Andrew Scheer weighs in on Catholic university that banned abortion film

Criticism after Saint Paul University tells film festival organizers to pick different film or get out
Saint Paul University told organizers of a film festival last week to either pick a different film, or go somewhere else. That move kicked up a storm of criticism that shows no signs of slowing down.

A Catholic university that cancelled a contracted screening of a documentary about abortion receives millions of dollars in public money each year but Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has so far said little on a case many are saying deserves equally strong criticism to what he offered last week in the case of Wilfrid Laurier University.

As Global News reported on Friday, Saint Paul University told the organizers of a film festival that has been renting out its amphitheatre for screenings over the past six years to either pick a different film to screen or find another venue.

Organizers had planned to screen the documentary Vessel, which tells the story of a doctor who began providing abortions aboard ships in international waters after witnessing the dangers facing women in countries where the procedure is illegal.

READ MORE: Wilfrid Laurier TA happy school apologized but wants long-term changes to protect free speech

The university’s decision comes on the heels of a heated debate over free speech on campus, which began last week after Wilfrid Laurier University accused Lindsay Shepherd, a teaching assistant, of being transphobic because she showed students in her class a clip from the Ontario public broadcaster TVO in which panelists debated the use of gender-neutral pronouns.

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Scheer went on the attack over that incident, calling efforts by the university to discipline Shepherd “egregious.”

“I think the stifling of free speech is of growing concern to many people on all sides of the political spectrum,” he said last week of the case at Laurier.

WATCH BELOW: Andrew Scheer slams Laurier University for stifling free speech

Andrew Scheer slams Laurier University for mishandling of grad student and stifling free speech
Andrew Scheer slams Laurier University for mishandling of grad student and stifling free speech

It took three days to a response on the matter at Saint Paul University, which did not criticize the decision to ban the film or the policy of not allowing polarizing events on campus.

“Mr Scheer encourages all universities and colleges to promote free speech as well as the exchange of ideas and thoughts in an academic setting. As he has previously stated, Conservatives recognize the rights of university administrations to decide which outside organizations are given permission to be on campus,” his spokesperson Jake Enwright told Global News.

“Mr Scheer has also committed to working with universities and colleges to develop a policy that is objective and that is implementable. We will have more to say about the policy in the near future.”

It is not clear when more detail on that policy will be coming.

Scheer made the issue of free speech on campus a prominent part of his campaign for the Conservative leadership earlier this year.

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He argued public universities that do not protect free speech should lose any federal funding they receive in the form of grants through agencies like the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Canada Research Chairs.

When questioned about his policy in response to white nationalist rallies this summer, Scheer said his proposal would not include cases where outside groups are denied space on campuses but it is not clear what he makes of a university that makes avoidance of polarizing issues its formal policy.

While Saint Paul University is a private university, it receives roughly $7.5 million each year in provincial operating grants and this year, was listed as a collaborator with the Université du Québec à Montréal on a federal grant of $22,437 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

It is not clear exactly how much of that grant went directly to Saint Paul University.

The school did not return a request for comment on Monday morning.

As well, financial statements published online each year by the university show it received $7.4 million in operating grants from the province of Ontario in 2017.

The previous year, it received $7.7 million and got $7.5 million in 2015.

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Science Minister Kirsty Duncan on Friday challenged Scheer to defend free speech at Saint Paul University as he did in the case at Laurier.

“Our government is committed to creating open spaces for Canadians to debate and express their views. We also firmly support a woman’s right to choose. In a free society, we may disagree with a person’s views, but we must defend their right to hold them unless those views promote hate,” she said in a statement to Global News.

“We will continue to fight to ensure the Charter rights of Canadians are upheld, and I only hope the Opposition will be consistent in their support for free speech on campus and across the country.”