Third Open Letter to President Mahon
Dear Dr. Mahon,
In your interview with the Lethbridge Herald, published on January 3, 2018, you say
“As our 50th closes out, and as we look forward, one of the things we are committed to as a university is to continue to build an academic community that feels the protection of academic freedom. Our university is committed to academic freedom. But academic freedom is also not just an uninterpretable concept. It has to be supported within the concept of the broader parameters of society.” [my underlining]
I think we can all agree that academic freedom needs to be interpreted. We need to spell out its practical implications in various situations.
But your claim that academic freedom has to be “supported within the concept of the broader parameters of society” raises an alarm. What sort of parameters are you talking about? A possible interpretation is that you regard something as unacceptable which is within the bounds of what should be acceptable if the University of Lethbridge is to adhere to its proclaimed philosophy as a place of liberal education. Expressions of this philosophy can be found in numerous university documents, everywhere from the Faculty Handbook, to course outlines. Here’s one from the outline to the spring 2018 course Identity and Liberal Education:
We embody the freedom to think and speak independently so as not to follow blindly whatever is said by authority, ideology, fashion or political correctness.
So the question arises: How do you reconcile this statement about liberal education with your claim about the parameters of society? When you speak of “parameters” are you referring to something different from authority, ideology, fashion or political correctness? Or are you, perhaps, personally at odds with the foundational philosophy of the university?
A related question is the one I raised at your Fiat Lux address of January 18, 2018: How is the university going to assure the faculty that their academic freedom is protected given that you have suspended one of their members without going through the procedures laid out in the collective agreement? You reaffirmed the university’s commitment to academic freedom, but left many of us wondering if what you said was mere lip service. Perhaps there was a hidden caveat, as if “Fiat Lux” means “Let there be light, but only if it doesn’t jeopardize our funding.” Is funding one of the parameters? Can you assure us that your suspension of Professor Hall was not related in some way to funding? What sort of arrangements need to be in place so that the need for funding does not jeopardize academic freedom?
For the sake of brevity this letter has been abridged at this point. To read the part cut out, go to Unabridged Letter to President Mahon: Academic Responsibility to Resist Encroachments of the Deep State.
If academic freedom should be limited by certain “parameters” then how can we be sure that the university is fulfilling its role as vital component of a democratic community – that it is not merely acting as a servant of the deep state, willing to pull the wool over the eyes of citizens when some rich or powerful special interest wants it to do so? How can we tell when the appeal to “parameters” is legitimate and not a sham?
Assuming that there are some legitimate parameters, they need to be spelled out and reasons given. It is unjust to invoke unspecified parameters, even if those parameters are legitimate. How can the university build a community that “feels the protection of academic freedom” if such parameters are not discussed?
I would welcome your own well-considered answers to these questions. However, I know that your job as president of the university is a time-consuming one, and that to do justice to them would take you away from other important things that need to be done. I know also that it is not your role to pronounce on such questions. It is the university community itself that should be developing answers. So I would like to repeat to you the recommendation I made to Premier Notley: to have the University of Lethbridge put on a conference about the limits to academic freedom. Perhaps some time in 2019 would be a good target date for such a conference.
I would like to suggest a title for such a conference which hints at some new approaches: Academic Responsibility and Resistance to the Deep State.
Academic freedom is a perennial topic of discussion at universities, and it might be thought that there is nothing new to be said. I do not agree, but, even if there were nothing new to be said, preserving academic freedom requires perpetual attention and vigilance. Aside from the need for perpetual vigilance, I would like to offer a few additional reasons for holding such a conference.
First, how universities are to resist being captured by deep state interests is a pressing, universal problem. Here in Alberta one of the primary concerns is the role that the fossil fuel industry plays in our economy. If we are to be responsible to future generations in the face of the possibility of anthropogenic global warming it is essential that our universities be independent of oil’s deep state.
Second, a conference could help to restore a sense of collegiality amongst faculty members. This appears to have dissipated over the years. Antagonisms that have arisen surrounding the case of Professor Hall is one important factor, but there are many more. Remember Professor Robinson’s story found at One Banana Short of a Republic?
Third, it would be an opportunity for faculty members to develop some papers for publication. No area of research is immune to suppression of “dangerous” ideas. Even Mathematics, which might seem to be the most removed from heated controversy, has had episodes of idea suppression. Gauss, for example, fearing that he would damage his credibility if he made his ideas on non-Euclidean geometry public, never published them. Given any area of research, what are the areas at risk of idea suppression? Are there criteria that can differentiate between the competent development of apparently outrageous but valid ideas from genuinely crazy or evil ones?
