At Conservative candidate events, Kellie Leitch met with protests while Lisa Raitt sees small turnout

University District

Organizers and protestors debate freedom of speech while speakers discuss immigration and refugees

Conservative Party candidates Kellie Leitch and Lisa Raitt both spoke on campus this week, prompting varying degrees of response from students.
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With the Conservative Party leadership race ongoing, Queen’s University Conservative Association (QUCA) hosted two more candidates this week — following Kevin O’Leary and Michael Chong in past weeks — that sparked more protests on campus.

 On Monday, a handful of student protestors gathered outside the room where Kellie Leitch was addressing a crowd got into a heated interaction with a few of the event’s hosts, ultimately resolving with the removal of one of the protestors upon request of campus security.

Student protesters disrupt Kellie Leitch event

The group of protestors, with bandanas covering their faces and hoods over their heads, marched into Kingston Hall — where the event was taking place in one of the classrooms — with black flags and signs calling Leitch a white nationalist. 

“No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here,” the group chanted. 

Event organizer Craig Draeger, in his attempts to keep protesters outside of the room where Leitch was giving her speech, took a video focused on one of the protesters — later confirmed to be Jonathan Shepherd, ArtSci ’17 — and later posted it online.

In the video, which was spliced to only a few minutes of the whole 13 minute encounter that was captured on video, Draeger tells Shepherd — who was escorted out of the O’Leary event after protesting and given a 24-hour ban from entering Grant Hall — that the rest of the protesters could stay, but he needed to leave. Draeger argued that his previous actions were “threatening.” 

Draeger cited Shepherd’s mention of “class war” at the O’Leary event as a threat. Speaking to The Journal on Wednesday, Shepherd — a member of Queen’s Socialists — explained the theory of “class war” as a social concept, which is integral to the works of Karl Marx and other theorists. 

The group understands, he said, that protest takes different forms depending on the person. For some students, he believes that going and asking tough questions was a form of protest in itself. 

“We understand that there are a lot of different perspectives on how activism should be done on this campus,” he said. “We aren’t here to tell anyone how to be an activist or police their behaviours, so if people wanted to go listen to that talk and just ask questions, that’s fine.”

However, to the group of protesters outside, he said their choice was made after watching the American election play out. “The scary thing about Kellie Leitch’s brand of white nationalism, xenophobic fear mongering, [is that] it’s similar of course, to Donald Trump’s fear mongering,” he said. 

Being respectful, he said, doesn’t get you any further than being disruptive. “Martin Luther King was shot in a suit ... Being respectful doesn’t matter at the end of the day. You just say the things that you think are right, and you keep saying it.” 

“We’re talking about regulating free speech, implementing principles like the Chicago Principles, telling people what they can’t say in response to hate speech. If we’re going to be talking about free speech on campus, the only person whose free speech was hindered yesterday wasn’t Kellie Leitch’s.” 

The principles are a set of guidelines which arose from a string of events that measured universities' commitment to open discourse, according to the University of Chicago's Committee on Freedom of Expression.

A petition pushing for Queen’s to adopt the Chicago Principles has been making rounds on change.org since January. Draeger is a listed supporter on the letter. 

“Speakers have had their talks cancelled due to safety issues at protests, professors have lost or had their jobs threatened for unpopular remarks and students report a reluctance to express their opinions for fear of being socially and publicly ostracized. As a result, the role of universities as a forum for open debate and dialogue is in question," it reads.

Shepherd condemned the choices of another protester, who can be heard in the background of the video calling a Black organizer of the event “Uncle Tom.” “That’s hate speech, that’s a slur and it has no place,” he said. “It’s good to see people recognizing racial epithets.” 

Leitch discusses proposed immigrant “values test”

Inside the room with around 70-80 attendees, CPC candidate Leitch — a Queen’s alumnus — faced pointed questioning by student-politicians in particular. 

Leitch began with a speech on Canadian values, including her contended values test for immigrants. Throughout the approximately 10 minute presentation, she expressed her support for a two per cent NATO military spending target, though she acknowledged she doesn’t know specifically how it will be achieved as the political atmosphere may change by 2019. 

The values test was critiqued by several student speakers, who questioned its legality and expressed personal experiences as immigrants to Canada. Leitch noted in her speech that she was against Motion 103, dubbed the anti-Islamaphobia bill.

Former AMS Commissioner of Internal Affairs Jon Wiseman asked how Leitch’s campaign can aim to “drain the canal” of “Ottawa elites.”

“I find this as a rather large oxymoron,” Wiseman said. “You’ve held $500 a ticket fundraisers with corporate lawyers. You’ve been a university professor. You have an MD and a PhD. By most common sense accounts, that seems to be the definition of elite.”

AMS Vice-President (University Affairs) Carolyn Thompson tweeted out several comments against Leitch during the event, noting that she chose to attend because “I think politicians, esp. those running for leadership, should be held acctbl for their words & policies.” 

