Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Another Shameful Shutdown of Free Speech at Waterloo

Today I attended a talk by our local MP, Stephen Woodworth, held at the University of Waterloo. Woodworth is the guy who introduced Motion 312, a transparent ploy to head down the road to outlaw abortion. I went to ask him (for what is perhaps the 5th or 6th time) what he thinks would be the proper penalty for a woman who has an abortion, a question he has resolutely refused to answer (despite claiming on his website that he is eager to answer questions from the public). I wanted to get it on the public record that he refused to answer yet again. But I didn't get the chance.

Halfway through the talk, Mr. Woodworth was shut down by protesters carrying a variety of signs and shouting. I tried to get them to stop, saying (roughly) that I was on their side, that I've been a pro-choice activist for years and was responsible for the pro-choice posters that were, for many years, displayed in local buses here in K-W. But the whole point of having a university is so all kinds of ideas, controversial or not, can be debated. And free speech is a core value in a democratic society, so they should let Mr. Woodworth make his points and save their questions for the end. But my view didn't carry the day.

Unfortunately, the protesters won their cheap victory in this little skirmish. After a few minutes of their antics, the student anti-abortion group that sponsored the talk called for a 15-minute recess and started dismantling the microphone. At that point, a real dialogue began between Mr. Woodworth and some of the protesters, so the event wasn't entirely a loss. We got to hear Mr. Woodworth refuse once again to admit that outlawing abortion is his real goal. But the shutdown of his speech is yet another bad day for Waterloo, a campus that has a history of being intolerant of many forms of controversial speech, from the administration's censorship of computer newsgroups and information about the Karla Homolka case, to the administration's removal of student newspapers, to protesters that shut down a talk by Christine Blatchford.

Fifteen years ago, the pro-choice posters that our group put up in local buses were relentlessly vandalized by the anti-abortion side. Our posters said, "You have three choices when faced with an unplanned pregnancy: parenting, abortion, adoption". Anti-abortion vigilantes crossed out abortion, or defaced the posters with "abortion is murder", or just stole the expensive plastic placards and discarded them. But how can I have the ethical high ground to object to that, if I don't defend Mr. Woodworth's right to speak on the other side?

It can feel morally satisfying to say that you are protesting "against oppression", or "for women's rights" or that Mr. Woodworth's presence on campus "makes me feel threatened". Maybe all that's true. But how does it give you the right to prevent someone from speaking?

Some people rationalized the protest by saying that Woodworth, as an MP, has plenty of chances to make his views known, so the protest wasn't an important infringement of his right to speak. Maybe so. But how about my right to listen? On what basis do the protesters get to quash that?

I'm not going to rehash all the arguments in favor of free speech here. If you're interested, I strongly recommend Rodney Smolla's Free Speech in an Open Society, an excellent discussion of free speech and its limits.

Maybe the protesters perceive that they've won a little victory with their actions. In reality, they lost. Jerry Rubin-style political theater just plays into the hands of right-wing politicians. Now Mr. Woodworth will be able to play the martyr; people who agree with him will sigh and mutter darkly about how the Left is always intolerant. Mr. Woodworth compared the protesters to fascists. He'll gain sympathy points from many people who are undecided.

By shutting down Mr. Woodworth, the protesters implicitly say, "Mr. Woodworth's ideas are simply too powerful for us to counter with our own. We are unable to battle him in the marketplace of ideas, so we act this way instead." Have a little faith in democracy! Woodworth's Motion 312 failed 203-91; even 74 MP's in his own party weren't fooled and voted against it.

If protesters objected to Mr. Woodworth's views, they could have protested quietly, or scheduled their own parallel event, or stuck around to ask really hard questions at the end. (Some did. Bravo for them.) Heck, I don't begrudge a good heckle, boo, or shout-out from the audience once in a while. But protesting so intrusively that the speech couldn't go on is way over the line.

The protesters also could organize to vote Mr. Woodworth out of office in the next election. Now that I'd like to see!

By behaving the way they did, though, the protesters discredited themselves and gave the University's reputation yet another black eye.


phhht said...

Well said, thanks.

1e8435d2-60c5-11e2-8da8-000bcdca4d7a said...

Hear hear.

Robert Byers said...

Thank you from a pro-lifer for standing up for freedom of speech in order to get the truth.
Now lets stop the censorship in North America against creationism in public schools etc.
I don't know if your a Canadian citizen and if not why involving in posterizing Canada!
If pro-choicers are getting their way and expect too then why would they , so nazi like, silence pro-lifers and their few mediums that reach the public namely politicians?
its more then the issue.
'Its a deeper motivation to say pro-lifeism is immoral at its root.
We say abortion kills a kid and thats our motivation and they hate this.
We never censor them or would think of because we are the good and smarter guys.
In any story I ever read of contentions the bad guys feel they must control dissent.
Its a sign to us the pro-choice side does not have in its sub-conscience confident moral and intellectual convictions about abortion.
Its a simple issue.
If its a kid then it can't be killed.
So is it a kid is the only point.
Are these pro-choicers confident its not a kid.!?

