Posts by The Trend Letter

Lindsay Shpherd

Freedom of speech being stifled at Canadian university

Freedom of speech is about the right to express opinions without censorship or restraint. It is about discussing various topics, exchanging  dialogue, debating multiple opinions on various topics. We are living in more and more of a politically correct environment where censorship has become widely accepted. We are being told that we cannot use certain words anymore, words like he or she. We are told not to present certain opinions as they may be ‘uncomfortable’ to some others.

The free exchange of ideas and innovation drives economic growth. At the  Sir Wilfred Laurier University, teaching assistant  Lindsay Shepherd teaches a tutorial on language to first year students.  Shepherd screened a TVOntario debate to illustrate the sometimes-controversial politics of grammar.

The video, an episode of The Agenda with Steve Paikin, included University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson presenting his case against the use of non-gendered pronouns. It also included panellists taking the opposite viewpoint.

After the class an anonymous student complained, Shepherd found herself reprimanded for violating the school’s Gendered and Sexual Violence policy. In a subsequent meeting with university officials, she was accused of creating a “toxic” and “problematic” environment that constituted violence against transgendered students. She was also falsely told that she had broken the law.

Shepherd recorded the meeting. Selected transcript and audio are below (audio at end of article). The voices are of Shepherd, her supervising professor Nathan Rambukkana, another professor, Herbert Pimlott, as well as Adria Joel, manager of Gendered Violence Prevention and Support at the school.

Transcript from National Post…

Shepherd: Obviously this person (the complainant) who had an issue did not express it to me, they just went straight to whoever, I don’t know what really happened.

Rambukkana: Just for some additional context so, you came from U of T is that right?

Shepherd: No, SFU.

Rambukkana: From SFU, okay. So you weren’t, like, one of Jordan Peterson’s students?

The meeting had just begun when Shepherd received this oblique accusation that she might be a protégé or supporter of Peterson’s. Later in the meeting, Pimlott will expound on how people like Peterson live in a fantasy world of false conspiracies. However, it should be noted that upon encountering a teaching assistant who had mentioned an unpopular idea, one of Laurier’s first assumptions was that she was somehow an agent of those ideas. Several times during the meeting, Shepherd will reiterate that her beliefs about gender had no bearing on her decision to screen the video. “I disagree with Jordan Peterson, but you people seem to think I’m pro-Jordan Peterson,” she says at one point.

00:03:10 “THESE ARGUMENTS ARE COUNTER TO THE CANADIAN HUMAN RIGHTS CODE”

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Rambukkana: …[Peterson] lectures about critiquing feminism, critiquing trans rights —

Shepherd: I’m familiar. I follow him. But can you shield people from those ideas? Am I supposed to comfort them and make sure that they are insulated away from this? Like, is that what the point of this is? Because to me, that is so against what a university is about. So against it. I was not taking sides. I was presenting both arguments.

Rambukkana: So the thing about this is, if you’re presenting something like this, you have to think about the kind of teaching climate that you’re creating. And this is actually, these arguments are counter to the Canadian Human Rights Code. Even since … C-16, ever since this passed, it is discriminatory to be targeting someone due to their gender identity or gender expression.

By C-16, Rambukkana is referring to a recently passed federal bill that prohibits discrimination based on gender identity or expression. His read of it is dead wrong; it’s obviously not a violation of C-16 to screen a TVOntario program at a university. For one thing, the bill only applies to federally-regulated industries, which does not include universities. Even if it did, legal experts contacted by the National Post were extremely dubious that Shepherd’s actions constituted anything remotely resembling discrimination.

00:04:22 “IT HAS CREATED A TOXIC CLIMATE FOR SOME OF THE STUDENTS”

Shepherd: Like I said, it was in the spirit of debate.

Rambukkana: Okay, “in the spirit of the debate” is slightly different than ‘this is a problematic idea that we might want to unpack.’

Shepherd: But that’s taking sides.

Rambukkana: Yes.

