- Section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,
a constitutional bill of rights, states:
- "Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
- (a) freedom of conscience and religion;
- (b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression,
including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
- (c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
- (d) freedom of association."
- Article 7 assures "Everyone has the right to life,
liberty and security of person and the right not to be deprived thereof
in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice."
- According to Yale Law Professor and constitutional scholar
Thomas I. Emerson (1908 - 1981):
- "Maintenance of a system of free expression is necessary
(1) as assuring individual self-fulfillment, (2) as a means of attaining
the truth, (3) as a method of securing participation by the members of
society in social, including political, decision-making, and (4) as maintaining
the balance between stability and change in society."
- With no free expression right, all others are at risk
at a time dissent is called a threat to national security, terrorism, or
treason. Howard Zinn called it "the highest form of patriotism,"
and according to Voltaire, "I may disapprove of what you say, but
I will defend to the death your right to say it."
- In a post-9/11 climate, it's more than ever endangered,
academic tenure affording no protection; to wit, Professor Denis Rancourt's
University of Ottawa (U of O) March 31, 2009 firing, ostensibly for pedagogical
reasons, but as he said:
- "I was fired under the false pretext of having arbitrarily
assigned high grades in one course in the winter 2008 semester. (To do
so), the university had to dispense with due process. In the words of the
professors' union's lawyer, my dismissal was 'both a denial of substantive
and procedural rights....and a contravention of the basic principles of
natural justice.' "
- On rancourt.academicfreedom.ca, he states:
- "Most students agree to give up their independence
of thought and enquiry and to serve the insane system of due dates and
senseless assignments in exchange for the certificate (a degree. They spend
four years) to be certified persistently obedient. (In return, they get)
access to a privileged position in the wage hierarchy and professional
social status. It's a trade....It requires survival....that, in turn, requires
adopting the ideology of the profession....and self-indoctrination"
to expunge the impulse to learn. "Your soul (is exchanged) for a place
in the sun."
- Rancount's "critical pedagogy" focuses on learning,
not regurgitating professorial views for high grades, or as he said in
a January 5, 2009 letter to Marc Jolicoeur, Chairman of the University
Board of Governors:
- His focus shifted "from evaluation to education,
from rank ordering of students to learning (to remove) intimidation and
anxiety from the educational equation. As a result, student performances
in my courses have improved significantly and in fact have been excellent."
University interference was "politically motivated and resisted in
the name of academic freedom and in defence of the best education for my
- His political activism lay behind "the university's
attempts to discipline (him) since September 2005;" specifically over
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, "in articles, on radio, in blog
postings, at public venues, and in classes."
- In 2007, after criticizing the university's position
on academically boycotting Israel, repression against him intensified after
Allan Rock became president on June 3, 2008 - a former Canadian politician,
UN ambassador, and staunch Israeli supporter.
- On his March 8 U of O Watch blog posting, Rancourt said
Rock, as UN ambassador, "abruptly changed Canada's longstanding policy
on Israel," henceforth "vot(ing) against UN resolutions for Palestinian
human rights along with the US and Israel," contrary to virtually
all other UN members save for a Pacific island or two.
- As U of O president, he was "reprimanded by the
Canadian Civil Liberties Association for banning a student poster about
Israeli Apartheid Week, (then) strong-armed a student union president into
distancing the (organization) from the student-run Ontario Public Interest
Research Group (OPIRG) which had expressed a principled stance towards
- In September 2008 at Rock's urging, the Executive Committee
of the Board of Governors (EBOG) suspended Rancourt, recommended dismissing
him in December, barred him from campus, then fired him in March 2009.
- A University of Ottawa physics professor, he was tenured,
a full professor since 1997, a recognized expert in his field, and a "phenomenal
teacher" according to members of the Environmental Studies Student
Association for providing an "extremely enriching individualized....empower(ing
and) positive learning environment where inspired students gained confidence
- How could his pedagogical approach and grading methods
"justify ordering the university police to remove (and ban him) from
campus, (assign) his graduate students to other faculty, fir(e) his post
doctoral research fellow, and summarily fir(e) him without due process?"
- It's "particularly ironic given its Vision 2010
strategic plan (stating) that the university will "Support and recognize
initiatives designed to implement a range of new and diversified strategies
for learning and evaluation."
- Rancourt wanted a stronger, more democratic U of O -
better pedagogically with a new syllabus, community service offerings,
course content, and right to challenge established practices.
- He was also vocal on environmental concerns, professional
ethics, lobbying, media influence, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In response, university officials tried to silence him, finally by dismissal,
the same disposition for others like Bard College's Joel Kovel, De Paul
University's Norman Finkelstein, and University of Colorado's Ward Churchill,
each distinguished academicians, scholars, and outspoken critics of injustice.
