A storm of controversy that was ignited by an internet petition aimed at intimidating Mount Royal University into revoking Gary McHale and Mark Vandermaas’ invitation to speak at the upcoming ‘New Directions in Aboriginal Policy’ forum on May 05/10 has unexpectedly brought about some very positive and hopeful results for Caledonia, Six Nations and, possibly, the future of open debate in Canada:
1. The petition was voluntarily taken down by the Australian host due to libelous statements against us.
2. Christie Blatchford of the Globe & Mail was drawn into the firestorm when a Mount Royal professor announced he planned to sign the petition, and then suggested that she be invited to speak instead Vandermaas & McHale.
Blatchford spoke to forum organizer Dr. Widdowson on the phone and sent her a lengthy email explaining that she was too busy to come because she was writing a book about Caledonia, and that the allegations against us – based on her personal knowledge – were untrue.
She also gave Dr. Widdowson permission to publish her email who reports that the professor is now reconsidering his position.
3. For months Dr. Widdowson has attempted – without success – to find someone on the pro-aboriginal sovereignty side to challenge the non-native Caledonia perspective advanced by us. I am pleased to report that a resident from Six Nations – Wes Elliott – has now agreed to participate.
This will be the first time in nearly four years that a civil public debate will take place between those who support the actions of native protesters and those who have tried to speak out for their victims.
We look forward to Mr. Elliott’s presentation and his critique of ours.
4. The defence of our right to speak about Caledonia by Mount Royal University is a victory for free speech, academic freedom and the future of public policy debate about controversial issues.
- Dr. Frances Widdowson, April 28/10: Christie Blatchford on McHale et al.
- Dr. Frances Widdowson, April 27/10: Discussing Caledonia, aboriginal sovereignty and the rule of law (addition of Mr. Elliott to forum)
- Caledonia Victims Project, April 25/10: Native militants & CUPE try to intimidate university into silence re Caledonia victims
- Dr. Frances Widdowson, April 24/10: Here we go again…
The power of free speech and open debate
One must almost be grateful, in a perverse sort of way, to those who attempted to shut down our participation in this forum; after all, their efforts to suppress free speech forced a spirited debate in defence of it and an intense examination of the veracity of their allegations.
Their reliance on vile insults and defamation instead of logical arguments and evidence not only damaged their own credibility within both the journalistic and academic worlds (which they claim to inhabit), it made possible an historic debate about a vital issue of national importance which otherwise would not have taken place.
The dreadful campaign to attack our credibility actually helped dramatize the importance of my planned presentation: that the voices of victims have been ignored and suppressed, and that they need to have a place at the aboriginal policy table if we are to bring about healing and reconciliation.
Thank you to Mount Royal University
I would like to thank Mount Royal University for making this historic event possible by taking a strong stand in support of academic freedom. Here are Dr. Widdowson’s perspectives on the possible benefits of the forum and on the controversy itself:
“By looking at different points of view, and analyzing the logic and evidence that is used to support them, we can all develop a greater understanding of this difficult and complex policy area. It is also important to recognize that Mount Royal University is a leader in the promotion of critical inquiry and the protection of academic freedom; it is doubtful that such a debate could take place at any other university in Canada. Hopefully the forum will provide a model whereby other controversial issues can be discussed in a collegial fashion.”
“I have come to realize that this sort of thing needs to be gone through before progress can occur. It is not pleasant, but after all the professed offence and outrage exhausts itself, everyone will have a better understanding of the situation than before. It is also important to recognize that aboriginal people are hurt and frustrated too. They have been lied to and manipulated by the Aboriginal Industry and have become, as Roger Sandall has stated, “the deluded victims of the extravagances of their admirers.” And although the condecension might seem pleasant at first, it is honesty that will be appreciated in the end.
- Comment to Jeff Parkinson post, April 27/10: National forum a big step for Caledonia
NOTE: Dr. Widdowson has made it clear in other writings that she is not necessarily supporting the position we are taking with respect to Caledonia/Six Nations issues, but that she is merely emphasizing the importance of listening to both sides.
Dr. King on the importance of ‘unpleasant’ debate and the tension it creates
In his letter from the Birmingham jail dated April 16, 1963 Dr. King eloquently explained why the tension that goes with controversial debates and the exposure of injustice is so important to the greater good:
Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
- VoiceofCanada feature: Lessons from Dr. King
The issue of aboriginal policies and their effects on innocent third parties are too important to the country not to be accorded debate of the highest level of quality and involvement by those affected.
I share Dr. Widdowson’s hope for this forum as a model for the future, and I believe one day, scholars and journalists will look back in bewilderment that such extreme efforts were made to cover up the ugly boil that is Caledonia and wonder why today’s intellectuals had forgotten the lessons taught by Dr. King from a jail cell in Birmingham about how to bring about a non-violent ‘revolution’ and eventual reconciliation in a modern democracy.
- CANACE diagram: Reconciliation: the CANACE Path [PDF]
Mark Vandermaas, Founder
Caledonia Victims Project