Dimitri Lascaris was scheduled to speak at Saint Mary’s University as part of his Canada-wide tour.
However, SMU cancelled the venue after a pressure campaign from opponents of the tour. Larry Haiven, one of the organizers, has written an article about the implications of the cancellation for speech in Canada. Should venues give in to unverified ‘information’ from biased and funded opponents of speech?
Fortunately, the Halifax organizers were able to organize an alternate venue for their event.
July 3, 2023.
Saint Mary’s University De-platforms a speaker
Statement on Saint Mary’s University De-Platforming Speaker: “An Ominous Affront to Free Expression”
by Larry Haiven
Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, Nova Scotia recently succumbed to pressure from anonymous partisan groups to “de-platform” a speaker scheduled for June 30. The decision to disallow the university premises to the speaker came directly from the office of SMU President Robert Summerby-Murray.
Lawyer and activist Dimitri Lascaris is taking part in a national tour entitled “Making Peace with Russia: One Handshake at a Time” after a personally-financed visit to parts of Ukraine and Russia in April.
While other speaking venues across the country have been denied to Lascaris, this is the only known cancellation at a university. The Halifax meeting went ahead, without further incident, at another location.
“In the midst of the war between Russia and Ukraine, Mr. Lascaris’s message is certainly fraught with controversy,” says one of the meeting’s organizers, Saint Mary’s Emeritus Professor Larry Haiven, “But can we not discuss it? Surely a university is a bastion of freedom to explore contentious issues. The decision by the SMU president is disgraceful and presents an ominous affront to academic freedom and free expression.”
The organizers suspect that the university was lobbied or threatened by Ukrainian ultra-nationalists and their supporters, including the Ukrainian-Canadian Congress. During a conversation with Summerby-Murray, Haiven says, the former claimed that Lascaris was being investigated for possible violations of Canadian sanctions against Russia. These sanctions, however, do not apply to Canadian tourists traveling to the region (Lascaris went as a journalist.) Indeed, since he departed Russia on April 30, no Canadian law enforcement official or other government representative has questioned or even contacted Lascaris about his trip to Russia and Crimea. This particular misinformation is being spread by Marcus Kolga, a “senior fellow” of the right-wing MacDonald-Laurier Institute. Kolga is also the founder of Disinfowatch and purports to be an expert in disinformation. The Disinfowatch website is silent on its donors or board members. But a list of “research partners” includes the U.S. Department of State and the NATO StratCom Center Of Excellence (Riga).
Says Haiven, “Where is the president of SMU getting his information from about the Lascaris tour? As academics, we are supposed to check our sources carefully.”
It must be said that Saint Mary’s University and this president have, in the past, justifiably resisted calls to deny a platform for vexed topics. In 2018, Palestinian theologian Naim Ateek was on a national tour. B’nai Brith Canada attempted to block Ateek’s presentation at several places, including Saint Mary’s with the bogus claim that Ateek was antisemitic. But the university withstood these entreaties.
“I was so proud of Saint Mary’s and President Summerby-Murray in 2018,” says Haiven, who is Jewish, “But I am so ashamed of them now. With their action in the Lascaris affair, Saint Mary’s and its president have established a daunting precedent. Whom will they cancel next?”
Larry Haiven is Professor Emeritus in the Management Dept of Saint Mary’s University. He is a writer, a community advocate and a member of the steering committee of Equity Watch. He is on the steering committee of Independent Jewish Voices Canada.
Featured image above: from site on free expression at Université du Québec à Trois Rivières