Shepherd: It’s taking sides for me to be like “oh, look at this guy, like everything that comes out of his mouth is B.S. but we’re going to watch anyway.”

Rambukkana: I understand the position that you’re coming from and your positionality, but the reality is that it has created a toxic climate for some of the students, you know, it’s great —

Shepherd: How many? Who? How many? One?

Rambukkana: May I speak?

Shepherd: I have no concept of how many people complained, what their complaint was, you haven’t shown me the complaint.

Rambukkana: I understand that this is upsetting, but also confidentiality matters.

Shepherd: The number of people is confidential?

Rambukkana: Yes.

According to Shepherd, the seminar actually went pretty well; students considered the video, and soon got to discussing the use of gender neutral terms such as “they” instead of “him” or “her.” As Shepherd explained at the opening of her meeting with supervising professors, “there were people of all opinions.” Whoever took offence, she noted, did not approach her directly or even raise their concerns in class before filing a gendered violence complaint with university officials.

00:05:58 “… CREATES AN UNSAFE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR STUDENTS.”

Rambukkana: Do you see how this is something that is not intellectually neutral, that is kind of “up for debate,” I mean this is the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Shepherd: But it is up for debate.

Rambukkana: You’re perfectly welcome to your own opinion, but when you’re bringing it into the context of the classroom that can become problematic, and that can become something that is, that creates an unsafe learning environment for students.

Shepherd: But when they leave the university they’re going to be exposed to these ideas, so I don’t see how I’m doing a disservice to the class by exposing them to ideas that are really out there. And I’m sorry I’m crying, I’m stressed out because this to me is so wrong, so wrong.

Joel: Can I mention the … Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy?

Once again, Rambukkana accuses Shepherd of breaking the law. But as with C-16, there is nothing in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that prohibits what Shepherd did. The Charter says the exact opposite, in fact; one of the document’s four “fundamental freedoms” is the “freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.” If someone ever launched a legal case against Shepherd for this, the Charter would be the document most likely to protect her from prosecution.

00:07:28 ALL PERSPECTIVES ARE NOT VALID.

Shepherd: What I have a problem with is, I didn’t target anybody. Who did I target?

Joel: Trans folks.

Shepherd: By telling them ideas that are really out there? Telling them that? By telling them? Really?

Rambukkana: It’s not just telling them. In legitimizing this as a valid perspective—

Shepherd: In a university all perspectives are valid.

Rambukkana: That’s not necessarily true, Lindsay.

The tug-of-war between Shepherd and her supervising professor basically boiled down to single point. Shepherd argued the case that ideas, however controversial, deserve mention in the classroom. Rambukkana, however, held fast to the notion that some ideas are “problematic” and cannot be raised without being clearly labeled as such. In this, arguing against gender-neutral pronouns was compared to banning women’s suffrage or claiming that cigarettes are harmless. Using a rhetorical tactic typically more at home on Reddit forums, Rambukkana and Pimlott would also thrice use the example of Nazi Germany. “This is like neutrally playing a speech by Hitler,” Rambukkana said at one point.

00:17:19 “THE NAZIS ACTUALLY USED … ISSUES AROUND THE FREE SPEECH IDEA.” 

Shepherd: But he’s still a public figure … this was on a TV show. He’s still a public figure. Pimlott: I would find it problematic if my tutorial leaders were representing positions that didn’t have any substantial academic credibility to that evidence.

Pimlott: He’s a public figure, and a lot of people there like (American white supremacist) Richard Spencer of, I don’t like calling them alt-right, it gives them too much legitimacy, but Richard Spencer, right? The Nazis actually used, this is a historic—issues around the free speech idea in the 1920s in Weimar Germany as an issue around which which is what they’re using now. We know that someone like Richard Spencer is using theories and ideas that don’t have any academic credibility. He’s a public figure. But in terms of, if we introduce someone, we give them greater credibility in a certain condition. I agree that there are public figures out there that bring people, uh, bring hatred, target groups and if you look at statistically the degree of suicide attempts of trans people, young people, it’s the highest of any group in society. And, you know, it’s, you go through — Indigenous people — and so on. There are things that don’t have academic credibility and I just don’t think—I personally think I have some problems, I have no problems with the fact that these things are out there and people are going to engage them but we have to think of the atmosphere that we also create for the learning process.