Anyways thanks for liberty in speech. Its difficult to have universities believe in liberity because they believe their students, and the students themselves believe, they will be running the nation and future.
They think control of thought in the universities equals control of society.
It doesn't but they got the idea from somewhere.
May God let justice prevail.

phhht said...

But there are no gods, Robert Byers. You can't show us one. You can't detect one in any way. Gods have no perceptible effects whatsoever on reality. All you have are your unsupported assertions.

Why do you believe gods are real?

Obstetrician said...

phhht, your argument is, on the one hand, good, but on the other hand, the same as the argument as the fetus in this story:

Jeffrey Shallit said...


Hey, if we can make up stories about the afterlife, I can make one up where everyone swims in pink grapefruit ice and sings Bruce Springsteen songs.

phhht said...

I don't say no Mother God can exist, Obs. I say there is no evidence for one, and no reason to think that one exists.

Of course I could be wrong. Perhaps events will prove me so. Until then, provisionally, I say there are no gods.

Do you believe in gods, Obs? If so, why?

phhht said...

I'm reminded of the Onion story about a twin who gets hold of his mother's gun and kills his sibling in the womb. He's a fetus, but he's going to be tried as an infant.

Corey said...

"If its a 'kid' then it can't be killed."

You mean a baby goat? .

So Mr. Byers, what do you think would be the proper penalty for a woman who has an abortion?

Phil said...

The main reason why my political views have switched from Leftist to Centre is because of stuff like this. The left seem to latch on to an idea as being morally right, I suppose dictated by Utilitarianism, yet fail to see that this form of defining the good is no different that the absolutism of Christian conservatives which they oppose. I suppose the Utilitarianism is coming into play when this group decided that it was in everyone's best interest to not hear Mr. Woodworth speak. Personally, I would rather make that choice myself. I alone decide what is right and good for me. I see the Abortion issue as being one that should be championed by the centre not the left. The argument after all is that abortion is not wrong if the pregnant woman decides it is the right choice for her.

Defining the good in this relative way and noticing the fallacy of the Leftist absolutism is what led me to the centre. I used to run a Communist Club on UW campus... oh how things have changed. I strongly feel centrist politics are not explain well enough to our young. I had to discover the fallacy of leftism absolutism for myself after several years engrossed in their politics in the most extreme way. Which is a crying shame as our modern society is based liberty and freedom from absolutism and the tyranny of the majority.

Obs. said...

phhht, I don't believe in "gods", but I believe in a designer of some sort. A couple of reasons. I've seen Krauss's explanation as to why there is something as opposed to nothing and I find it exceedingly wanting. Second, I think the fine-tuning arguments (the responsible ones, and not the caricatures of them) are really good.

phhht said...


Why do you believe in a designer of some sort?

Can you say how to empirically detect design? Can you say how to empirically distinguish the designed from the non-designed?

No, of course you cannot. Your belief in a designer appears to me to be as unsupported as, and indeed, indistinguishable from, a belief in gods. There is no reason at all to believe in either one.

You cite a god-of-the-gaps argument (we don't know how something came from nothing, ergo god). You cite a fine-tuning argument, basically an argument from personal incredulity. Both these modes of argument are deeply fallacious.

Obs. said...

By the way, I respect the way you worded your argument earlier, about being "provisional" and all that. Can I empirically detect design? Of course not, but who says that's the only way? Ever hear of inferring? Why don't you try answering my two arguments (not in the negative, as you did, but in the positive) and then we can discuss just how "fallacious" the the argument from personal incredulity is?

phhht said...


You cannot simply "infer" design from a vacuum. That looks a lot like "just making it up." You need some tangible facts to basis an inference on - facts which are objective and empirical.

If there is no way to objectively detect design, why do you think it exists? Just because you "see" it?

But you can "see" that the world is flat. Lots of people can "see" the evil eye, disease-causing demons, etc.

I say that the design you see is illusory. It is a mirage. It is an artifact of your need to find evidence for your unsupported belief in the existence of a god - sorry, designer.

Until you can come up with an empirically detectable distinction between the designed and the non-designed, until you can detect design empirically, then the Hitchens observation applies: That which can be asserted without evidence, can be dismissed without evidence.

Obs. said...

Until you can come up with an empirically detectable way to show that your car's brakes won't malfunction tomorrow while on the highway, you shouldn't get into your car.
I maintain that odds of all the fine-tuning we see in this universe is greater than the odds of your car's brakes failing tomorrow. (Please, don't lecture me about the odds of obtaining certain hands in a deck of cards. I know all that. That argument only works up to a point.)
If I suffer from an argument from personal incredulity, then I think you suffer from the opposite, over-credulity, that we humans just "got lucky." That is your final conclusion, isn't it.

phhht said...


I count on my brakes because I have empirical evidence that they will work, namely many years of experience. They've worked every time, so provisionally, I think they'll work again next time.

I don't understand your point about alleged fine-tuning. What fine-tuning? How can you speak of fine-tuning as if it were established fact, on the order of reliable brakes? It is not; it is nothing more than interpretive speculation.

