and creatively, communicate clearly, solve complex problems, and contribute fully to society,'” the JCCF said.

Until her dismissal in 2021, Ms. Widdowson had been an associate professor at Mount Royal University (MRU) in the department of economics, justice, and policy studies, a position she took in 2008.

After she claimed that Black Lives Matter and residential schools had “destroyed” MRU and that residential schools provided indigenous children with an education they couldn’t have received otherwise, she received a lot of pushback from faculty staff.

Petitions were launched that gained thousands of signatures calling for her to be fired.

“Identity politics has been around for quite a long time. But more recently, it started to assert itself by saying that you must accept the claims that are made by certain identities, and if you don’t, you’ll be considered an oppressive person and you should really be prevented from speaking and pushed out of the university. And that’s basically what happened to me,” Ms. Widdowson told The Epoch Times in a previous interview.

After the UofL’s initial approval of the event, the move provoked backlash from the university’s Department of Indigenous Studies and other faculty members calling for the event to be cancelled.

Former UofL president Mike Mahon initially resisted the public pressure to cancel the event.

Mr. Mahon said in a website statement on Jan. 26: “Members of the University community have the right to criticize and question views expressed on campus, but they may not obstruct or interfere with others’ freedom of expression. Debate or deliberation on campus may not be suppressed because the ideas put forward are thought by some, or even most, to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or misguided.”

The event was eventually cancelled Jan. 30 on the grounds that the talk would “minimize the significant and detrimental impact of Canada’s residential school system,” and that its cancellation was in the interests of the “safety” of the “diverse community” on campus.

Furthermore, the university said that upholding the event would pose an impediment to “meaningful reconciliation” in the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and also impede the delegation of decision-making, ostensibly, to “indigenous people.”

In defiance of the event cancellation, Ms. Widdowson elected to instead make her presentation in another part of the UofL campus. Her attempts at speaking were drowned out by a large counter-protest. She was able to finish the presentation online in a video conference later the same day.

“In a liberal democracy, it is essential that diverse voices and viewpoints be free to gather to share ideas, to seek truth, and to discuss policy,” said JCCF lawyer Glenn Blackett. “This is perhaps most essential on a post-secondary campus, which fails to serve its function without open inquiry and, as Dr. Widdowson says, rational disputation.”

The Epoch Times reached out to the UofL for comment but the university said it won’t comment on the legal matter at this point.

As this is a legal matter, the University will not be providing a statement at this time,” said spokesperson Caroline Zentner in an email.