Co-ordinator Quits Over Vic Park Lecture Censorship

The Regina Downtown Business Improvement District’s community recreation programmer has resigned after a public lecture he organized was censored by Regina Downtown. Neil McDonald provided a statement to prairie dog explaining why he decided to leave his job. Excerpt:

The decision to censor Dr. Emily Eaton’s discussion about Palestine and global economic sanctions is truly disappointing and one that I was not able to reconcile my personal beliefs with. We live in what is supposed to be a Democratic society and the fact that we are unable and unwilling to allow a University Professor to discuss course content about a serious global issue is in direct conflict with our basic rights. When a free society half way around the world can not support a half an hour discussion, it is not surprising that tragic situations like what is occurring in Palestine exist.

Ouch. More after the jump.

I don’t know what happened here. It’s troubling that a business organization would presume to tell a university professor what she can and cannot talk about. It’s also bad, bad PR. When an organization censors a prof, the academic community will punch it in the brain. Tenured academics tend to take their freedom of speech very, very seriously.

I guarantee there are people saying, ‘where does Regina Downtown they think we’re living? Soviet Russia? We don’t censor university professors in Canada. What idiots!’ I don’t think this is what Regina’s business community wants.

Someone made a bad call. This decision needs to be reversed and apologized for.

Here’s McDonald’s statement, unedited.

I was hired to activate the Downtown area, to help build community and to plan a series of exciting events that would bring people downtown. Over the past ten years I have lived, worked and played downtown and was very eager to help plan the types of events that would engage my fellow citizens and better the downtown area. The Profs in the Park series was a wonderful initiative that would have added a much desired educational component to the Victoria Park Program. Topics ranged from Native Plant Gardening to Homelessness and offered us all an excellent opportunity to learn something in a beautiful public space. The decision to censor Dr. Emily Eaton’s discussion about Palestine and global economic sanctions is truly disappointing and one that I was not able to reconcile my personal beliefs with. We live in what is supposed to be a Democratic society and the fact that we are unable and unwilling to allow a University Professor to discuss course content about a serious global issue is in direct conflict with our basic rights. When a free society half way around the world can not support a half an hour discussion, it is not surprising that tragic situations like what is occurring in Palestine exist.
My decision to leave the Regina Downtown BID was admittedly not easy to do because of the fact that I passionately agree with the original intent behind the Victoria Park Program and the efforts to make it an active public space, however I can not condone the decisions made to censor a topic that I believe has every right to be discussed. The idea that community can be created by a Business Improvement District is a fallacy. As much as the public perception of downtown would have been improved by the programming that was arranged for this summer, the RDBID did little, outside of hiring me, to facilitate and support these events. The true credit belongs to all of those who offered to volunteer their time and services in support of the community. I truly appreciate the willingness of all those involved, the Yogis, Professors, artists, musicians and community members that stepped forward to support this program and I hope that this unfortunate decision regarding Dr. Emily Eaton hasn’t deterred anyone from wanting to help make our community stronger. I still urge everyone, as active, engaged citizens to head out, make use of the park, make art, music, dance and have a great time in every public space because that is why they exist. They belong to us and, as such, it is up to us to start building our own community with or without civic support.

Neil McDonald

Author: Stephen Whitworth

Prairie Dog editor Stephen Whitworth will never, ever pass up a chance to make a Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo pun.

10 thoughts on “Co-ordinator Quits Over Vic Park Lecture Censorship”

  1. Maybe we could invoke the historical Speaker’s Corner in Wascana Park. I am willing to bring a soapbox and a microphone. Maybe we can still have democracy and free speech in this city.

  2. Maybe now he can go bring peace to Palestine, if he thinks he knows more about the Israeli-Palestinian situation than a university professor whose job is to study the situation.

  3. The talks should go on, in public spaces (e.g. Victoria Park), whether or not the DBID approves of it. The DBID do not own Victoria Park, we do.

    Moving the talks to the College Avenue campus or any other indoor location (other than perhaps the Cornwall Centre) is pointless.

    And Michael Fougere needs to explain how the concerns of one of his constituents trumps free speech.

  4. As neither Councillor Fougere’s friend nor constituent, I doubt that he said “Shut it down”. Elected officials are obliged to listen to citizen concerns and to pass them on to the appropriate administrators for resolution. The councillor’s power is in Council/Committee vote, along with his/her colleagues; (s)he is not an administrator, and if (s)he tried to act like one, that would be overstepping and the Councillor should be called on it. If the L-P story is to be believed, the decision was made by a few city administrators, and they are the ones who should be called on the carpet. Mr. McDonald did the right and courageous thing; here’s hoping the city administration also does the right and courageous thing.