It’s worth reiterating that this whole debacle happened within Wilfrid Laurier University’s communications department. The program’s whole job is to teach students how to legibly convey ideas. Despite this, the rambling semi-coherent answer above is quite typical of the other 43 minutes of the recording. Pimlott’s mention of “academic credibility” is notable. It’s not like the group is discussing an issue like climate change or evolution, in which there’s a pretty clear scientific consensus on the truth. They’re discussing language, and Laurier appears to be telling Shepherd to ignore the language ideas of any “public figure” who doesn’t have appropriate academic credentials. Such a broad definition could presumably include anyone from William Shakespeare to J.K. Rowling.

00:22:06 YOUR NEUTRALITY IS “KIND OF THE PROBLEM”

Rambukkana: Do you understand how what happened was contrary to, sorry Adria, what was the policy?

Joel: Gendered and Sexual Violence.

Rambukkana: — Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy. Do you understand how —

Shepherd: Sorry, what did I violate in that policy.

Joel: Um, so, gender-based violence, transphobia, in that policy. Causing harm, um, to trans students by, uh, bringing their identity as invalid. Their pronouns as invalid — potentially invalid.

Shepherd: So I caused harm?

Joel: — which is, under the Ontario Human Rights Code a protected thing so something that Laurier holds as a value.

Shepherd: Ok, so by proxy me showing a YouTube video I’m transphobic and I caused harm and violence? So be it. I can’t do anything to control that.

Rambukkana: Ok, so that’s not something that you have an issue with? The fact that that happened? Are you sorry that it happened?

Shepherd: I know in my heart, and I expressed to the class, that I’m not transphobic and if any of them — again, I don’t know what they said — but I don’t think I gave away any kind of political position of mine. I remained very neutral, and uh—

Rambukkana: —that’s kind of the problem.

Unlike with C-16 and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is much more believable that Shepherd actually did violate the schools’ Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy. The document is quite broad, and defines gendered violence as “an act or actions that reinforce gender inequalities resulting in physical, sexual, emotional, economic or mental harm.” The policy further stipulates that the“violence” can take the form of graffiti or text messages. Under these parameters, a YouTube video that made a student feel uncomfortable would seem to amply qualify.

00:25:16 STUDENTS DON’T HAVE THE “CRITICAL TOOLKIT” TO UNDERSTAND THESE THINGS

Rambukkana: These are very young students, and something of that nature is not appropriate to that age of student, because they don’t have …

Shepherd: 18?

Rambukkana: Yes.

Shepherd: They’re adults.

Rambukkana: Yes, but they’re very young adults. they don’t have the critical toolkit to be able to pick it apart yet. This is one of the things we’re teaching them, so this is why it becomes something that has to be done with a bit more care.

This is a theme that Pimlott takes up later in the recording; that Wilfrid Laurier University is bringing in young naïfs from a prejudice-filled society who aren’t yet ready to handle complex ideas without proper training. He said it takes a while to properly challenge “the faith-based, family and other types of structures in society that they’ve been inculcated with for years.” The meeting concludes, by the way, with a note that Shepherd must now run her seminar notes past Rambukkana and obtain specific approval for any future media she intends to show. “I’ll ask you not to play any more Jordan Peterson videos, or anything of the like,” Rambukkana said.

