Indigenous groups, dean of law faculty express concern over upcoming Liberty Lecture

Peter Best, critic of Aboriginal law and policy, will speak at Queen’s this month

Four Directions increasing student support ahead of Liberty Lecture.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

This year’s Liberty Lecture will feature Peter Best, author of There is No Difference, on March 23. In the weeks leading up to the event, Four Directions says it will increase its support for Indigenous students who have concerns about the event.

Organized by Law Professor Bruce Pardy and in collaboration with the Faculty of Law, Best will speak about his book, a critique of Aboriginal law and policy. In his work, he argues for the abolition of the Indian Reserve system and of special race-based laws and entitlements for Canada’s Indigenous peoples.

Indigenous student groups have raised concerns about the choice of speaker for the upcoming lecture.

In a statement to The Journal, Kandice Baptiste, director of Four Directions, said to support Indigenous students the organization will focus on providing counseling support, food, sacred fires, and hosting regular programming, as well as sharing circles.

“Lately, Indigenous students have begun to lead some peer support for each other, as well. Throughout these ongoing challenges, Indigenous students have come together to support one another and take action,” she wrote. “It is their lead that we are following.”

Baptiste said Four Directions is planning a day of support and celebrations for Indigenous students at Four Directions and Grant Hall on March 23. They’re currently working with the Office of the Principal, Office of the Provost, the Division of Student Affairs, the Human Rights and Equity Office, the Office of Indigenous Initiatives, and the Faculty of Law to provide support and plan events for the day of the lecture.

“I think that anger is an absolutely normal and healthy reaction to the topic of the Liberty Lecture,” Baptiste wrote.

Mark Walters, dean of the Faculty of Law, expressed similar concerns.

“The lecturer, lawyer Peter Best, has expressed controversial and troubling opinions about Indigenous peoples,” he wrote in a statement to The Journal. “It is important to note that the Liberty Lecture series is organized by Professor Bruce Pardy.”

Walters also stated the Faculty of Law is committed to the value of free academic expression. “It is important for the law school to remain a place where people can express views in a respectful manner that challenge received assumptions and existing legal arrangements,” he wrote.

He added that while Queen’s celebrates diversity and inclusivity, this also includes diversity of thought and opinions. Walters also said the Faculty of Law is committed to the aspiration of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

“It is important to remember that the views expressed by visitors to a faculty in the University do not necessarily represent the policies and commitments of the faculty or the University,” he wrote.

According to Walters, the Faculty of Law is committed to honouring the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, and is dedicated to ensuring that the Indigenous legal perspectives form an integral part of teaching, learning, and research in the law school.

“Our speaker will explore the idea that everyone should have the same legal rights. That is hardly a controversial notion but even if it was, the purpose of a university is to debate challenging theories, not to protect people from hearing things that they do not like,” Pardy wrote in an email to The Journal. “Every day I hear ideas that I disagree with, which makes me a better scholar because I have to figure out why they are wrong,” he added.

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