The University of Ottawa Alumni Day on May 7th 2016: Let’s speak about freedom of expression and discrimination!

Alumni Day honours the University of Ottawa alumni. During Alumni week (from May 4th to May 9th 2016), several activities and events are organized to give the alumni the opportunity to get back in touch with old friends and to share their personal journey and their professional experience amongst each other and with students. For the University of Ottawa Alumni Day, Professor Pascale Fournier and Assistant Dean Pierre Thibault will welcome distinguished guests to discuss the challenging theme of: “Freedom of expression and discrimination!” Join us on Saturday, May 7th 2016, from 1pm to 4 pm!

In the last few years, freedom of expression and discrimination have been the subject of endless scholarly debates and discussions. What are the role and the extent of freedom of expression in a free and democratic society? Shall we limit its exercise when it gives rise to discrimination against a particular individual or a minority group? What are the risks in limiting this freedom? At what point do we cross the line between the simple expression of an opinion and the dissemination of hate speech? How can we protect this value that we consider sacred and that constitutes the foundation of a democratic society without violating other fundamental freedoms? This conference will give us the opportunity to evaluate a key concept within our society by discussing its interaction with another key concept, the right to equality without discrimination (including for those who do not have the luxury of expressing their opinion). This meeting will certainly be rich, vibrant and explosive!

The participants of the meeting are:

– Professor Christian Nadeau: Professor Christian Nadeau teaches the history of political ideas, moral philosophy, and contemporary political philosophy in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Montreal. His research focuses on the history of political ideas from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century. He is the author of « Liberté, égalité, solidarité. Refonder la démocratie et la justice sociale » [Liberty, equality, solidarity: Rebuilding democracy and social justice on new foundations] (Boréal, 2013). In his presentation ‘Freedom of expression as a tool to prevent discrimination’, he will emphasize our tendency to automatically associate the obstacles of freedom of expression with forms of discrimination. Yet, while freedom of speech constitutes a fundamental liberty in itself, it can also be a powerful tool to combat discrimination. Before denouncing discrimination, we need to identify its various forms. Freedom of expression makes this identification possible.

– Professor Jacques Frémont: Professor Frémont is a specialist in Constitutional Law. For many years, he held several important positions at the University of Montreal. Between 1994 and 1999, he was director of the Public Law Research Center (CRDP: Centre de recherche en droit public). He was also the Dean of the UdM Law Faculty between 2000 and 2004 and held the joint position of Provost and Vice-rector of Academic Affairs from 2007 to 2012. Since August 2013, he is President of the Québec Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse. He will start the position of Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ottawa on July 1st 2016. The title of his presentation has yet to be announced.

– Journalist Alexandra Szacka: Alexandra Szacka has pursued a brilliant career as a journalist over the last 25 years. She first worked for Radio-Québec followed by Radio Canada. She published several articles under difficult conditions during her stay in Afghanistan.. Her work has been recognized and compensated through several awards including the « Grands Diplômés de l’Université de Laval » award which is bestowed on Université de Laval graduates who honor the University, their professions and set an example for future graduates through their impressive careers and social contributions. The title of her presentation has yet to be announced.

– Professor Julius Grey: For more than 20 years, he has been teaching law at McGill University. He taught constitutional law, administrative law and immigration law. He was the President of the Canadian Foundation of Human Rights (today Equitas) from 1985 to 1988. He has argued a multitude of notable cases, including a challenge to Bill 101 and the famous wearing of the kirpan in public schools case. In 2004, he received the Medaille du Barreau, which is the highest distinction given by the Barreau du Quebec to a lawyer and which emphasized his remarkable professional contribution to the field of justice. His presentation will be about political correctness. In our “lobbying” society, freedom of expression becomes a rare freedom. Everyone is in favour of it, but somehow everyone puts the interests of their own group before it. Thus it is dangerous, at least for the career of the speaker, to express dissenting opinions about an increasing number of issues such as democracy, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, indigenous autonomy, the Middle East, multiculturalism and many others. Moreover, the danger is particularly high within universities when actually university should be a refuge of free thought. It seems that our society tries to impose an ideology and I propose to fight this trend.