Recording of  meeting…

 

Headlines_sm

Headlines – November 24/17

  • US stocks set to climb, with retailers in focus for Black Friday. Read story
  • Egypt attack: More than 230 killed in Sinai mosque. Read story
  • Putin crowns himself OPEC king. Read story
  • GOP tax plan is entering its make-or-0break week. Read story
  • One shot outside Missouri mall, brawls close Alabama shopping centre as Black Friday begins. Read story
  • Saudi crown prince calls Iran’s supreme leader ‘new Hitler’. Read story
  • German coalition: Merkel to meet SPD in new bid for deal. Read story
  • Musk warns only 5-10% chance of humanity surviving AI. Read story
  • The No.1 thing you can save big on this Black Friday. Read story
  • Irish government set to fall weeks before Brexit summit. Read story
  • China cuts tariffs on almost 200 luxury goods. Read story
  • North Korea replaces soldiers, South Korea awards medals after defector’s dash. Read story
  • Tesla unveils pricing of semi big rig, starting at $150,000. Read story
  • On the lighter side. Check it out!
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Headlines – November 23/17

  • China stocks suffer mauling, Fed leaves dollar in a daze. Read story
  • As Black Friday nears, US stores get creative to battle e-commerce. Read story
  • Euro up for third day as outlook brightens. Read story
  • Oil eases from highest level since 2015 as traders weigh US data. Read story
  • Stock market could tumble 15% if 10-year Treasury yield crosses this line. Read story
  • Bank of America sees end of bull market in 2018. Read story
  • Missing Argentine submarine: ‘Explosion’ detected. Read story
  • A list of billionaires in each country. Read story
  • Foxconn stops interns’ illegal overtime at iPhone X factory. Read story
  • Germany must not be Europe’s political dwarf: Merkel warned Macron will rise up to lead EU. Read story
  • The UK is aiming a new tax at tech giants that shift profits offshore. Read story
  • The party is over for Australia’s $5.6 trillion housing frenzy. Read story
  • On the lighter side. Check it out!
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Headlines – November 22/17

  • World stocks ride tech boom to scale new highs in pre-Thanksgiving rally. Read story
  • Oil price rises to two-year high above $58 on supply slowdown. Read story
  • Uber paid hackers to delete stolen data on 57 million people. Read story
  • Skype removed from China Apple and Android app stores. Read story
  • HPE CEO Whiman’s surprise exit stumps Wall St. Read story
  • Tesla’s burning through nearly half a million dollars every hour. Read story
  • Hong Kong share index passes 30,000. Read story
  • Search for Argentine submarine sheds light on the difficulty of finding a vessel designed not to be found. Read story
  • France, Italy get EU warning over debt level, spending plans. Read story
  • Another German election risks boosting the far-right, and ending Merkel’s career. Read story
  • How we got here. A history in the use of tech in toys. Read story
  • Nearly 51 million Americans to travel this Thanksgiving, highest volume in a dozen years. Read story
  • Malls are dying. There aren’t enough homes. Is there a solution? Read story
  • On the lighter side. Check it out!

Stay tuned!

Smart_City

Smart City or Surveillance City?

As reported in New Scientist, in Toronto, and many other cities around the globe, ‘smart city’ projects are underway. The concept of infrastructure interlinked by software isn’t new.  Having Artificial Intelligence (AI) use data to actively improve our everyday lives seems like a worthwhile endeavour.

This is not just some futuristic concept, as for the past 12 months, the city of Hangzhou in China has collaborated with Alibaba and Foxcom to build the “City Brain” project, where AI started to run the city. For the past year AI has been sucking up every drop of data it could get its virtual hands on. Virtually every resident is tracked; their activity on social networks, their purchases, their movements, their commutes – everything is uploaded to the AI’s databases, where real-time decisions are made.

The stated goal of the project is to improve life in Hangzhou by letting artificial intelligence track traffic, crime, commutes, purchases, interactions, general movements, and much more. Residents were tracked both generally and specifically, with City Brain even plugged into local social media – it also tracks their cell phones.