- Until his July 2007 firing, Churchill was an award-winning
tenured professor. He sued, prevailed, was reversed at the district court
level, appealed, and was supported by National Lawyers Guild, Center for
Constitutional Rights, Society of American Law Teachers, Latina/O Critical
Legal Theory, and Law Professors and Attorneys through amici curiae filings
to reverse the lower court's ruling. In summary of argument comments, they
- "Academic freedom, a central component of the First
Amendment (similar to Section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and
Freedoms) and essential to a thriving democracy, is imperiled when state
university officials succumb to political pressure to fire a tenured professor
over constitutionally protected statements. Affording the shield of absolute
immunity to university officials and vacating a jury finding of wrongful
discharge in violation of the First Amendment threatens the fundamental
rights of all faculty members."
- Such action "will have a chilling effect on professors,
students, and citizens whose speech is unpopular but constitutionally protected.
The resultant suppression of free inquiry and critical thinking vitiates
the First Amendment and undermines the foundation of higher learning in
- It holds for Canada under constitutionally protected
freedoms, Rancourt saying tenure produces obedient academics who won't
challenge injustices in society or their university environs. He wrote:
- "One antidote to the university as boot camp in
the service of capital is for tenured professors to use their tenure. This
would turn tenure on its head, as it is free society's coercive tool of
choice for fabricating aligned and docile academics. Not the job security
itself....but the filtering and moulding process known as the tenure track....Tenure
is death, risk is life, and collaboration is criminal. Collaborating in
an institutionalized system of resource looting, labour exploitation, and
genocidal demographic engineering is criminal, especially when its ultimate
weapon is the foremost crime known as war, such as the present Canadian
war in Afghanistan."
- In a detailed February 23, 2009 brief (five weeks before
his firing), he said university officials used a "fast track process"
against him, wouldn't engage in dialogue, and refused to evaluate him by
a committee of his peers to facilitate his firing:
- "on a first offence without ever having the right
to be heard at any stage, including the final decision meeting of the Executive
Committee of the Board of Governors....Canadian society is witnessing the
contrived and intentional firing of an outspoken dissident professor, as
harsh as the most prominent recent cases in the US under Bush" that
continue under Obama.
- Freedom of information (FOI) documents showed intense
illegal university surveillance, "including an extensive use of a
student spy and the hiring of professional reporters to produce commented
transcripts of my academic and conference talks at other universities."
- Methods used included:
- -- "covertly recording conversations of others;
- -- covertly attending a presentation....under false pretence
and covertly voice recording the event and preparing reports;
- -- using a false Facebook identity (Maureen Robinson
= Nathalie page) to covertly join activist student events and discussion
- -- using a false Facebook identity to covertly make enquiries
about student events;
- -- using a false gmail account....to make covert email
- -- making false pretence enquiries to outside (blog)
editors and outside conference organizers;" and other methods.
- Rancourt concluded that "This may be the first time
in North American academic history that a university administration (through
its highest legal office) hire(d) a student to practice extensive covert
surveillance of a professor and (other) students" in violation of
Canadian and international law.
- Part VI - Invasion of Privacy under the Criminal Code
of Canada prohibits "private communication" intercepts from one
person to another within Canada. Provision 184(1) states:
- "Every one who, by means of any electro-magnetic,
acocustic, mechanical or other device, willfully intercepts a private communication
is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term
not exceeding five years."
- Provision 193(1) prohibits disclosure of illegal intercepts,
subjecting offenders to imprisonment for up to two years.
- Article 17 of the UN International Covenant on Civil
and Political Rights states:
- "No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful
interference with his privacy, family, or correspondence, nor to unlawful
attacks on his honour and reputation (and) Everyone has the right to the
protection of the law against such interference or attacks."
- Article 19 states:
- "Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions
- FOI evidence also revealed interference to prevent Rancourt
from reserving an auditorium, secure computing services, participate in
campus demonstrations, enlist students for research projects, accept new
graduate students, negotiate his teaching load, propose new courses and
curriculum changes among other things. In addition, since 2005, measures
"included a multitude of tenuous and invalid disciplinary attempts
and interventions including and not limited to....the Dean barging into"
his....Physics and the Environment course to close it down."
- In 19 prior U of O teaching years, he hadn't once encountered
discipline. Thereafter it became intense, malicious, repeated, and wholly
unjustified, culminating in his dismissal because of Allan Rock's collusion
with Israeli Lobby efforts to "enforce (its) ideological alignment
within the University...."
- As a result, "At a snap (December 10, 2008) meeting,
(he) was effectively summarily dismissed, physically barred from campus,
and escorted off the premises by university police" for bogus reasons.
Then on January 23, 2009, he was "arrested, cuffed and removed from
campus by Ottawa Police" by order of the university administration,
"and charged with trespass to property - while hosting (his) weekly
Cinema Academica event."
