The university has been under fire since teaching assistant Lindsay Shepherd was reprimanded earlier this month, for showing students a YouTube video of University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson, who has refused to use gender pronouns other than “he” or “she.”
While appearing on the The Andrew Lawton Show on 980 CFPL in London, Ont., Scheer said Shepherd’s case highlights why the conversation surrounding free speech is so important.
“I certainly think that what happened to Ms. Shepherd was egregious,” the politician said. “And this is exactly why I believe we need to have a conversation in Canada about protecting free speech specifically on university campuses.”
During a meeting earlier this month, faculty and administration at the university accused the TA of showing hate-filled content to students. They said Shepherd created a toxic environment for transgender students and called her transphobic. At one point during the meeting, which Shepherd secretly recorded, one school official likened the situation to supporting Hitler.
Scheer said the meeting, which left Shepherd in tears, was “ridiculous.”
“To think that we’ve got to the state in Canada where a university would have an inquisition on a young grad student and make comparisons to Hitler, to bully her, to tell her that she committed acts of violence by showing a clip from a public broadcast on a public broadcaster, is ridiculous.”
Scheer explained that issues such as these are why he made freedom of speech and expression a key aspect of his leadership campaign earlier this year.
“I think the stifling of free speech is of growing concern to many people on all sides of the political spectrum,” he said.
In an interview with Global News Monday, Shepherd said much of the support she has received is from right-leaning politicians and individuals.
“Free speech has become kind of a right-wing issue, and with Andrew Scheer kind of taking it on as one of his prime issues,” she said. “And that’s fine, I have common ground with those people, I mean of course I appreciate free speech, too.”
But Shepherd said she hopes those on the other side of the political spectrum will also support free speech.
“I just think it’s unfortunate that people who would be left-leaning on this spectrum of political thought don’t see this as something worth supporting.”
WATCH: Wilfrid Laurier Professor comes to defence of censored TA Lindsay Shepherd
“I think the culture of leftism has kind of become if you don’t like an idea it’s OK to suppress it. If this idea could possibly offend someone, then we don’t have to discuss it, it’s not up for debate and we suppress it.”
May Friedman, an associate professor at Ryerson University, agrees that this issue has caught right-wing attention — but for different reasons.
“I think in general transgender rights are not acknowledged by the right especially well,” she told Global News, adding that it’s an issue the entire political spectrum needs to improve upon.
Friedman explained that debating Peterson’s views on transgender pronouns is problematic.
“The idea that someone in a position of authority, that a professor gets to decide what students call themselves beyond what they choose to call themselves, is deeply flawed,” the professor said.
“And I think making that open for debate is ludicrous, frankly.”
Friedman said that the topic, like other human rights issues, is beyond debate.
“In the same way as calling people Ms. instead of Mrs. used to be a racial idea and now it’s just a completely taken for granted protocol, for me at least at this point, that’s where we are with regards to trans people and pronouns.”
— With files from Global News reporter Rebecca Joseph