Fourth, it would give Professor Hall an opportunity to explain his ideas. I believe that he has been unjustly treated, not just in the way he was suspended, but also in the court of public opinion. He has been defamed and deprived in multiple ways and on many occasions from access to fora in which he can receive a fair public hearing. A conference would give Professor Hall the opportunity to speak for himself, and perhaps partially redress the injustice.
Fifth, it would give the B’nai Brith, or other organizations, like the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the opportunity to make their own presentation. These organizations are not academic institutions. They are advocacy groups who have defamed Professor Hall in their campaign against him. (See my open letter to the U. of L. Community.) The letters they have composed (e.g., Hohmann’s letter) and sent to the premier, the U. of L. president, and others, or in comments like that of Gabrielle Brenner’s screed on Daniel O’Donnell’s incisive blog post, The Real Crisis and the U of L… and why the Board must act, have not been careful position papers laying out well-reasoned judgements for why Hall should be dismissed. Nevertheless, history has shown that there are very good reasons to guard against anti-Semitism, and, if given the opportunity, these organizations might welcome the chance to lay out their reasons in a more academically respectable way.
Sixth, the university could emerge from its crisis over the Hall case looking good. A conference could help the university put behind it the negativity surrounding the whole affair. It would enable it to advertise the role it really seems to want to play: to be a beacon of light and liberal education.
To comment on this letter, go to the end of the unabridged version.
Since the update of December 2, 2017, a few new pages have been added to this site:
Two pieces by Professor Emeritus Dr. Owen Holmes, who was one of the founding members of the University of Lethbridge:
Professor Hall’s most recent letter to Premier Notley:
Chuck Millar’s letter to the Premier:
My most recent letter to the Lethbridge Herald:
Update December 2, 2017
The news is mixed.
The good news is that as of November 23, 2017 Professor Anthony Hall has been reinstated to his position on the faculty of the University of Lethbridge after having been suspended for over a year. This accords with an agreement made between the Board of Governors, the Faculty Association, and Dr. Hall himself. The agreement was reached in the aftermath of a judicial decision handed down on September 15, 2017 that went against an attempt on the part of the Board to oust Professor Hall without going through the agreed upon procedures laid out in the Faculty Handbook.
The university has already set the course schedules for the spring term in 2018, so Professor Hall will not be back in the classroom at least until September 2018. In the meantime there are plans to set up a committee of investigation composed of members agreeable to both the Board of Governors and the Faculty Association to assess the validity of charges against Hall. Exactly what the charges are have been left unspecified.
There are no plans to set up a committee to investigate the failure of the Board of Governors to fulfill its obligation to protect academic freedom as set out in Article 11 of the Faculty Handbook:
“The Board and Association recognize the need to protect academic freedom. Academic freedom is generally understood as the right to teach, engage in scholarly activity, and perform service without interference and without jeopardizing employment. This freedom is central to the University’s mission and purpose and entails the right to participate in public life, to criticize University or other administrations, to champion unpopular positions, to engage in frank discussion of controversial matters, and to raise questions and challenges which may be viewed as counter to the beliefs of society.”
The wider context for this is that a series of wars have been prosecuted in the Middle East in large part because of the impetus given to a belligerent attitude adopted in Western states (U.S., Canada, U.K., etc.) in the aftermath of the atrocity called “9/11”. Canada has participated in some of these wars, though not all.
Many have wondered whether the finger of blame has been deliberately pointed at the wrong culprit in order to generate this belligerent attitude. But, as President George Bush said on November 10, 2001, soon after 9/11,
“Let us never tolerate outrageous conspiracy theories concerning the attacks of September the 11th …”
Ever since, those who doubt the official story have been relegated to the lunatic fringe. Amongst these are Professor Hall and his partner on the False Flag Weekly News Youtube show, Dr. Kevin Barrett. As with the abridgment of Dr. Hall’s academic freedom, Dr. Barrett’s academic freedom was breached at the University of Wisconsin.
Is there not a conflict between the Bush directive and Article 11 of the Handbook?
Those of us who have studied war propaganda know that the theory that 9/11 was a false flag fits with the usual patterns of deception that take place prior to going to war. It may at first seem counter-intuitive that democracies would be particularly vulnerable to deceptive practices, but in fact they are. Under dictatorship, citizens are forced to do as they are told, but in a democracy a greater degree of consent is required – and so the wealthy and powerful often deceive the citizenry into doing what they want them to do. The existence of such patterns does not, of course, prove anything about 9/11, but it makes the unofficial conspiracy theories about 9/11 seem less preposterous to those who are aware of them.
