Remembrance Day throwdown

On Nov. 11, AMS Assembly passed a motion censuring Rector Nick Day for the speech he delivered at the Remembrance Day ceremony. Two students weigh-in on the debate

Jessica Wan, ArtSci ’11
Jessica Wan, ArtSci ’11
Yuchen Wang, ArtSci ’13
Yuchen Wang, ArtSci ’13
Rector Nick Day at AMS Assembly on November 11.
Rector Nick Day at AMS Assembly on November 11.
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Jessica Wan, ArtSci ’11

One of the main reasons for the censuring of Nick Day according to the AMS Assembly—but only 14 members of it—is that he failed to “preserve the political neutrality of Remembrance Day” for his speech at the Remembrance Day ceremony.

First, I want to remind students of the fact that only 14 out of 35 members of Assembly were pro-censure while 21 representatives expressed their disagreement with the censure either by abstaining from or voting against the motion.

In other words, there was not only a lack of overwhelming concern regarding his action rather than his “opinions,” but the majority of the Assembly did not agree with the final decision.

Moreover, despite the outpour of disagreement with the AMS decision to censure Day from both students and faculty members, they nonetheless maintain that he violated the student body’s consensus view on Remembrance Day.

In spite of the lack of an established norm for the student body to follow, Day was disciplined for his deviance from this imagined consensus.

Second, in response to the “political” nature of his Remembrance Day speech, one cannot argue that the event itself is apolitical, considering that the event has deep-seeded and significant political attachments.

Day merely represented one of the many stances, his stated intention to “truly honour the sacrifices of those who fought for justice.” If Day were to speak about the heroic actions of Canadian soldiers overseas today, surely we would be able to identify the political nature of war or any humanitarian intervention.

Moreover, the decision to push for the censuring of Day is equally a political act, and those who criticize Day for “furthering” his political agenda ought to examine the political nature of silencing and condemning a voice that strays from “the norm.”

Third, for those who claim to have been grossly offended by his “abuse” of the Rector position to further his own political agenda, I want to clarify the difference between offence in creating an unsafe space versus “offence” in making the audience uncomfortable through thought-inducing statements.

The former notion of offence or unsafety refers to the state whereby a participant in an event, activity, or discussion feels as if they face sincere emotional or physical danger.

The latter “offence” is discomfort—though often mistaken as unsafety—which suggests that a person may feel that their conceptions of personhood are challenged by parallel narratives which require a personal re-examination of the embeddedness of such identities, ideologies or personal beliefs.

This discomfort arises from the exposure to the histories that defy our normalized conceptions of ourselves—this normalized conception may be and most often is political, social, cultural, historical, ideological, racial, colonial, heteronormative, ablist, elitist and gendered.

Through the years of socialization under the Canadian primary and secondary educational system, many students are acquainted with a particular story about Remembrance Day.

What Day has done is apply the ideals fought for in the World Wars, and the world-changing effects to prevent future atrocities (in the establishment of Bretton Woods, the UN, etc.) to demonstrate that the struggle continues today, whether the internal conflict and displacement of more than a million people in Columbia, the slaughter of civilians in Darfur or the violent raping and killing of persons in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Lastly, in terms of the Maclean’s article on Day possibly tarnishing the reputation of the University, the act of silencing Nick itself tarnishes Queen’s University as a place of critical discussion and dialogue. As a dear friend of mine says, “universities are dead.”

Yuchen Wang, ArtSci ’13

Rector Nick Day’s speech at the official Queen’s Remembrance Day ceremony was an irresponsible act that disrespected the audience, demonstrated a serious lack of discretion and a general disconnect with the student body he was elected to represent.

Remembrance Day—as many in the student body have rightly interpreted it—is an apolitical commemoration of Canadian military sacrifices around the world.

It’s a day for all of us to pay tribute to those who died to preserve the liberties we hold dear.

The ceremony was meant as a memorial service for the dead and a commemoration of Canada’s proud history, not an opportunity for the Rector to express his personal views.

Mr. Day completely missed the mark in his address by delivering a politically divisive speech that discussed nearly everything, save for the honouring of fallen Canadians.

To make matters worse, Mr. Day seems to misunderstand the cause of the ire he’s earned in the past weeks, believing that the objections are regarding his views.

Indeed, his apology at AMS Assembly was directed toward people taking offence to his beliefs, not the fact that he brought up completely inappropriate topics at the ceremony. It appears that he doesn’t grasp the nature or extent of his faux pas.

While some people are defending Mr. Day based on his right to free speech, the simple fact is that he delivered the speech in his official capacity as the Rector.

As an official of the school and a representative of the entire student body, his position simply does not entitle him to such a liberal dispensation of personal opinions while acting directly under his official title.

Had Mr. Day expressed his opinion in a more private setting or a forum for the open exchange of ideas, the Queen’s community would’ve gladly welcomed it.

Certainly, many of us who disagree with some of what he had to say would be more than happy to engage in a stimulating discourse, maybe over a cup of coffee or a pint of beer.

But as such, Mr. Day chose to use the Remembrance Day ceremony—and his rather prestigious position—to launch an ideological tirade about a litany of issues ranging from the actions of the Pinochet regime in Chile to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, all in front of the shocked students, veterans and community members in attendance.

Certainly, Mr. Day’s message was important and he raised many issues that need to be discussed, but the Remembrance Day memorial service simply was not the right channel to address them and served only to—perhaps unintentionally—offend the students, alumni and Kingstonians who attended the event or read his speech.

Instead of doing what was right, and honouring those who died, Mr. Day devoted his speech to his own opinions, which as it turned out, did not place “honouring” particularly high on the agenda.

Instead, he focused on turning the Remembrance Day ceremony into a partisan soapbox.

It’s time for Mr. Day to present a serious apology that addresses the core of the issue, instead of a passive-aggressive jab at the disapproval that the AMS and the majority of the student body have levelled against him.

More importantly, it’s time for the Queen’s community to address this issue properly, so that nothing like this happens again.

The censure motion was a good first step, but more action is needed. I will leave the broader student body to decide what form of action is required.

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