Andrew Lawton

Who is Tommy Robinson?

I write this from the departure lounge at Toronto Pearson International Airport, an hour before a flight to the United Kingdom where I’ll endeavor to answer that very question.

Is he an activist or a rabble-rouser? A martyr or a scofflaw? A freedom fighter or a hate monger?

More importantly, do any of these matter when it comes to the question of due process?

Robinson, the pseudonym of English Defense League founder Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, will once again be in court Tuesday, facing a contempt of court hearing at the legendary Old Bailey in London.

I’ll be there. Not as a cheerleader for Tommy, or for anyone for that matter. I’m going to London to get the facts, and cover a case with implications beyond Tommy, and beyond the United Kingdom.

At stake is whether Robinson knowingly and wilfully broke a publication ban when he hosted a 75-minute Facebook Live stream in May outside the Leeds Crown Court.

The stream took place as a number of young Muslim men were facing trial in a case involving allegations of mass sexual grooming and trafficking in Huddersfield. Robinson filmed men he thought were defendants heading into the courthouse and discussed public record facts of the case, as well as broader musings about Islam and immigration.

He wasn’t discussing the proceedings of the case, if for no other reason than he wasn’t even in the court to know what was happening.

Robinson was already on thin ice in the eyes of the justice system, however, having been found guilty of contempt in a separate (though eerily similar case) in Canterbury, for which he was given a suspended sentence of three months.

In the Leeds stream, he was very cautious, even referring to the case’s publication ban and confirming with his colleagues that he was staying within its parameters. Or so he thought.

The grooming trial judge not only had Robinson arrested, but also tried, convicted and sentenced. All in less than five hours. The judge didn’t even review the full video in the makeshift hearing.

So Robinson was off to prison with a 13-month sentence. Much of the time he spent behind bars was in solitary confinement. He was ultimately freed in August when a judge threw out the earlier contempt finding, arguing there were numerous errors in judgment and fact in the earlier judge’s decision.

On Tuesday, the court will host what is effectively a retrial of what happened so hastily back in May.

As an independent columnist, foreign junkets aren’t typically an option for me. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to cover this case thanks to a crowdfunding campaign by Ezra Levant and the Rebel.

There was only one condition with this grant—that I cover the trial. I’m not doing this on the Rebel’s behalf, and neither it nor Levant have any oversight of my coverage. This was an important stipulation for me, as Robinson used to work for the Rebel.

Levant admits he’s a fan of Tommy Robinson. I’m not approaching it from the same place. My interest in this case is because I’m a fan of due process.

In Robinson’s history I see decisions that can be characterized at best as lapses in judgement, or at worst something more grim. I disagree with many of his proclamations on Islam, in particular his belief that the religion is inherently a negative force.

He says lots of individual Muslims are good, peace-loving people, but that this is in spite of Islam, and never because of it. When I sit down with Robinson for an interview this week, this will be one of the points I challenge him on.

When it comes to the contempt of court charge, however, none of this matters. I could find him loathsome and disagreeable on every count (I don’t) and it wouldn’t take away my belief in his deservingness of due process.

Unfortunately, the British justice system and the British press have not extended such a courtesy. That’s why I’m covering this case for myself.

Robinson was subjected to a judicial witchhunt that has everything to do with what he believes and nothing to do with anything he actually did, let alone whether his actions threatened the integrity of a critical trial.

The importance of due process, fair trials, and the right to espouse the kinds of beliefs Robinson does are universal issues. They are not exclusive to the United Kingdom, which is why this case is one of global interest.

I’m taking a stand for freedom and fairness by covering this trial. While I’m there, I want to find out whether this livestreamer from Luton is as bad as the media says he is.

Andrew Scheer’s India trip good for Conservatives but does nothing for Canada

I’m no fan of Justin Trudeau’s foreign policy, and like most around the world found myself laughing and shaking my head at the blunder that was his trip to India earlier this year. That being said, trips to represent Canada abroad are the prerogative of the elected prime minister and not opposition leaders.