Universities have a responsibility to resist deceptive practices, and to pursue the truth on the basis of evidence and good reasoning. They cannot fulfil this responsibility if they do not have freedom from political interference. This is one of the central components of academic freedom. Not all professors need take on the issue of 9/11 of course. But those who do should have protection against the likes of the directive from George W. Bush. Without such protection, universities cease to be pillars of democracy.
This brings me to the bad news. The campaign to keep Professor Hall out of the classroom continues. As explained in the letter below this campaign has reached into the office of the Premier of Alberta. Now I actually am a fan of Premier Rachel Notley. She appears to me to be a good person, and not at all an enemy of democracy. But I believe she has been deceived and unduly influenced by the B’nai Brith.
The B’nai Brith has been sapping the life-blood of democracy by interfering with freedom of expression. Their allies collect information on individuals, professors and organizations, which they then target in order to silence them. Their information on Professor Hall may be found here. They have every right to collect this information, and to their opinion of the people and organizations they target. They also have the legal right to call for the dismissal of people they disagree with, but they do not have the legal right to defame them, as they have done in the case of Professor Hall.
However, even if the B’nai Brith has the legal right to call for someone’s dismissal (without defamation) it does not follow that they are morally right to do so. Given their opinions of Hall and Barrett what the B’nai Brith should do is dispute whatever of their assertions they wish and engage them in an exchange of reasons why they believe that their own views are correct and those of Hall and Barrett are not. That is the democratic way. Should the B’nai Brith choose to take this approach, I will facilitate in whatever way I can – for example, by making pages on this website available for such an exchange. I doubt that the B’nai Brith will take me up on this offer, as they have not replied to my own comments on their website, as recorded here, but deleted them instead. However, my offer stands.
Better still, why doesn’t the B’nai Brith contact Hall or Barrett to ask for airtime on False Flag Weekly News? If they refuse it will tend to discredit them. If they accept maybe both sides can come to a better understanding.
Unfortunately, the Premier of Alberta appears to have gotten taken in by the B’nai Brith. So, on November 29, 2017, I emailed her an open letter, which appears below. I urge you to read it, and, if you agree with it, then I urge you to send her a letter in support at email@example.com. You do not, of course, have to agree with anything at all that Professor Hall or his colleague Kevin Barrett say in order to defend their right to express their views. And if you do not agree with my letter you are of course welcome to tell Premier Notley that too.
An excellent letter, sent on January 11, 2018, in support of Professor Hall may be found here.
Other email addresses you might wish to use:
Alberta Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt: firstname.lastname@example.org
University of Lethbridge President Mike Mahon: email@example.com
President of the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association Andrea Amelinckx: firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof. Anthony Hall: email@example.com
Dr. Kevin Barrett: firstname.lastname@example.org
Me, Andrew Blair: email@example.com
Comments on anything on this site are welcome, but especially if there is something you disagree with. Just scroll to the bottom of this page and enter them.
Here’s the letter:
I must write to you, for, if I do not, the blood of many may be upon my hands. This perhaps sounds melodramatic, but I beg you to hear me out, and I shall explain.
In a press release on November 24, 2017 the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs expressed its disappointment with an agreement made between Professor Anthony Hall, the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association, and the Board of Governors of the university. The agreement spells out the details of the reinstatement of Professor Hall after he was abruptly suspended over a year ago without due process. At the end of this press release there is a quote which is attributed to you:
“There is no question that the views of this individual are repulsive, offensive and not reflective of Alberta. Our classrooms are a place for freedom of speech and expression but that does not mean individuals get to stand at the head of the class and spread lies and conspiracy theories. I am terribly disappointed to learn that this individual has been reinstated, but let me be clear that legislation that our government introduced did not give him his job back. I can confirm that this individual is now under investigation by a committee at the University.”
In addition to this you write in an email to allies of the B’nai Brith:
“We absolutely do not believe he [Hall] should be teaching students.”
The primary question I have about this is how you have derived your impressions of Professor Hall. Who has been feeding you information? As one who has been studying his views for over a year now I believe you have been misled as to his real character. The B’nai Brith has a proven history of tendentiously selecting evidence, taking quotes out of context, using semantic sleight of hand, galvanizing over-simplified public opinion, and generally being careless about whether they give accurate portrayals of those they wish to destroy. For example, in my Open Letter to the U. of L. community of September 14, 2017, I refer to letters sent to your office in the late summer of 2016 in which Professor Hall was defamed in a very extreme manner by misattributing to him a viciously anti-Semitic post put up without his knowledge on his Facebook wall.