- In a December 2009 activisteacher.blogspot.com posting,
he called the actions against him "an indicator of emergent fascism.
(It's) not a distant historical anomaly. It is an optimum end-state towards
which large-scale disruptive and predatory economic hierarchies tend. It
is the state of total and unchallenged control of every facet of life by
corporate masters of the economy, achieved by an optimized balance of force
and a designed mental and social environment. Independent thought is eliminated
(and its) influence rendered foreign."
- America is already in an advanced state, Canada close
behind toward a dark future, prevented only by "authentic (determined)
- Letters Supporting Professor Rancourt
- Ones from U of O included:
- Adjunct Professor Valerie Whiffen, School of Psychology,
calling the university's action "an appalling and unprecedented lack
of respect for both academic freedom and due process" in urging his
- Department of Criminology Adjunct Professor Robert Gaucher
calling the attack on academic freedom "extremely upsetting....I am
appalled by it....If a colleague with such outstanding credentials can
be treated (this way), then the academic freedom of all of us is threatened."
- Instructor and doctoral candidate Claire Delisle, Department
of Criminology, expressing concern about the university "exercising
rigid control over the staff and the students" and for subverting
- Ones from other universities included:
- Members of College and University Workers United (CUWU)
calling Rancourt "a dedicated educator and a fearless defender of
justice (for his) stand for human rights and students' rights. We are thankful
to count Denis Rancourt among the rare public intellectuals who do not
compromise their principles when they become aware of institutional folly;
but instead use their positions to expose and correct flawed practices....We
conclude that the charges (against him) are a contrived pretext, that they
are preposterous as reasons to summarily remove a tenured professor...."
- University of Manitoba Mineralogy and Crystallography
Professor, Frank C. Hawthorne, calling Rancourt "an outstanding scientist
(among the very) few of his calibre, (a man) the community can ill afford
- Ryerson University Professor Emeritus Helmut Burkhardt
calling the action against him "totally inadmissible...."
- Drexel University Assistant Professor of Sociology Mary
Ebeling calling Rancourt's firing "truly shocking (for having) violated,
with impunity, the very principle of academic freedom" U of O claims
- Babes-Bolyai University (Romania) Faculty of Economics
and Business Administration Assistant Edmond Nawrotzky-Torok saying he
was "appalled by the violation of academic freedom and the totalitarianism
which seems to characterize a university that allegedly stands for 'freedom
of expression in an atmosphere of open dialogue, enabling critical thought.'
- Retired McGill University Biology Professor John Southin
expressed academic freedom concerns.
- University of Western Ontario Professor Emeritus Arthur
Jutan, Department of Chemical and Biochemical Engineering, said:
- "It takes an extreme level of courage to stand up
to the Emperor. I congratulate you for this. Long after these Houses of
cards come falling down, and they will some day, and new more solid structures
to replace them are built....your name will be remembered, as someone who
had the courage to stand up to all the administrative hacks, that tried
to hang onto their little deck chairs as the Titanic slowly slipped under
- University of Calgary Associate English Professor, Aruna
Srivastava "express(ed) not simply dismay but shock that a university
would adopt such heavy-handed tactics to eliminate (a colleague) whose
opinions and ideas were (to some) abrasive and unpopular."
- Guelph University & Fellow of the Royal Society of
Canada, University Professor Emeritus John McMurtry, described a similar
"harrowing witch-hunt" he once endured, saying "It will
be an enduring disgrace if this shocking administrator persecution is permitted
- University of Lethbridge Professor of Globalization Studies,
Anthony Hall, compared Rancourt's persecution "to a twenty-first century
Canadian version of the Spanish Inquisition."
- Others expressed their alarm and disgust as should we
all in condemning assaults on academic and speech freedoms, democratic
principles, and inalienable liberty in a free and open society.
- Mark Twain called "irreverence....the champion of
liberty and its only sure defense." Benjamin Franklin explained that
"Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing
the freeness of speech." John Stuart Mill called the "evil of
silencing the expression of an opinion....robbing the human race; posterity
as well as the existing generation...."
- US Supreme Court William O. Douglas spoke for others
in calling "Restriction on free thought and free speech....the most
dangerous of all subversions....It is our attitude toward free thought
and free expression that will determine our fate. There must be no limit
on the range of temperate discussion, no limits on thought. No subject
must be taboo. No censor must preside at our assemblies. (There must be
no restraint against the right to) protest even against the moral code
that the standard of the day sets...."
- From the web site wewon'tbesilenced.com, "My free
speech is not negotiable."
- Nor are human and civil rights, social justice, and democratic
freedoms, ones that tolerate no subversion of constitutionally guaranteed
rights because the alternative is repugnant despotism.
- Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>email@example.com.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to cutting-edge
discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour
on the Progressive Radio Network Thursdays at 10AM US Central time and
Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.