Mount Allison University Professor Rima Azar feels a strong identification to Canada. Born in Lebanon during a civil war, Azar developed a lasting appreciation for the freedoms of Canada, particularly free speech. An accomplished academic in the field of health psychology, she often discusses her views of political and social issues on her personal blog Bambi’s Afkar from her unique perspective. However, she recently ran afoul of an individual who spotted comments denying that Canada is a racist country and criticizing Black Lives Matter as an organization. The individual compiled an array of what was viewed to be objectionable positions and triggered a movement to have Azar fired. In a direct attack on free speech and academic freedom, the University then suspended Azar without pay.
According to the CBC, after months of investigation, Azar will not have to go through “equity, diversity and inclusion training” for her expressing such thoughts on a personal blog. The grounds? Azar was cited by students as “denying systemic racism,” “talking about BIPOC students in unkind ways” and “labelling Black Lives Matter a radical group,” among other transgressions. These improper thoughts include stating “[New Brunswick] is NOT racist. Canada is NOT racist. We do not have ‘systemic’ racism or ‘systemic’ discrimination. We just have systemic naivety because we are a young country and because we want to save the world.”
That is a statement that should generate considerable debate and passion on a college campus. That is what higher education once valued in fostering a diversity of viewpoints and perspectives. The response of the students of Mount Allison was to seek to silence and punish Azar rather than respond to her views. To the shock of some academics, like Mark Mercer, head of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, the University caved to the demands and suspended Azar. The Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship has also supported Azar against her university.