I voted for the NDP in the last election, and still support many planks in its platform. However, the principles of freedom of expression, and of academic freedom, are more important than all other plans of action. Without these principles our plans, no matter how well-intended, will be undertaken in darkness. While this letter focuses on the case of Professor Hall, the principle at stake is much broader. If a lobby external to a university can orchestrate a campaign of defamation against one of its professors, and thereby have him fired, it creates an immense chilling effect on all academics.
On my website, Academic Freedom and Responsibility, I recently posted an open letter to Amanda Hohmann of the B’nai Brith requesting that she apologize for the role that the B’nai Brith has played in the Hall case. (There has been no reply.) The post of the letter to Amanda Hohmann alone has received hundreds of views despite the fact that I have been severely hampered in getting the message out by Gmail’s anti-spam policies. I believe that I can find a way to overcome the anti-spam problem, and expect that this letter I am now writing to you will receive thousands of views after I post it. I am hopeful that my alarm at your statements about the Hall case can be assuaged, and that I can return to my support for the NDP. But if not I will be campaigning hard in the next election for whatever party will stand most strongly for freedom of expression and academic freedom.
I would like to offer four objections to the quotes from you. Following the four objections I will make five recommendations for your consideration.
My first objection is that there is no specification of what the views are that are supposed to be “repulsive, offensive and not reflective of Alberta”. There is just this blanket impression that Hall holds some terribly odious views. You have no business making such a pronouncement at all, and even if you did you should explain which views you are talking about, and why you regard them as repulsive and offensive. As you know, the university is planning to appoint an investigation committee to evaluate his views. By issuing a condemnation from the highest political office in the province, how can we expect such an evaluation to be untainted by prejudice against him? By stating that he should not be teaching students you are making a judgement before an investigation has even begun.
I shall be writing a letter to the Lethbridge Herald to protest the egregious unfairness of your statements. Not only does Professor Hall have to contend with vicious smears in the media, which have created popular prejudice against him, especially here in his hometown, but now also with the ill-considered judgement which has come from you. Before writing my letter to the Herald, however, I would like to give you the opportunity to consider my first recommendation below, and I will give you some time before I write it.
Second, I would like to offer an opinion contrary to yours. One of the primary views for which Hall is being reviled is his claim that the 9/11 attack was a false flag attack in which Israel First partisans are implicated. This differs from the official story put forward by the 9/11 Commission, namely that al-Qaeda and bin Laden were responsible. The latter story has been ensconced as the truth in the minds of many Canadians, but this acceptance of the official story is not founded on the results of scholarly expertise. Though I have barely scratched the surface of the evidence surrounding 9/11 my own investigations have been much more extensive than those of the average person. In addition to looking at arguments against the official story I have been looking for peer-reviewed studies that attempt to show that the preponderance of evidence favours it. Perhaps they exist, but I have not been able to find a single one. There are indeed academic studies that assume the official story is true, and go on from there, and there are studies that argue against some of the pieces of some of the alternative stories, but I have been unable to find what I am looking for: academic substantiation of the official story. If anyone reading this knows of such a study, please let me know. I am still looking.
As a result of accepting the narrative put out by the Bush administration we Canadians participated in the “War on Terror” and fought in Afghanistan. The B’nai Brith accepts this narrative, and says, for example, that Hall “has promoted the canard that Israel, rather than al-Qaeda, was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.” (The quote may be found on their post of September 28, 2016, titled Website says Holocaust-denying Professor Has Been ‘Asked to Step Down’.) If it is an indication of anti-Semitism for Hall to say that Israel was involved in 9/11, why is it not an indication of hatred of Muslims for the B’nai Brith to say that al-Qaeda did it? The B’nai Brith is being an inconsistent advocate for human rights, and this inconsistency has had, and is having, murderous consequences for the peoples of the Middle East. Surely the proper academic approach is to freely examine whatever evidence may be found for all views regarding who conspired to commit 9/11. How can such an examination be free if academics have to fear being silenced as hate-mongers? Hall’s views on 9/11 may cause cognitive dissonance, but, whether they are right or wrong, they are a courageous and honest attempt to defend the weak against the strong. This is not repulsive or offensive, and I think that this is reflective of Alberta. (For more on 9/11 and the “War on Terror” see Peace, Democracy and Academic Freedom – Aug. 2, 2017.)
