University of Lethbridge cancels controversial Frances Widdowson lecture

Click to play video: 'U of L cancels controversial lecture Frances Widdowson, speaker still presenting on campus'
U of L cancels controversial lecture Frances Widdowson, speaker still presenting on campus
The University of Lethbridge is trying to distance itself from controversial speaker Frances Widdowson, who was scheduled to deliver a public lecture on campus this week. The U of L now says her viewpoints conflict with several of its institutional values surrounding Truth and Reconciliation. But as Jaclyn Kucey reports, the lecturer argues efforts to cancel her talk challenge the freedom of academia – Jan 30, 2023

A former Calgary professor says she will proceed with a controversial lecture on the University of Lethbridge (U of L) campus this week, even though the school says it won’t provide a space for it.

Frances Widdowson made headlines in 2020 when she claimed residential schools had educational benefits.

In 2021, she was fired from Mount Royal University (MRU) from her tenured position for allegations of workplace harassment and intimidation.

Her case is in arbitration and MRU told Global News that the case remains confidential.

Widdowson was invited by a professor at the University of Lethbridge to give a classroom lecture on wokeism, sparking controversy among students and faculty.

Story continues below advertisement

A statement from U of L president Mike Mahon last week defended academic freedom and assured Widdowson’s ideologies did not align with the university.

Frances first met with Global News early Monday morning, as the lecture was still planned.

“I’m very appreciative of the fact that people are not going to cancel the talk, that the president is standing firm on not cancelling,” said Widdowson. “I think this is a huge victory that this has happened because there would have been other instances that this would have been cancelled.”

But by the end of the morning, the university cancelled her talk.

Click to play video: 'Petition calls for MRU professor be fired over controversial comments'
Petition calls for MRU professor be fired over controversial comments

The U of L released the following updated statement:

“Today, I write with an important update to the statement I issued on Thursday regarding a controversial speaker, invited by one of our faculty members, to deliver a talk on campus,” president and vice-chancellor Mike Mahon said. “You can read that statement here.

Story continues below advertisement

“In that statement, I addressed the value and necessity of freedom of expression and our strong commitment to it. But importantly, I highlighted there are limits to freedom of expression. In assessing these limits the university must be attentive to the safety of our diverse community.

“Over the past few days, and upon learning of this lecture, we have sought guidance from those with considerable cultural, scholarly, sectoral and legal expertise, including continuing guidance from the vice-provost, Indigenous Relations and others. We have also received considerable input from the communities we serve — internal and external. This input confirmed that assertions that seek to minimize the significant and detrimental impact of Canada’s residential school system are harmful.

“In 2019, the university developed a statement that ensured a commitment to free expression on our campus. Our statement acknowledges the university must be able to reasonably regulate the use of facilities, time, place and manner of expression.

“To ensure our community is safe, in the context of this planned lecture, the university will not provide space for this public lecture to occur on campus.

“Our university’s Blackfoot name is Iniskim, meaning Sacred Buffalo Stone. We are committed to the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada. It is clear that the harm associated with this talk is an impediment to meaningful reconciliation.

Story continues below advertisement

“Indigenous peoples have and continue to play an undeniably impactful role in shaping the University of Lethbridge that we know today. A continued commitment to providing a safe place for our diverse community, including our faculty, our staff, and especially our students, is critical in allowing us all to contribute to the evolution and growth of the University of Lethbridge,” the statement concludes.

Click to play video: 'Calgary University professor highlights danger of posting controversial comments online'
Calgary University professor highlights danger of posting controversial comments online

Widdowson said her theories do not deny the harm of residential schools and spoke with Global News again after the cancellation.

“The worst thing that is happening here is that Indigenous people are being done a terrible disservice because they’re being told that they are so fragile that they cannot engage with arguments with which they disagree,” said Widdowson.

Frances later announced in a Facebook post she will present her lecture in the U-hall atrium instead.

Story continues below advertisement

“I will not back down; I will fight this out till the end,” said Widdowson.

The U of L told Global News late Monday afternoon that it was not yet able to comment on Widdowson’s plan to move forward with her lecture.

Click to play video: 'Acimowin Opaspiw Society working with Catholic Church to access record from  Saddle Lake residential school'
Acimowin Opaspiw Society working with Catholic Church to access record from Saddle Lake residential school

Sponsored content