As I noted the other day, back in 2008 The American Political Science Association was presented with a petition from some of its members asking them to reconsider Toronto as the location of its 2009 general meeting due to concerns about Canada's national and provincial Human Rights Commissions. After some consideration, APSA rejected this petition and will in fact be in town from from September 3-6.
Because I know followers of the Speechy Wars wanted...no, needed...to know the full story behind the APSA petition and its ultimate failure, I contacted Bahram Rajaee (APSA's PR guy) and he was kind enough to direct me to the relevant documents.
It all makes for a (mildly) interesting read, but if you look at the petition itself and the response documents, you come across the following passage from the petition instigators:
...we... have some new information about an academic complaint of the sort that
might chill speech at the 2009 convention: According to Janet Ajzenstat, a respected Canadian political scientist, the Canadian Political Science Association is being asked to censure a session chair for allowing academic speech deemed offensive during a conference session. Without judging the details of the dispute, as reported it seems to be the sort of thing that is not imaginable under American or APSA norms — yet, it seems to us to reflect the rather different norms about offensive speech developing in Canada.
It turns out they were talking about the turmoil kicked-up at an August 2008 meeting of CPSA (The Canadian Political Science Association) in which Frances Widdowson, of Disrobing the Aboriginal Industry fame, presented a paper on "aboriginal methodology" that went down very poorly, with the Q&A afterwards ending in tears, lamentations, and cries of racism. At the time it was rumored that session chair Peter Russell would be censured for letting things get out of hand, a rumor Ajzenstat repeated to several of the people behind the petition, before later realizing that it was false (or at least "no longer true").
More generally, APSA quickly realized that the Ontario Human Rights Code and the CHRA provisions for hate speech did not apply to academic presentations, and that the OHRC did not regulate published speech at all (only signs, emblems, and symbols). The petitioners seem to have mistaken section 13 of the Ontario Human Rights Code for section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. In any case, my favorite part in the response of the Canadian Association of University Teachers to APSA's request for clarification re Canada's hate speech laws:
On the specific matter of human rights commissions in Canada, there seems to be a good deal of confusion and obfuscation in the materials being circulated about the threat posed to free speech and their relevance to a meeting of the APSE. For starters, none of the specific cases noted by the authors of the petition's accompanying information piece ("What's the Matter with Canada") were heard by the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, the only such body that would have jurisdiction over an event (unrelated to federal activities) taking place in Toronto. In this regard, the examples being used by the petition's promoters are about as fair as us warning against travel to Massachusetts because Nebraska maintains the death penalty.
I've found a copy of the "information piece" mentioned above here, and I would just noted that if you quote David Warren as being an authority on anything, you are already in trouble.