Blanchet vows to press PM on prof’s use of slur, drawing sharp rebukes from Black MPs

While IMO, the professor in question, Verushka Lieutenant-Duval, used the word legitimately to demonstrate reappropriation, rather telling for Bloc and CAQ leaders to spring to her defence given their overall lack of sensitivity to racism and systemic racism:

A controversy over a suspended professor who used a notoriously derogatory word for Black people in class has stirred strong emotions on Parliament Hill, over whether, if ever, the term should be used.

The heated responses came amid a push by the Bloc Québécois to have the government say unequivocally whether the Liberals, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in particular, supported the professor at the heart of the controversy.

Bloc Leader Yves-François Blanchet said he was unimpressed with Trudeau’s response Wednesday to a question in the House of Commons, and planned to press Trudeau anew on Thursday.

Blanchet said those subjected to hateful words deserve compassion and support, but using the term in an educational context isn’t prejudicial.

Asked what he would say to those who believe otherwise, Blanchet said: “I have to say that you have very rightfully expressed your sensibility and opinion, which I respect absolutely, but which I do not share.”

The issue has been of particular interest in Quebec, where provincial politicians have come to the defence of University of Ottawa professor Verushka Lieutenant-Duval. So have Bloc Québécois MPs on Parliament Hill.

New Democrat Matthew Green blasted the Bloc, saying that defending use of the offensive word under the banner of free speech opens a path for continued racist attacks on Canada’s Black communities.

“For somebody who has had that word hurled against them from the time I was nine years old … that is a dehumanizing word, it is a form of racial violence,” said Green, who was wearing a Black Lives Matter button on his mask.

“Those that would choose to defend it, what they’re really defending is the prerogative to uphold white supremacy.”

Green party Leader Annamie Paul tweeted that she, not Blanchet, has been targeted with use of the slur “and it stung each time.”

“Before making statements about an issue he clearly doesn’t understand, I invite Mr. Blanchet to contact me so I can explain why the N word remains painful for many,” she wrote on Twitter.

Lieutenant-Duval was suspended after using the term during a classroom discussion last month. She has since apologized.

On Wednesday, University of Ottawa president Jacques Frémont issued an appeal for campus calm, saying inflamed rhetoric wouldn’t lead to a resolution.

The decision to remove Lieutenant-Duval from the classroom was not taken arbitrarily, nor was her academic freedom threatened at any point, he wrote.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole said healthy and open on-campus debate needed to carried out with respect for professors and students. There must be a similar context of respect if ever the offensive word is to be used under the umbrella of academic freedom, he said.

“The discussions about racism lately have been good in raising awareness of inequalities and unacceptable outcomes,” O’Toole said Thursday.

“So how do you find that balance? I think universities are trying to look at that and there should be respect as part of that process.”

Trudeau wasn’t in question period Thursday, but on Wednesday had told the House of Commons that “we all need to be conscious of the power of our words.”

On Thursday, Bloc MP Kristina Michaud asked Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland if the government would defend academic freedom at the University of Ottawa.

“Obviously, our government and I think every member in this House will defend academic freedom,” Freeland said in French.

“At the same time … and this is a difficult thing, we must be aware of the reality and that we have systemic racism in our country and we must also act on that.”

Source: Blanchet vows to press PM on prof’s use of slur, drawing sharp rebukes from Black MPs

Clivage entre Québec et Ottawa à propos du «mot en N»

Of note:

Le clivage entre la classe politique québécoise et celle du reste du Canada se confirme dans l’affaire du « mot en N ». Alors qu’à Québec, tous les partis politiques pensent qu’il devrait encore être possible de prononcer le mot « nègre » dans le cadre d’une discussion académique, à Ottawa, les voix affirmant le contraire se multiplient.

Après le chef du NPD Jagmeet Singh, c’est au tour de la nouvelle chef du Parti vert de soutenir que le mot honni devrait être banni du vocabulaire. Annamie Paul, qui est elle-même Noire, estime que le mot « nègre » ne devrait jamais être utilisé par des personnes blanches. Elle laisse aux personnes noires le choix de l’utiliser ou non entre elles. « J’encourage tout le monde, surtout les personnes qui ne font pas partie de notre communauté, à éviter de l’utiliser, dit-elle en entrevue avec Le Devoir. Ça cause beaucoup de peine. Ce n’est pas nécessaire de l’utiliser, pas même dans un milieu académique. »

Mme Paul reconnaît que la communauté noire n’est pas « monolithique ». Mais elle rappelle que ce mot « n’est pas un mot que la communauté noire a choisi pour elle-même. C’est un mot qui a été imposé sur nous par la société blanche ». « Alors s’il y a des personnes de notre communauté qui ont choisi de se l’approprier, le réclamer comme un mot qu’on utilise entre nous, c’est une chose. Mais c’est tout à fait possible de discuter de ce mot, de son histoire, dans un contexte académique sans l’utiliser. »

Selon Mme Paul, « il y a beaucoup de façons » de parler du mot sans utiliser le mot. Mme Paul a toutefois dit ne pas connaître suffisamment le débat pour se prononcer sur la pertinence de suspendre la professeure de l’Université d’Ottawa qui avait prononcé le mot pendant un cours et qui est à l’origine de toute cette controverse. La professeure Verushka Lieutenant-Duval voulait parler de la réappropriation par des communautés minoritaires de certains mots à l’origine insultants pour elles. Il était question du mot « queer » et elle a dressé un parallèle avec le mot « nigger ».

