Arts faculty feels that RDBID prevented free speech
Just as the faculty of arts were getting ready to host a summer of lectures in Victoria Park titled “Profs in the Park”, they were told that one of the presentations could not be presented because it contained controversial topics.
The profs were told by the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District (RDBID) that due to concerns they could not present the lecture “Solidarity with Palestine” that was scheduled for June 14.
As a result, the faculty of arts pulled the lecture series from Victoria park all together.
Dr. Emily Eaton, U of R assistant geography professor, was supposed to present the lecture titled “Solidarity with Palestine” and had mixed feelings about the way her presentation was treated.
“On the one hand, I was really impresssed by Richard Kleer’s leadership and by the rest of the profs who decided that if it was going to be censored, they didn’t want to participate, although every other topic was deemed appropriate,” said Dr. Eaton. “On the other hand, of course. I was disappointed in the downtown bid.”
The lectures were originally setup by the faculty of arts as an opportunity to give back to the community. A wide range of subjects were set to be presented in Victoria Park in hopes to inform and to engage the public. There were no costs associated with them and the time was volunteered by the profs.
While the lectures were pulled from the park, the professors arranged to relocate to a new venue, the Neutral Ground Contemporary Art Forum located in downtown Regina, and renamed the series “Profs in the City”.
Dr. Eaton explained “the faculty of arts pulled out of their relationship with the downtown BID, but the faculty of arts did not cancel the series.”
Keeping the public lectures going was a move that the university supported.
“We undertsand that the faculty of arts would like to put it on freely and to put on every lecture that they wish, so we back them on that,” said Barb Pollock, vice-president of external relations at the U of R. “[RDBID] has a stance and we have a stance as well.”
RDBID released a statement in regards to this issue stating, “It’s not our intention to censor the free speech or thought of anyone in our community. We do, however, have a responsibility to respect concerns that are brought to our attention.”
Dr. Eaton thinks that censorship of free speech is getting more common and people are being discouraged to talk about these subjects.
This troubles her.
“When you have dissenting voices, and you talk about something that breaks that line, you get disciplined,” she said. “I was disciplined when I attempted to talk about something that didn’t jive with people’s political view point.”
She feels that these discussions are important and end up benefiting society.
“We need to keep those spaces open,” said Dr. Eaton. “They’re one of the few places where we don’t have to be disciplined in the way that other actors of public space do.”
One of her concerns is that censorship may actually worsen an issue if people don’t get to talk about it.
The U of R is a place that welcomes debate and discussion of controversial subjects in a civil matter, no matter what. While according to Dr. Eaton, RDBID described the topic as volatile one, Pollock shares different opinions about the potential outcome of the lecture.
“We don’t share those concerns,” she said. “We have presented controversial subjects in the past and not had exterminating problems.”
While Dr. Eaton is disappointed that her lecture may not be as easy to share with the general public, she is optimistic that RDBID’s concern has publicized her lecture.
“What I’m hoping is that it would be better attended because of the work of the downtown BID,” she said.
This is something that has happened in the past to controversial subjects. She believes that RDBID stepped over their ground and that it’s not their job to censor the speech.
“There are free speech laws in Canada, and it would actually be against the law for them to censor people, especially on public property,” she said.
Dr. Eaton is hoping that by canceling the rest of the lectures in Victoria Park, a clear message has been sent: “It’s not their job … what we’re saying is this is not within your right to do this and I hope they heard that message loud and clear.”
And, while the faculty of arts is trying to send a message to the RDBID, Dr. Eaton wants to send a different message to the public, that gives them opportunity to interact with her, whether they agree with her lecture or not.
“I’m planning to leave at least 10 of my 30 minutes open to questions and to dialogue,” she said. “We’re open to being challenged. If people want to come to my presentation to ask me some tough questions I’d be more than willing to host them and to discuss them.”
Describing the first presentation Dr. Eaton said “It was good. There were people out on their lunch hour. I think people were pleased with it. I’m hoping from here till the end of summer people can leave with a positive experience in its new location.”
The Profs in the City talks are to run every Tuesday until August 30, with the exceptions of June 28 and July 19, in the Neutral Ground Contemporary Art Forum at 1856 Scarth Street.
Dr. Eaton’s lecture was delivered on June 14.