I tackle this in my latest Loonie Politics column. If you’re not a subscriber, use promo code Lawton for a discounted annual subscription.

As always, here’s an excerpt:

The fact that so few people seem to be hearing about Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s visit to India means it’s probably a success.

Scheer is leading a delegation this week to promote and bolster trade between Canada and India.  Or so he says.  I don’t think it takes a political genius to figure out that the Conservatives are trying to remind people how Trudeau made such a mockery of himself and the country when he went in February.

I was on a cruise last week with dozens of American conservatives who still enjoy mocking Justin Trudeau’s ill-fated trip that somehow managed to include more costume changes than a Cher concert.

Oh, and let’s not forget the invitation extended to Jaspal Atwal, a man who attempted to murder an Indian politician in the 1980s.

Scheer’s trip appears to be assassin-free and so far features only business suits, which shows how low a bar Trudeau has set for international visits.

Just a few days in, Scheer has already sat down with a number of Indian cabinet members as well as prime minister Narendra Modi, who seemed rather disinterested when Trudeau landed in India earlier this year.  It bodes well for Scheer how close a relationship his predecessor, Stephen Harper, had with Modi.

The trip will be a win for the Conservatives, but not for Canada.  Scheer is a key player in Canadian politics, but he isn’t one in the Canadian government.  He’s in no position to negotiate on Canada’s behalf, and there’s no guarantee he ever will be.  Whether he wants to admit it or not, this trip was undoubtedly a political calculation, aimed to show Canadians he’s up for the job of being prime minister.

Unfortunately, this political move violates the unwritten rule that countries must present a unified front and speak with one voice outside their own borders.  When Scheer takes these sorts of high level meetings, he’s representing Canada, despite not having the authority to do so.

Mark Steyn on diversity, citizenship and western values

As I write this, I’m cruising the Atlantic with legendary author and broadcaster Mark Steyn as part of the first Mark Steyn Cruise, which I’m both producing and speaking on.

It’s a fitting time to release a full-length interview I did with Mark for the True North Initiative at his New England headquarters.

We spoke about immigration, free speech and diversity. While global issues, they’re of particular concern in Canada, where the ruling government has prioritized diversity above any other aspect of Canadian identity and culture. Justin Trudeau won’t even recognize the existence of any such identity and culture.

It was a true delight, and I can only hope western lawmakers pay attention. Either way, enjoy!

These things are made possible by the generous support of True North Initiative patrons, so please consider becoming one if you aren’t already.

$182,000 salary for “anti-racism and cultural diversity officer” at U of T

The human rights industry is booming, which means those with social justice in their hearts and dollar signs in their eyes are set.

Canada’s largest postsecondary institution, the University of Toronto, is hiring an “anti-racism and cultural diversity officer.”

The successful candidate will work “to ensure that every member of the University community is afforded the right to study and work in an environment free of biases based on race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship or creed.”

Though religion isn’t included in the list, the new officer must have a “thorough understanding of issues related to race, culture, faith, spirituality, equity and diversity.”

The position has a salary range of $109,555 to $182,591, and, of course, requires working under the vice-president of equity, which is totally an executive-level position.

It may seem like a punchline, but these positions are growing increasingly powerful in a climate where anti-racism and cultural diversity are valued above academic freedom and freedom of speech.

Indeed, the University of Toronto job posting says this officer will be involved in drafting the school’s policies and practices surrounding “anti-racism, cultural diversity, freedom of speech, and freedom of expression.”

The winning contender might even get to help bully pro-life students, as I wrote today happened at the University of the Fraser Valley.

(And of course priority is given to candidates who can check off as many boxes as possible in the “Diversity Survey” part of the application.)

This comes just a few weeks after the new Ontario government instituted a requirement for schools like University of Toronto to develop and implement free speech policies by January.

Perhaps then the taxpayers will be able to save the $182,000.

If you’re interested, or just want to have a laugh, the job posting is here.

Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Officer

Description:

The Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Officer serves the three campuses of the University of Toronto and works to ensure that every member of the University community is afforded the right to study and work in an environment free of biases based on race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship or creed.

