Canada has experienced some strange episodes of late when it comes to free speech. Two recent decisions on the education front are real doozies, however.
The Toronto District School Board cancelled two book club events involving prominent, well-respected female leaders from ethnic backgrounds.
For fear and concern (completely unfounded, mind you) that these talks could cause confusion and hurt feelings among attendees.
One of the planned speakers was Marie Henein. Described as the “most high profile criminal defence lawyer in the country” by the National Post, she released her memoirs, Nothing But the Truth, to critical acclaim in late September. Yet the school board’s “equity” department decided the Egypt-born Henein’s 2016 decision to defend disgraced former TV host Jian Ghomeshi when he was accused of sexual assault was “problematic” and would send the wrong message to “little girls.”
The fact that an esteemed lawyer simply doing her job would cause a book club event to be abruptly cancelled was bizarre enough. The decision to cancel the other planned speaker, Nadia Murad, was downright insane.
Murad is an Iraqi Yazidi human rights activist who now lives in Germany. She was co-awarded the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize with Congolese gynecologist and pastor Denis Mukwege for “their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict.”
Her life story is a remarkable, tragic and inspiring tale.
Murad and her family lived in a rural, mostly Yazidi community in Kocho in the Sinjar District of Iraq. ISIS raided her village in 2014, killing roughly 600 people, including six of her brothers and stepbrothers. The younger women and girls were all taken into slavery, including the 19-year-old Murad – joining the more than 6,700 Yazidi females taken that year alone by the bloodthirsty terrorist group.
As a slave living in ISIS-controlled Mosul, she was reportedly beaten, raped and burned with cigarettes. This horrific experience lasted several months, until she caught a lucky break: her captor left the door unlocked. She escaped, and a family in the area smuggled her out. She eventually made her way to a refugee camp in Duhok, Kurdistan.
Murad gave testimony to the centre-right newspaper La Libre Belgique (The Free Belgium) in 2015 under the alias Basima. She was staying in the Rwanda refugee camp in northern Iraq and living in a converted shipping container. Later that year, she was part of a refugee program that helped her and 1,000 other women and children find a safe home and environment in Baden-Württemberg, Germany.
The young activist has become an important spokesperson for the Yazidis and against human trafficking. She’s spoken in front of the United Nations Security Council and became the first goodwill ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human trafficking of the United Nations.
She’s met dignitaries from Pope Francis to former U.S. President Donald Trump. Her life story was turned into a powerful 2018 documentary, On Her Shoulders, by filmmaker Alexandria Bombach. Along with the Nobel Peace Prize, she’s won the Sakharov Prize, Council of Europe Vaclav Havel Prize for Freedom of Thought and the Clinton Global Citizen Award.
Murad also founded Nadia’s Initiative in 2018. It’s a non-profit organization based in Washington with the goal of “helping women and children victimized by genocides, mass atrocities, and human trafficking to heal and rebuild their lives and communities.”
What on earth could have caused the school board to cancel Murad?
The flighty equity department felt her 2017 book, The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State, the subject of the book club event, could “promote Islamophobia” and “offend” Muslim students.
Again, this was downright insane.
The school board was blasted by the right and left when these two decisions leaked out. They tried to mitigate the damage in a Nov. 12 press release, claiming “an opinion that did not reflect the position of the Toronto District School Board was shared with the organizer of the book club prior to staff having an opportunity to read the books – something that is routinely done before giving them to students.”
Murad’s book club event was recently reinstated for its original date next February. Henein’s October talk wasn’t.
No one was foolish enough to believe the decision to cancel two important speakers and clamp down on free speech and intellectual discourse could be chalked up to a simple misunderstanding.
Henein certainly didn’t. In an email response to the Globe and Mail, she wrote, “There are words for this. Misunderstanding is not one of them.”
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics. For interview requests, click here.
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