Le premier ministre Justin Trudeau a lui aussi ajouté son grain de sel au débat. Il a déclaré mercredi que « nous devons tous être conscients de la portée de nos paroles. Nous favorisons le respect des autres et l’écoute des communautés. Notre priorité est toujours de mettre de l’avant des actions concrètes pour combattre le racisme sous toutes ses formes. » La veille, sa vice-première ministre Chrystia Freeland avait déclaré que « le racisme anti-Noir est à la fois odieux et illégal ». Elle n’avait pas dit ouvertement qu’elle jugeait raciste l’usage du mot, mais l’avait laissé entendre en déclarant que « lorsque de telles choses se produisent, nous devons nous rassembler et reconnaître les expériences vécues par nos concitoyens ».

À Québec, tous les leaders des partis représentés à l’Assemblée nationale ont soutenu qu’il devrait encore être possible de prononcer le mot, incluant la cheffe libérale Dominique Anglade qui est Noire elle-même.

Source: Clivage entre Québec et Ottawa à propos du «mot en N»

Good Commentary by Konrad Yakabuski of the Globe:

The people who run Canada’s institutions of higher learning can no longer be trusted to stand up for the very principle for which those institutions exist in the first place. When faced with a choice between defending or silencing open debate on campus, they invariably pick the latter.

This cowering in the face of controversy sets the entirely wrong example for the young minds universities were invented to develop. Yet, university administrators who know better would rather give in to the dictates of cancel culture than face the wrath of those who do not.

Consider the response of University of Ottawa Arts dean Kevin Kee in the face of complaints that an art-history professor had used the N-word during an online seminar to illustrate the concept of subversive resignification, or the process by which an insult is reappropriated by those it is meant to insult. The songs of mainstream Black hip-hop artists provide ample proof of this phenomenon. But apparently this is a topic too hot to handle at the U of O.

“This language was offensive and completely unacceptable in our classrooms and on our campus,” Prof. Kee said in a statement this month after a backlash erupted on social media against art-history professor Verushka Lieutenant-Duval. “Everyone at the University of Ottawa has the right to an environment free of discrimination and harassment, and the right to be treated with dignity and respect.”

The dean’s statement was highly problematic in and of itself. That someone in Prof. Lieutenant-Duval’s class was offended by her use of the N-word is no excuse for its blanket prohibition in an academic setting. The professor obviously did not use it as a slur. She used it to illustrate a form of cultural expression that seeks to gut offensive words of their power to debase by reappropriating them as markers of identity. She also used the word “queer” as an example.

The U of O’s administration was having none of it, however. On Monday, president and vice-chancellor Jacques Frémont, a former head of Quebec’s human-rights commission, weighed in on the matter with this: “Members of dominant groups simply have no legitimacy to decide what constitutes a microaggression.” According to this point of view, a white professor’s right to freedom of expression comes second to the “right to dignity” of minority students.

To put these two concepts on equal footing is a sophism unacceptable from someone in Mr. Frémont’s position. Academic freedom means having the freedom to offend, even if that was most definitely not Prof. Lieutenant-Duval’s intention. Mr. Frémont added insult to injury by saying that Prof. Lieutenant-Duval, who was briefly suspended from teaching this month, “could have chosen not to use the full N-word. Yet she did and is now facing the consequences.”

The consequences? What is that supposed to mean? That she was only asking for online harassment and threats directed at her by daring to treat her students as adults? If those who attacked Prof. Lieutenant-Duval are unwilling to discuss difficult topics, and risk being offended in the process, perhaps a university classroom is the wrong place for them.

The controversy at the U of O, which bills itself as the world’s largest bilingual university, has particularly reverberated in Quebec. Many of the online attacks directed at Prof. Lieutenant-Duval referenced the fact that she is francophone; some used well-worn slurs to do so.

“What also troubles me is seeing the university throw this professor to the wolves of aggressive militants who use violent language against her and [other] francophones. I can’t help but see a certain cowardice on the part of the administration,” Quebec Deputy Premier Geneviève Guilbault wrote in a Facebook post defending Prof. Lieutenant-Duval’s academic freedom.

“It’s as if there is a censorship police,” Premier François Legault added on Tuesday, saying he would take up the matter with his Ontario counterpart, Doug Ford.

Prof. Lieutenant-Duval needs better advocates than these two. Mr. Legault’s government has stubbornly resisted calls to recognize systemic racism in provincial institutions, on the grounds that doing so would be tantamount to labelling Quebec a racist society. His government’s attempt to make a cause célèbre of Prof. Lieutenant-Duval’s case only muddies the water.

Still, francophones also make up most of the nearly three dozen U of O professors who signed a letter defending Prof. Lieutenant-Duval, suggesting many of her anglophone colleagues are too afraid to speak up on her behalf. After all, there would be “consequences.”


Professor’s use of racial slur ignites uOttawa debate

Interesting debate. From my reading, the professor was using the word in the context of reappropriation by Blacks and not in a gratuitous manner, although she would have been wiser to say the “N-word.” On the other hand, in popular culture, the term has been used by rap artists as well as by directors such as Spike Lee, Tarantino and others. So should it always be off-limits or do context and intent matter?

The student union at the University of Ottawa is calling on University president Jacque Frémont to denounce a group of professors who defended the right to use “racial slurs” as a part of academic freedom.

The slur in question was the N-word, which was used by a part-time sociology professor last month in a Zoom discussion on language and the reappropriation of offensive words by groups such as people of colour, the disabled and the LGBTQ communities. In a statement posted online Sunday night, the University of Ottawa Student Union complained that the N-word remains “offensive, hurtful and reprehensible.”

Source: Professor’s use of racial slur ignites uOttawa debate