Reporting directly to the Vice-President, Human Resources and Equity and with a thorough understanding of issues related to race, culture, faith, spirituality, equity and diversity, the Anti-Racism Officer works to promote inclusion within the University’s learning, living and working environments

Duties include:

Develops initiatives and collaborates on activities and programs that promote cross-cultural understanding and inclusion across the three campuses of the University of Toronto;
Works closely with the Special Advisor on Equity Issues and within the broader equity team to provide advice and make recommendations to University decision-makers, senior administrators and others in leadership roles on matters of policy and practice concerning anti-racism, cultural diversity, freedom of speech and freedom of expression for students, staff and faculty;
Works at the strategic level to promote inclusion within the University’s learning, living and working environments; works closely with the University’s Student Life and Human Resources leadership and portfolios.

In consultation with and guided by the Workplace Investigations Office, may conduct fact finding and/or investigations, recommends additional sources of assistance and resolution for complainants and respondents, provides mediation, information and expert advice.

The Anti-Racism Officer develops and leads related professional development and educational initiatives for all levels of the University community;

Develops standardized processes and guidelines for complaint management and resolution.

Qualifications:

(MINIMUM)

Education:
Graduate degree or an equivalent combination of education and experience.

Experience:
Professional experience in and understanding of complex issues related to equity and diversity as they relate to the student experience and the workplace. A thorough understanding of anti-racism and cultural diversity frameworks essential. Experience working within a post-secondary context or similarly complex organization is highly desirable as is an understanding of issues of faith within a broader anti-racism and cultural diversity strategy. Familiarity with the University environment strongly preferred. Understanding of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code required. Experience working with students and an appreciation for the diverse backgrounds and experiences of the University’s student body.

Skills:
Excellent interpersonal, communication, facilitation and mediation skills; commitment to, and knowledge of issues dealing with discrimination and harassment on the basis of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship and creed. Experience advising on and conducting investigations; experience developing and providing professional development and education.

Other:
Ability to engage with various stakeholders and members of the University community and connect and build rapport with student groups; ability to work within a team; research skills; project management and resource development skills; ability to operate at the strategic, policy and operational levels; highly developed leadership skills; highly developed organizational and program development skills.

Commitment and sensitivity to matters related to the student experience, educational opportunity and employment within a broader anti-racism and cultural diversity strategy; demonstrated analytical ability and ability to use initiative and good judgment in decision making. Willingness to work outside of normal working hours.

Profs tell BC student discussing abortion in class is “hateful” and “unsafe”

University of the Fraser Valley teaching graduate Valerie Flokstra (Supplied)

Discussing abortion is “hateful” and threatens classroom “safety,” according to comments contained in leaked audio of a meeting between a former University of the Fraser Valley graduate student and two of her professors.

Valerie Flokstra, a recent graduate of UFV’s teacher education program, was summoned into a meeting with a professor and her department’s head in December after citing a medical statistic related to abortion during a classroom discussion.

Students were told premature births were contributing to increased autism diagnoses. Flokstra questioned whether high abortion rates in Canada could be playing a role, citing studies showing a link between abortion and later premature births.

Asking that made the classroom an unsafe space, the 22-year old was told.

Flokstra covertly recorded the hour-long meeting with Prof. Nancy Norman, in whose class the incident took place, and Prof. Vandy Britton, the head of the teacher education department. Fearing academic reprisal, she waited until after graduation to share the audio. She now works as a teacher at a British Columbia private school.

Though Flokstra is pro-life, she said her question stemmed from a place of academic inquiry, rather than promotion of an agenda, acknowledging she learns through questioning and challenging her own assumptions and those of others.

The professors never disputed the facts Flokstra cited, instead taking issue with how they are uncomfortable or triggering for students to hear.

When Flokstra said in the recording she was embracing “critical thinking,” Britton said that’s not a priority for the program, which, according to its website “focuses on social justice and inclusion.”

“It’s not critical thinking. It’s critical mindedness, which is different,” she said. “Okay, so, critical mindedness is about being open to other people’s ideas too, and hearing what they say and not always filtering it through your lens.”