Incoming ASUS President Jasmine Lagundzija added “@KellieLeitch - have the respect to let students ask their questions w/o interruption. Good leaders listen, you did not.” 

Organizers stand behind Leitch event’s benefit to students

Draeger — who currently serves as President of the Kingston and the Islands Conservative Association — said he maintained no issue with the protesters outside of the Leitch event, though they dispersed after Shepherd was asked to leave. His issue lay with Shepherd, particularly for his actions at previous events, again citing his use of the term “class war.” 

“Of course, protest and expressions of disapproval are welcome,” he said. “We want people to, say, come into these events wearing another candidates’ button, wearing another party’s button or t-shirt or slogan or hat or sign or whatever they wish.”

Draeger stated that the protesters’ facial coverings violated the University’s Student Code of Conduct, however, no such provision is included. Draeger was unable to provide a specific section, making estimations about how sections on “furnishing false information” could be interpreted to regard facial coverings. 

Draeger said he thought Leitch “would be the first to tell you that she’s a controversial candidate.” 

“It’s important to recognize that in organizing these events, the EDA, which is the electoral district association of which I am the president, is an impartial body not by necessity, but by choice.” A blanket invitation was sent out by the EDA to each candidate, allowing them to promote their speaking appearances to anyone they’d like. “It’s not necessarily, in any way, an endorsement of the views they express,” he said.

The Leitch event drew less attention than the O’Leary event, the latter having a crowd of approximately 1,000. According to Draeger, the larger turnout for O’Leary and perception of more promotion was “especially but not exclusively” due to interest from Commerce students. 

“The goal of this [series] is to demonstrate that the diversity of opinions that [the 14 candidates] bring to the table is a good thing. It’s good for the Conservative party, and I think the country.” 

He said he was happy to see people come out and express strong opinions, specifically noting those inside the event who asked “hard questions” to Leitch directly. While he was hesitant to formally endorse the Chicago Principles that Shepherd referenced, he said any system that allowed for difficult conversations and freedom of speech was positive. 

Lisa Raitt critiques liberal refugee policy

On Tuesday, another candidate faced down a room of approximately 35 people in the basement of McDonald Hall, with less contention. 

“I’m going to insult the Liberals here,” candidate Lisa Raitt told the room. “They don’t care about their grassroots. They’re going to lie to get what they want. They lied about the pipeline to the left. They have lied to the right. We listen to the grassroots and we abide the rules.” 

About half the audience was made up of students, with the other half populated by local Kingstonians. Raitt’s presentation began with a 15-minute introduction of herself focused mostly on her upbringing in Sydney, Nova Scotia. 

“I lived the Canadian dream,” she said. “To be raised by the elderly and then end up in government doesn’t happen anywhere else — my first job was at the Dairy Queen when I was 11 that my aunt owned, because my grandfather died and we needed money.”

Following a question from the audience on immigrants and refugees, Raitt made a tongue-in-cheek comment that “it entails more than taking the President’s daughter to a nice play on Broadway” to handle such topics.

The comment was in reference to Justin Trudeau extending an invite to Ivanka Trump to join him and other members of government to “Come From Away,” a musical about Canadians opening their homes during 9/11. 

Taking on a more serious tone, she commented that Canada needs refugees in the country for the sake of the economy but also that Trudeau has been too open in letting in refugees.

“A part has to do with family reunification, make sure that they are happy because happy workers are productive and that makes for a good economy. It all comes back to the economy.” Raitt also made a point to call people entering the country “economic migrants” and not refugees. She critiqued Justin Trudeau’s tweet welcoming those turned away elsewhere to Canada. 

‘Transportation is cheap and social media is powerful, so now they are all coming,” she said. “We had the biggest crossing at the border in Manitoba over night last night, so they can’t say no to anybody even when it is in the best interest of the country.”

Other questions included questions about the Liberal’s budget plan to potentially sell airports currently owned by the Crown, Raitt’s four-pillared health care plan, nuclear threats from North Korea and the recent controversy over the 1,351 names removed from the Conservative Party of Canada’s membership list after it was made known that the members were allegedly signed up anonymously and fraudulently.

Raitt commended her competitor, O’Leary, for bringing the latter issue up and chastised those who she says would prefer to be “silent.” “Yeah, I am a little fired up,” she added. “Let’s see if I am going to get in trouble.”

The presentation ended with Raitt asking the audience which American right-wing media members she should follow on Twitter, following a question on how to deal with the leftist bias of the media.

“Who else should I follow — conservatives in the States? What are you following? What do you think is interesting? I admit that I now follow Alex Jones on Twitter but my head is hurting because he is so angry, I feel I have to, I follow a lot to try to figure it out.”

In the coming weeks, Queen’s will see speaking events from Chris Alexander, Maxime Bernier, Rick Peterson, and tentatively Andrew Scheer through the QUCA. The Rick Peterson event was intended to be on March 23, but was postponed due to “unforeseen personal reasons.”

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