By Sierra Bein
Update: The Baron Editor-In-Chief has left the position and an interim Editor-In-Chief has been appointed by the publication’s board of directors.
Ryerson University tends to find itself at the centre of many freedom of speech debates in the Canadian media. Whatever controversy we find ourselves in, Ryerson is often critcized for “failing” freedom of speech on our campus.
Last week, former Eyeopener editor Christie Blatchford wrote a piece in the National Post stating “anyone remotely attuned to the mood on university campuses knows that while faculty associations, administrations and student organizations may pay lip service to the notion of freedoms of speech and expression, they rarely mean it.”
Most recently, our former university President Sheldon Levy wrote an opinion piece in the Toronto Star explaining why he defended freedom of speech on campus. “From my experience, the best way to ensure that an oppressive idea will thrive is to suppress it,” he wrote. “Even if you suppress their expression, bad ideas never die.”
It truly feels that different people have varying definitions of freedom of speech and how to handle it in our post-secondary institutions. Sometimes we need a reminder that freedom of speech, legally, does not extend to spreading hate speech.
Lucky for Ryerson, it was a student publication in New Brunswick, The Baron, that took some heat for freedom of speech controversy this time. The drama ensued after they posted an unedited Q&A and letter to the editor from National Socialist Canadian Labour Revival Party leader, Michael Thurlow. He was given this platform after claiming responsibility for putting up white supremacist posters around the University of New Brunswick campus. The same organization has put posters up in Toronto as well.
Thurlow is a Nazi sympathizer who argues that residential schools were good for Canada’s Indigenous population (this is wrong). He believes reverse racism exists (oh no) and says “we are not Antisemitic (sic) because we have a negative view of Jewish behaviour” (yikes).
“If something is observably true, it cannot be racist. Facts cannot be racist,” he also, wrongly, writes.
After Twitter lost its shit calling the pieces racist, irresponsible and toxic, their newly instated editor-in-chief stepped up to write a response to clear up the mess.
“It was an extreme test of my objectivity and ability to remove myself from the story, and I think I passed with flying fucking colors. #notsohumblebrag,” wrote Anna D., the EIC who chose to hide her full name on The Baron website. She seems to be using The Baron’s official Twitter account to answer her critics online instead of her own.
“This kind of reporting is what leads to the normalization of the ‘alt-right’ and other bigoted social groups,” tweeted Liam Floyd, former EIC at The Baron. “Your job as EIC is to analyze issues in a thoughtful, thorough way—not hit post with reckless abandon,” tweeted Emma McPhee, the EIC at The Brunswickan.
In response, some of The Baron staff have quit, no longer wanting to be associated with the publication.
But the most problematic line in her response is the following: “I promised myself that I would never censor, never correct or challenge.” This is a problem because if you do not challenge hate, or correct blatant lies, you are spreading fake narratives rather than upholding journalistic standards.
Freedom of speech is important to everyone. And while his hateful rhetoric and lies are within the boundaries of the law, they should be able to take criticism from others. Otherwise, they’re no better than internet trolls. If you are speaking in the name of freedom of speech, you need to make sure that you’re speaking the truth and can be held accountable.
Every message we create has an effect on society. Whether you are writing on your personal Facebook, Twitter account, a student publication or the mainstream media, you owe it to your readers (and your reputation) to do your research. People want to hold you accountable, challenge and correct you, too.
In the spirit of speaking the truth, I would also like to hold accountable Thurlow to fact check himself. Lastly, I would like to hold The Baron responsible for the words they chose to represent. Freedom of speech doesn’t work when you are hiding behind your claims, avoiding the challenge of responsibility.