Flokstra told me she has never raised abortion in the class before; her professors gave no indication in the recording that this incident was part of a pattern.

Even so, the professors first accused her of “derailing” the classroom discussion, before shifting their objection to the impact her observation may have had on students’ “feelings.”

Flokstra questioned whether the classroom is about “feeling safe at all times, or if it’s about learning.”

“I’m just going to speak hypothetically,” Britton responded. “If I’d had an abortion for whatever reason, and then someone said to me, ‘You’re going to give birth to a kid with autism because of that,’ how would that make me feel, and how would that possibly help me with my learning?”

Flokstra said it’s only through free speech and open inquiry that students are able to learn.

“It has nothing to do with freedom of speech and sharing ideas,” Britton said. “It’s skill level. That you create an environment in a classroom, where— no matter what age of people that considers the needs of people. If I came in and didn’t let you say what you believe, I’m shutting you down.”

However, moments earlier Britton said instead of participating in class discussions, Flokstra should just write down her thoughts for herself.

“Because that’s a great way for you to learn,” Britton told her.

The conversation got emotional when Flokstra brought up an incident she had two months earlier with another professor, Awneet Sivia, of which Britton was aware.

In October, 2017, Flokstra was called into a meeting with Sivia after expressing discomfort with an in-class role-playing assignment that featured a scenario with a same-sex couple.

Flokstra cried as she recounted being told by Sivia to “put my Christian identity aside and put my teacher identity on top of that.”

Though this specific allegation cannot be independently verified, Flokstra did provide an email exchange with Sivia referencing the incident. In the emails, Flokstra says she will participate in all scenarios moving forward, understanding their value to her learning, even when she’s uncomfortable.

She also asked Sivia to put her concerns in writing to better help her understand the professor’s expectations.

Sivia refused, saying no written notes were necessary because she was, at that point, satisfied that Flokstra is working “towards being a socially just, inclusive teacher and modeling the (social justice) program value.”

Britton said she would take issue with abortion being raised from either a pro-life or pro-choice perspective, but at one point initiates a debate about abortion with Flokstra, before catching herself and getting back on topic.

At a particularly tense moment in the meeting, Britton likens discussing abortion to allowing a hate group on campus.

“It’s not freedom of speech per se,” she said. “We still consider people’s feelings and we don’t just say whatever. Otherwise— That’s why we don’t have the KKK having a club on campus. That’s not freedom of speech. That’s hate, right? So we don’t put forward ideas that are intentionally or not, that are hateful. And I think sometimes abortion is one of those contentious issues that can make someone feel that they feel threatened on both sides.”

Sivia and Britton did not directly respond to my inquiries, but University of the Fraser Valley communications director Dave Pinton provided a statement.

“The UFV Teacher Education Department, the Teacher Education Program, and UFV are deeply committed to respecting freedom of religion, the right to free speech, and to upholding an overall policy of inclusion,” he said in an email. “It would be a breach of confidentiality to comment on any situation involving a particular student. To comment on specifics would constitute a breach of privacy under BC’s Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.”

The UFV teacher education website promises to equip each graduate “to become an agent in the changing landscape of 21st century education,” in particular citing “core courses in social justice, special education, Indigenous education, second language instruction, and reflective practice.”

Flokstra’s ordeal has numerous similarities to what former Wilfrid Laurier University graduate student Lindsay Shepherd experienced last year. In fact, Flokstra credits Shepherd’s ordeal with motivating her to record the meeting in the first place.

Much like with Shepherd, Flokstra’s professors attempt to couch offensive recommendations with an “I’m on your side” attitude, using social justice as a trump card over academic inquiry. Just as Shepherd’s professors compared Jordan Peterson to Adolf Hitler, Flokstra was told discussing abortion is like a UFV KKK club.

It’s this attitude, particularly in the teacher education program, that Flokstra said she wanted to challenge by releasing the audio.

When freedom of speech is hindered, so too is learning.

Andrew Lawton is a fellow at the True North Initiative.

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