I say that you argue from personal incredulity because you are unable to believe that things are the way they are without the fingers of gods on the scales.

There aren't any gods, Obs, nor any designers. Thunder doesn't mean there must be a Hairy Thunderer. The fact that you "see" design doesn't mean that there must be a designer. Order occurs naturally. No gods are needed. In science, technology, engineering, and math, gods are notoriously superfluous. They only get in the way.

phhht said...


[I]magine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact, it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the Sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it's still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be all right, because this World was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it...

-- Richard Dawkins, citing Douglas Adams

Obs. said...

"Until then, provisionally, I say there are no gods."

"There aren't any gods, Obs, nor any designers."

Now that's what I call quick evolution.

phhht said...


You're just dodging the issues by quibbling nit-pickery. Of course there are no gods or designers, just as there are no leprechauns, no Harry Potter, no Avengers - but I could be wrong. All you need to show me up, Obs, is even one tiny, teeny piece of empirical evidence for their existence.

But you got nothin'. That's why you dodge with your petty, intentional misstep into misunderstanding. It's because you have nothing else.

Obs. said...

And you got nothing to account for finetuning except an unproven multiverse and some wishful thinking. And even less to explain why there is anything at all.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

And even less to explain why there is anything at all.

So, your explanation of why there is something is that something else made it? Yeah, that has no logical problems at all.

phhht said...


On the contrary, it is YOU who has nothing with respect to "fine-tuning." You cannot name one single empirical experiment which shows how the alteration of the value of a universal physical constant affects life.

I maintain that, like your futile blather about "design," fine-tuning is a notion you can't even define, much less verify. Go ahead, explain how to measure or detect fine-tuning.

But you can't. You're all hot air and god-of-the-gaps and personal incredulity and most of all, denial.

It is the god-of-the-gaps fallacy which underlies your jibe about why there is anything at all. I don't know why or how there is something rather than nothing, and neither do you. So what? It does not follow that because we don't know, gods did it. Ignorance does not entail the supernatural.

Obs. said...

"So, your explanation of why there is something is that something else made it? Yeah, that has no logical problems at all. "

Anything physical, duh.
Fine, don't think that's logical. But many minds greater than yours argued for it. (Aristotle, etc.)

Obs. said...

If you want to believe in an infinite serious of caused causes, go right ahead.

Obs. said...

%$#% I meant to type series.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

If you want to believe in an infinite serious of caused causes

It's not a matter of "believing" in them. It's a matter of some people (such as William Lane Craig) thinking they are logically absurd, when they are clearly not.

By the way, it's not "serious" or even "serious", but rather "sequence". Laymen frequently make the mistake of confusing "infinite series" with "infinite sequence". The term "infinite series" is usually reserved for an infinite sum like 1 + 1/2 + 1/4 + ...

Jeffrey Shallit said...

But many minds greater than yours argued for it

So what? Linus Pauling believed vitamin C was a cure-all. Smart people believe stupid things all the time.

phhht said...

Jeffrey Shallit,

Greetings from the flats between Channing and Dwight. Fiat lux. Wish you were here.

Miranda said...

"Smart people believe stupid things all the time."
Good, I'm glad you said that. Of course, you're one of the few exceptions.

Also, your head is stuck in the math world. No one was talking about a mathematical series, but a series of events (I Googled to make sure the expression appears frequently on academic sites.)

Jeffrey Shallit said...


I never said I was one of the exceptions.

By the way, boring people say boring things all the time.

Tom Moran said...

Here's a former abortion rights hero having his day in court....

I wonder if demonstrators will be shouting down the prosecutors case? Still very few MSM covering the trial.

Should the mothers who had the abortions also be charged with a crime?

Anonymous said...

HAH. You actually tried to argue with fascists, and suck up to them by saying you're on their side.

Fool. How pathetic.

Lots of people made the same arguments thoughout history as tyrants were stuffing gulags and gas chambers full of victims.

Dude, wake up. The left's championing of civil liberties ended when they realized that dark and sinister power is far more attractive than lofty principles. These days, they are just thugs, so you and your bus posters actually constitute a rare and respectable breed. Foolish perhaps, but rare.

If and when these Marxist scum get power, they'll cut your throat as quickly as they'll cut mine. If you want to survive in a 4th-generation world that coddles terrorists, pretends communism was OK, and attacks minor flaws in Canada while ignoring tyranny and repression around the world, then you'd better learn to fight. The way to deal with their denial of the right of free speech is the aggressive, even violent if necessary (but only if necessary), defense of it.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

The left's championing of civil liberties ended when they realized that dark and sinister power is far more attractive than lofty principles.

Right. The ACLU and CCLA, for example, are very interested in "dark and sinister power".

fascists... Marxist scum ...

You have absolutely no idea what you're babbling about, do you?

Jeffrey Shallit said...

former abortion rights hero

What makes you think he was a hero?

I suppose you'll be arguing against cosmetic surgery because of Dr. Joseph Berg next, right?