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CAUT Bulletin Archives

September 2002

The Two Faces of Freedom of Speech

The article, "Quebec's Bill 84 to Allow Same-Sex Civil Unions" (Bulletin, June 2002), accurately describes Project Interaction's harassment campaign against us. It was undertaken because we agreed to act as expert witnesses in the same-sex marriage case in defence of the traditional definition of marriage.

Two McGill colleagues, Professors Brotman and Ryan of the McGill School of Social Work were among the initiators. The campaign's goal was to have us withdraw as expert witnesses - that is, to silence us in the public square. The tactics were to stigmatize us as "homophobes" and "gay haters," and, thereby, to shame us and the university as a place that, in Professor Ryan's words, "was being used to sustain discriminatory laws."

We have commented elsewhere on the larger issues of academic freedom and freedom of speech this campaign raises ("Be tolerant … or else," The Globe and Mail, July 31, 2002). Here we wish to make just one point.

CAUT has undertaken an important role in promoting academic freedom and freedom of speech in connection with its investigations and reports on the Nancy Olivieri and David Healy cases, in which threats to these freedoms came, or were perceived as coming, from large pharmaceutical companies. It is ironic, therefore, that the CAUT article reporting on Project Interaction's campaign against us fails to recognize in any way the threat it presented to these freedoms.

That omission raises the question: Must the academic freedom and freedom of speech of all academics be respected, or only those perceived to be on the politically correct side of a debate?

We do not test our respect for these freedoms by defending them for people with whom we sympathize. The only true test is whether we are prepared to protect them for the people with whom we disagree intensely. Where does CAUT stand?

Margaret A. Somerville
Samuel Gale Professor of Law, Medicine, McGill University

Katherine K. Young
James McGill Professor, Religious Studies, McGill University