Only hours after students installed a “Free Speech Wall” at Carleton University to prove that campus free speech was alive and well, it was torn down by an activist who claimed the wall was an “act of violence,” against the gay community.
“What we wanted to promote was competition of ideas, rather than ‘if I disagree with you I’ve got to censor you,’” said Ian CoKehyeng, founder of Carleton Students for Liberty, the creators of the wall.
Installed on Monday in the Unicentre Galleria, one of campus’ most high-traffic areas, the wall was really more of a 1.2 x 1.8 meter wooden plank wrapped in paper and equipped with felt markers.
By Tuesday morning the wall was gone, destroyed in an act of “forceful resistance,” by seventh-year human rights student Arun Smith.
“In organizing the ‘free speech wall,’ the Students for Liberty have forgotten that liberty requires liberation, and this liberation is prevented by providing space … for the expression of hate,” he wrote in a 600-word Facebook post in which he identified himself as an anti-homophobia campaigner.
Calling the area around the wall a “war zone,” he intimated that it was “but another in a series of acts of violence” against gay rights.
In a Tuesday afternoon Twitter exchange with a CBC reporter, Mr. Smith dubbed free speech an “illusory concept” and declared that “not every opinion is valid, nor deserving of expression.”
Mr. CoKehyeng hinted at the irony of the wall being taken down by an LGBT activist.
“Free speech is a friend of minorities, it shouldn’t be people who feel marginalized in society who are trampling on free speech,” he said.
“Free speech is something you can’t monopolize for yourself, you have to give it to everyone else.”
“Only someone who had gone to university could write something so utterly stupid,” said Fred Litwin, the Ottawa-based creator of the blog Gay and Right, in reference to Mr. Smith’s Tuesday morning Facebook post.
“Free speech is free speech … and I just wish these people would get a life.”
In truth, the wall’s only overt references to sexual orientation were pro-gay, such as “QUEERS ARE AWESOME,” “Gay is OK” and “I [Heart] Queers.”
The only comment that verged into anti-gay territory was a scrawl reading “traditional marriage is awesome.”
According to Mr. CoKehyeng, the four-word phrase prompted a visit from Ryan Flannagan, the university’s director of student affairs.
“He saw that it wasn’t inciting hate speech at all, so he let that one slide,” said Mr. CoKehyeng.
“Many students used the wall to express diverse views about many topics,” wrote Mr. Flannagan in a Tuesday email to the Post.
Expression on the wall was not entirely free, of course.
If the Free Speech Wall had suddenly been wallpapered with swastikas and racial slurs, university officials could have ordered it removed as a contravention of the University’s policies against discrimination.
“I didn’t want to prepare for it because I was hoping it wouldn’t happen,” said Mr. CoKehyeng. “Personally, I wouldn’t have censored anything unless I was told to.”
Fortunately, the board remained surprisingly civil, featuring a number of personal greetings such as “I love my clitoris!!” as well as a few campus political standards like “Obama Murders with Drones” and “Harper is a douche.”
A phrase reading “Abortion is murder” spawned complaints, said Mr. CoKehyeng, but also a string of scrawled counter-arguments.
Tuesday morning, a handful of students took to Arun Smith’s Facebook page to cheer the wall’s destruction.
“DIRECT ACTION GETS THE GOODS!,” declared Shane Davis-Young, a computer programming student at Ottawa’s Algonquin College.
A McGill University student whose Facebook avatar bore the phrase “say yes to the press!” similarly applauded the action against the “heinous” Students for Liberty.
In a 2012 ranking of “campus freedom” compiled by the Calgary-based Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms — a sponsor of the Free Speech Wall — Carleton University received one of the group’s lowest rating for free speech — largely because of university efforts to deny funding and space to anti-abortion groups.
As of Tuesday, Mr. CoKehyeng, was in the process of building a new wall but says he “can’t guarantee” it will not meet the same fate.
Arun Smith is a joke, plain and simple. Free speech!? For someone apparently studying "human rights," he sure knows how to violate them.
Where's the free speech in censoring fellow students, and in particular those that were in support of Smith's LGBT campaigns? To top it off, in one of his student political campaigns, check out the crap that he spews: