The University of Lethbridge (UofL) is being sued for cancelling a talk by former Mount Royal University professor Dr. Frances Widdowson on “how wokism threatens academic freedom” earlier this year.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom (JCCF) announced Monday that court action had been filed on behalf of Widdowson, UofL philosophy professor Dr. Paul Viminitz, who organized the talk, and UofL student Jonah Pickle.
The three applicants are seeking a declaration that the UofL breached their freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, and freedom of peaceful assembly guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedom.
The court action also seeks an injunction requiring the university to allow the talk to take place on campus.
“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 lawyer Glenn Blackett.
“This is perhaps most essential on a post-secondary campus, which fails to serve its function without open inquiry.”
Widdowson, who had been fired by Mount Royal in 2021 amid her criticizing an indigenization initiatives, was invited by Viminitz to speak on Feb. 1 about how woke ideology is hostile to free speech, open inquiry, and dissent, which are essential components and conditions of universities.
Viminitz had hoped the talk would have allowed for people to assemble and engage in social and democratic discourse.
The university initially approved the talk, but later backtracked amid two petitions, UofL’s Department of Indigenous Studies and numerous faculty members calling for its cancellation.
The court action claims that the cancellation was made based on the following grounds:
a. “assertions that seek to minimize the significant and detrimental impact of Canada’s residential school system are harmful”;
b. cancellation was for the “safety” of the “diverse community”, although the UofL was almost certainly referring to ideological safety from opposing viewpoints, which is contrary to the purpose and existence of a post-secondary education;
c. harm associated with the talk was an impediment to “meaningful reconciliation” pursuant to the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada; and
d. delegation of decision-making, ostensibly, to “indigenous people.”
Widdowson opted to instead give her Feb. 1 talk in the UofL Atrium. However, on the day of, she was met with a large group of left-wing protesters, who interfered with her ability to give the talk.
She tried to move to an adjacent area, but amid continuing to be drowned out by shouting, drumming, and chanting, she had to move the talk to Zoom.
“My experience at the University of Lethbridge is a textbook case of how ‘woke-ism’ is threatening academic freedom and freedom of expression on university campuses,” said Widdowson.
“Instead of encouraging faculty and students to engage with my ideas in order to reach a better understanding of totalitarian identity politics’ impact on the academy, the University of Lethbridge created an ‘unsafe space’ for critical thinking and open inquiry. This means that the development of knowledge and theoretical understanding is being compromised at this academic institution.”
The shutting down of Widdowson’s talk led to an outcry, and action from the Alberta government to further protect free speech on campuses.
Then Alberta Advanced Education Minister Demetrios Nicolaides announced that the province would mandate post-secondary institutions to provide annual free speech reporting. “I believe it is important for our universities and colleges to foster a strong culture of free speech and diverse viewpoints, even when those viewpoints are deemed controversial, or even offensive,” said Nicolaides.
UofL told True North that it would not provide a comment as this is a legal matter.