Law school tense as Liberty Lecture approaches

Conrad Black, Joe Martin to speak in praise of Sir John A. Macdonald on Monday

Journal file photo

Next Monday, Queen’s Faculty of Law will host National Post columnist Conrad Black and Professor of Business History Joe Martin for a lecture in praise of Canada’s founding father.

The lecture—set to take place amid tensions surrounding the removal of references to Sir John A. Macdonald—has faced criticism from within the faculty.

The lecture, officially titled “In Praise of Sir John A Macdonald: Historical icon meets the PC brigade,” will be held in Macdonald Hall at 5:30 p.m. on Monday.

In an email to all Law students, Professor Bruce Pardy explained his reasoning for the next talk in the controversial Liberty Lecture series, which was sponsored by Queen’s Law alum Greg Piasetzki.

Pardy referenced a motion brought forwardto the Faculty Board that would remove Sir John A. Macdonald’s name from the Law building, if passed this fall.   

He also referenced a bench located near the front doors of the building, which had “Macdonald Hall” carved in stone, but was removed in July. In September, Macdonald’s portrait, which hung on the fifth floor of the building, was also taken down. 

In response to the announcement, Pardy faced criticism from his colleagues. Law Professor Kathleen Lahey responded to Pardy’s email with the subject line, “In praise of the Human Rights brigade.”

In her response, Lahey said she’s “deeply saddened” by the direction of the lecture series.

Lahey argued the event is “organized around delivering the message that unbranding Queen’s Law as Sir John A. Macdonald’s legacy school is somehow a violation of a historical icon for merely ‘politically correct’ reasons. It is not.”

“The unbranding is a small act in making real recognized human rights now protected to an improved degree in Canada’s progressive constitution,” she continued. 

Lahey indicated the lecture comes on the heels of the formal unveiling of words that are lasting, an Indigenous art installation from Montreal visual artist, Hannah Clause.

After Lahey’s email, other faculty members defended her position and expressed opposition to Monday’s lecture.

In an email, Law Professor Nicholas Bala wrote he’s “deeply troubled” by the event, calling Black’s invitation an “especially provocative act.”

“[Black’s] recent book on Canadian history has been widely condemned for its dismissive, and some have said “disgraceful” treatment of the contributions of [I]ndigenous peoples to Canada,” Bala wrote.

Bala also indicated his offer to debate Black and Martin at the event was refused. 

“ … [T]his event, which is supposed to promote liberty and free academic discourse, has refused my request … to allow for a proper debate with Black and his colleague at the event.”

In response to Bala and Lahey, Law Professor Mary-Jo Maur also voiced her dissatisfaction with the event.

“I asked Prof Pardy under separate cover if any other points of view would be represented, and he indicated that no, while the speakers might disagree with one another, they were generally going to be speaking in praise of [Macdonald],” Maur wrote.

“This is not something our faculty needs, particularly in light of the beautiful artwork we now have installed in the building,” she added.

Another faculty member, Law Professor Sharry Aiken, added to the push-back, suggesting opposing faculty members organize a “counter-event” simultaneously.

In an email to all law students the following day, Dean of Law Bill Flanagan cautioned faculty members from using the mass email for “discussion and debate.”

Flanagan indicated he would set up an “online discussion forum” for members of the Queen’s Law community to voice their opinions about the issue, instead over email. 

“I recognize that there will be a wide diversity of views on this question, many passionately held,” Flanagan said. 

“I look forward to an engaged and respectful debate on this important question.”

Monday’s lecture will be held in Room 202 of Macdonald Hall.

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