  5. Thanks Councillor Michael Fougere (Vice Chair), Regina Downtown Business Improvement District, I get what you’re censoring!!! if only we would choose to speak of nice happy things we’d all get along and be happy…the world would be free of racism, poverty, oppression, and all that other unpleasant stuff…got to go find my rose coloured glasses and my kool-aid now, thank you Michael for saving me!!!

  6. There appears to be a lot of knee jerking going on around here! Lets get some facts & history folks before everybody quits, is fired, tarred & feathered, run outta town on a rail, etc.

    Lets start with this event – it was advertised as a “fun and entertaining” series. Dr. Eaton’s chosen topic is neither fun nor entertaining. There should & I suspect would be no problem discussing this topic in a public space at an event that was for that purpose; as advertised, this series isn’t it.

    Then there’s the big word being thrown around – “Censorship”. My understanding is that this was a partnership between the RDBID and the Faculty of the Arts. A partnership is something where there should be give and take, compromise and discussion. The RDBID has a right to bring forward concerns that citizens have raised and try to come to a compromise, which is what they did. They asked that 1 out of 20 topics be changed to fit the spirit of the series – remember, “FUN and entertaining”? Instead of any discussion the Faculty hollered Censorship and pulled out all together. To me, this is very disappointing and immature – akin to “I’m taking my toys from the sandbox and going home”. There was no intent to censor, there was an attempt to keep the event in line with what it was advertised as.

    This topic is worth discussing, but it is very political, sensitive and complicated. For a number of people its also very offensive. Does no one acknowledge that Palestine’s mandate is still to push the whole country and the people of Israel into the sea? They very specifically say that Israel does not have a right to exist, and continue to lob rockets into Israel’s back yards to make the point. I’m certainly not saying that Palestinians have a good life. I don’t agree with a lot of the current Israeli government’s actions or tone – much too right wing, iron fisted. I’m pretty much a peace, love and understanding kind of person. What I do believe is that the Palestinians are winning the PR war and not always telling the truth to do it. Pretty heavy stuff for an afternoon in the park.

    With respect, Dr. Elliott’s area of expertise, while she has a B.A. in International Studies and a M.A. in Social Justice and Equity Studies, I can’t find anywhere that her studies focused on the Middle East. In fact, she teaches in the Department of Geography, which is her Phd. Granted, its obviously an area of interest to her, but it doesn’t seem to fit what her mandate is at the U of R. Does she teach a course on Palestinian studies? I’m asking because that is what one comment seems to imply and I don’t know the answer to this. All this to say that I don’t believe it is her job to study this subject, but I may be corrected on this… and by the way, as quoted in the LP, Dr. Eaton says that she shouldn’t have to defend her topic of discussion. I would really like to know why she shouldn’t have to defend her topic of discussion. Isn’t that part of free speech? Always dig deeper folks!

    I’m saddened that Neil McDonald resigned over this bru haha. If the articles I’ve read are to be believed, he wasn’t given much of an explanation of the the concerns either. Neil was doing great things for our downtown and this will be missed.

    It sounds like all around the biggest thing missing in the debacle was communication between all parties involved. Ironic isn’t it, when that’s really what Professors in the Park was all about.

    And for the record, I’m not wearing rose coloured glasses, I’m not really Councillor Fougere in disguise – I’m just a concerned citizen who likes to nit pick when facts are missing, not that I have all of them… also I tend to go on…and on… sigh

  7. Hi P. Ward,
    I want to clarify that I was invited to talk about any topic and no where did the RDBID ask me to make it fun and entertaining. Otherwise, I would not have chosen homelessness; a topic that cannot and should not be fun and entertaining.

    Asking someone not to speak on a topic IS censorship. Why be afraid of calling it what it is? As for “give and take”, the profs were volunteering their time and sharing their expertise on a variety of topics because they value community, learning and openness. Why be so quick to judge a group that has just offered to give of their time and profession? It’s the RDBID that took their ball and said only certain approved kids could play. I would argue that the more complex or difficult a topic is the more dialogue it requires; academics make a point of not burying our heads in the sand or shying away from topics because they might be perceived as unpleasant.

    Another point I would like to clarify, academics grow and their interests and areas of expertise change as well. My Ph.D. was on creativity, but I research homelessness. Chomsky was a linguist… Go figure…

    Last, anyone could have attended Dr. Eaton’s talk and asked questions or presented their perspective/s that’s how dialogue works and that’s where understanding hides.

    NOTE:
    On my own, on Tuesday June 28, 12:15 pm – 12:45 pm I’ll be in the park talking to myself about some “Thoughts on Homelessness, Permanent Temporary Shelters, the Charity Model, and What Needs to be Done…” Come join me! It won’t be fun, but it might be interesting and important.

    Respectfully,
    Marc

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