The project has been considered an enormous success, and Alibaba is now packaging the system to export to other cities in China – and ultimately, the rest of the world. After a year under the new system, rush hour traffic is down 10% as the system uses hundreds of thousands of cameras dotted through out the city, tracking the movement of almost every car on the roads. It can instantly detect accidents, blockages, and can predict traffic flow 10 minutes ahead of time, then adjusts traffic light patterns to even the flow. Illegal parking is tracked in real time and the system will even contact individual commuters to offer detours and weather advisories.

Here is one the police love. If someone breaks the law, they too can be tracked throughout the city before being picked up by the police. The reality is that a fully ‘smart’ city means that pretty much every aspect of your life is tracked – the privacy issues are huge.

Why does it seem to work so well in Hangzhou? As Alibaba’s project leader, Xian-Sheng Hua stated…“In China, people have less concern with privacy, which allows us to move faster.

“It’s easy to identify when people are not following the ‘normal’ behaviour patterns. Having identified people who are not ‘normal’, they can of course then be tracked – and who they meet with, where they go and so forth can also be quickly identified,” says Paul Bernal at the University of East Anglia, UK. “As a way to control dissident movements or anything the authorities don’t like, it’s perfect.”

According to the Gartner Group, an estimated 2.3 billion connected things will be used in smart cities this year – a 43% increase over 2016. This rise of digital connectivity also exposes a host of vulnerabilities cybercriminals will be lining up to exploit.

In the video game Watch Dogs, you can play a hacker who takes over the central operating system of a futuristic, hyper-connected Chicago. Once you have control over the city’s security system, you can spy on residents using surveillance cameras, intercept phone calls, and cripple the city’s critical infrastructure, bringing the city to its knees.

While Watch Dogs is just a game, it illustrates a scenario that could happen in today’s increasingly smart cities. It was only recently that a major hack took place that targeted Internet infrastructure in the US with one of the largest DDoS attacks ever recorded. The root cause was tracked back to overlooked security vulnerabilities in hundreds of thousands of compromised connected video cameras. Similar Internet of Things (IoT) enabled cameras and sensors are driving forward the Smart City initiative that depends on these devices to manage the entire city’s infrastructure and assets. Essentially, this dependency suggests that even the smallest of security weak points within the Smart City infrastructure can escalate security exploitation to unimaginable and uncontrollable levels.

We are becoming a society that is more and more willing to have our every movement and conversation monitored for the perceived convenience of a ‘safer’ and more efficient city. We are giving up our individual rights and freedoms so that big government can better protect us.

It is a timely thought, as recently we had Remembrance Day in Canada, and Memorial Day in the US. On these days we honoured those who gave their lives to protect our rights and freedoms. The question going forward is, have we become too eager to give up those rights and freedoms that so many have died to preserve, simply to make our lives more convenient? A smart city is in reality, a surveillance city, where citizens’ privacy is the cost of the efficiency gains.

Stay tuned!

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Headlines – November 21/17

  • Nasdaq opens at record on tech gains. Read story
  • Mugabe resigns after four decades. Read story
  • Merkel signals readiness for new election after coalition talks collapse. Read story
  • Tencent chief ‘richer than Google founders’. Read story
  • Iraq is giving OPEC a headache. Read story
  • A $31 million hack freaked crypotocurrency traders out and sent Bitcoin’s price plunging. Read story
  • ISIS group releases image of ‘beheaded’ Pope Francis. Read story
  • The Justin Trudeau love-fest gets reality check. Read story
  • Everything you need to know about the Brexit “divorce bill”. Read story
  • Jim Rogers says Bitcoin ‘looks and smells’ like all other investment bubbles. Read story
  • Google collects Android users’ locations even when location services are disabled. Read story
  • Rape and no periods, life for women in North Korea army. Read story
  • Are your medical records safe? Read story
  • On the lighter side. Check it out!

Stay tuned!

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Headlines – November 20/17

  • Stocks rebound in short week for US stocks. Read story
  • European markets power on after early German wobble. Read story
  • China’s shadow bank clampdown hits stock market. Read story
  • Canadian dollar dips as oil falls, investors weigh NAFTA talks. Read story
  • A Chinese tech giant just joined Facebook and Amazon in the $500 billion valuation club. Read story
  • Got $1 million to retire? Here’s how long it will last, by state. Read story
  • The reasons Americans give for buying Bitcoin show they have no idea what they are doing. Read story
  • What do China’s police collect on citizens in order to predict crimes? Everything. Read story
  • Cities fight to win key EU agencies from London. Read story
  • Soros says Hungarian government lying in attacks against him. Read story
  • Crime wave engulfs Sweden as fraud, sexual offenses reach record. Read story
  • The worst time of day to make money decisions. Read story
  • Charles Manson dies at 83, after four decades in jail. Read story
  • On the lighter side. Check it out!

Stay tuned!

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Headlines – November 16/17

  • House GOP set for big tax win. Read story
  • Europe’s longest stock sell-off of the year abates. Read story
  • Russia and Venezuela agree to debt deal. Read story
  • Mortgage rates spike to four-month high as tax reform drives bond sell-off. Read story
  • The world’s biggest wealth funds wants out of oil and gas. Read story
  • US jobless claims jump to 6-week high. Read story
  • ECB warns banks against Brexit ’empty shells’. Read story
  • Fisker has filed patents for solid-state batteries. Read story
  • Dr AI: Stanford trained AI to diagnose pneumonia better than a radiologist in just 2-months. Read story
  • Leonard da Vinci’s “Salvador Mundi” sell for $450.3 million, shattering auction highs. Read story
  • China builds fastest wind tunnel to test weapons that could strike the US in 14 minutes. Read story
  • Will Virgin’s latest venture have the cruise industry seeing green.? Read story
  • The most important skill for 21st-century students is the discipline to say ‘no’. Read story
  • On the lighter side. Check it out!
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Headlines – November 15/17

  • Dow sinks 150 points, threatens 3-week low as global markets slump. Read story
  • Airbus seals massive $49.5 bln order for 430 aircraft. Read story
  • NAFTA talks resume as US warns ‘short fuse’ risks burning down. Read story
  • Zimbabwe’s military seizes power, detains Mugabe. Read story
  • Japan’s economy posts the longest growth streak since 2001. Read story
  • Venezuela goes bust. Read story
  • October pick up in CPI gives green light for Fed rate hike. Read story
  • Another slump for European stocks. Read story
  • Cannabis grower Aurora proposes industry’s largest takeover. Read story
  • Household debt rises by $116 billion as credit card delinquencies pile up. Read story
  • Tesla says it will fight lawsuit claiming racial discrimination. Read story
  • Half of over 65s take at least five drugs a day. Read story
  • China urged to stop electroshock therapy to ‘convert’ gays. Read story
  • Doctors are attempting the first case of gene editing inside the body of a living human. Read story
  • On the lighter side. Check it out!

Stay tuned!

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Headlines – November 13/17

  • Stock indexes on track to extend last week’s pullback. Read story
  • World’s top tech giant amass $1.7 trillion in monster year. Read story
  • GE cuts dividend by half, slashes profit goals. Read story
  • Oil trades near $57 as OPEC signals rebalancing could speed up. Read story
  • Pound slides as British government faces turmoil. Read story
  • Bitcoin jumps 10% to above $6400, recovering from weekend crash. Read story
  • Tesla’s junk bonds are trading under water and could spell trouble for Musk. Read story
  • Trump says he has ‘great relationships’ with Duterte. Read story
  • ‘Priced-to-perfection’ European stocks show signs of exhaustion. Read story
  • Is it time for investors to leave the party after the latest bond market wobbles? Read story
  • Qualcomm rejects Broadcom’s $103 billion takeover bid. Read story
  • While attendance continues to decline, NFL commissioner is asking for $49.5 million, plus lifetime use of private jet. Read story
  • Floating cities no longer science fiction, begin to take shape. Read story
  • On the lighter side. Check it out!

Stay tuned!