Another view for which Hall is being vilified is his appeal for open debate on the Holocaust. He says in the 2 minute video found on their post of November 23, 2017, titled Holocaust-denying Professor Back in Classroom Thanks to Government of Alberta, that there should be authentic, honest discussion, based on evidence rather than propaganda. This appeal is what the B’nai Brith calls “Holocaust Denial”. Despite the fact that Professor Hall has never made the Shoah (Jewish Holocaust) a topic of discussion in his courses, the B’nai Brith has highlighted this as one of the indicators of his unfitness for teaching. They close the video with the rhetorical question: “Are these views acceptable for an educator?” Given that historians tell a variety of conflicting stories about the Shoah I must ask “Why not?” How else are historians going to come to rationally established conclusions about what happened in the past other than by open debate? How else are they going to draw lessons about how to avert such dreadful events from recurring? But the B’nai Brith seems to have come to a foregone conclusion that Hall is a Holocaust denier. When he calls for open debate they assume that he is doing so because he wants hatefully to deny it. For more on this see my Open Letter to Amanda Hohmann – October 27, 2017.
My third objection is that freedom of expression within the classroom, especially the university classroom, means that there is room for expressing false views. In the quest for truth various claims should be considered in all seriousness and inevitably some of these will be proven false. If students are to be educated, and not indoctrinated, the truth cannot be definitively declared before a sifting of the evidence. Of course no professor should deliberately lie (and Hall does not) but one of the purposes of a liberal education is to give students an opportunity to wrestle with competing ideas, not because they are all equally true, but because only in the contest of ideas in fair and civil discussion, in weighing evidence for and against, can students come to understand what is likely to be true and why. To give an organization like the B’nai Brith a veto power over what is going to be said in the classroom will inevitably lead to a distortion of the process of genuine education. If professors can be ripped from the classroom and denied their salary out of fear of being labelled bigots for going against the currents of popular opinion, or of offending some external lobby, or the university administration, or the government, then they will censor themselves massively – which, to some extent, they already do, but let’s not make it worse. I have expanded at length on this in my open letter to Amanda Hohmann, and will not comment further here.
Fourth, you say “that legislation that our government introduced did not give him [Hall] his job back”. I have been following all this, and I know that what you say here is correct. Not only is it correct, but from a procedural point of view this is the right thing to do in order to protect academic freedom. Hall has always worked in discomfiting areas, such as native studies, where some find the truth shameful. There will always be those who attempt to ward off recognition of the truth by attributing hateful motivation to those who try to tell it. If there is a need to separate honest truth-tellers from hateful story-tellers the task is best given over to those who have been professionally educated in the relevant areas of study. In this instance the university administration bowed to external pressure and tried to do an end run around the appropriate procedures laid out in the Faculty Handbook, which are part of the collective agreement. The ruling of Judge G.H. Poelman on September 15, 2017 tripped up this end run, and drove the faculty association, the university administration, and Professor Hall into a compromise agreement. The agreement does not address the failure of the administration to do its duty to protect academic freedom, but at least it brings all the legal wrangling closer to a resolution. This wrangling has been very costly in terms of time, money, and collegial relations in the university community. The upshot has been the decision to appoint a committee of scholars to do an investigation. Whether there should be an investigation at all is questionable, but if there must be an investigation this is the way it should be done. The B’nai Brith, however, does not like this way of proceeding.
Notice the title of this post of the B’nai Brith: Holocaust-denying Professor Back in Classroom Thanks to Government of Alberta. It twists the truth about what the Alberta government has been doing, making it look as if the Government of Alberta does not care about the propagation of anti-Semitic Holocaust denial. This is typical bullying propaganda from the B’nai Brith. You know, and I know, that this is not a fair representation of your views or of the views of other members of the Alberta government. I can understand your desire to distance yourself from this misrepresentation. However, you have allowed yourself to be rushed to judgement by the B’nai Brith in the way you are distancing yourself. The government, including your office, should have no say in whether Hall should be allowed back in the classroom. This is a matter for the professionally educated investigative committee to decide.
I turn now to my recommendations.
First, retract your statements that the views of Hall are “repulsive, offensive and not reflective of Alberta” and that he should not be teaching students. In doing so you will of course lose the support of followers of the B’nai Brith, but do not underestimate the fury of the electorate if they realize that a special lobby group has been undermining one of the foundational pillars of democracy: academic freedom. It is better to admit that you made a mistake.
Both you and I do regard anti-Semitism as “repulsive, offensive and not reflective of Alberta.” In this we are in solidarity with the B’nai Brith, but you will be joining the B’nai Brith in defaming Professor Hall if you do not retract your statements.
Second, issue a warning to the B’nai Brith that they must not use tactics of deceit and intimidation in their stand against anti-Semitism. Use of such tactics tends to be counter-productive, fuelling hatred against Jewish people, instead of reducing it. Moreover, use of such tactics for any cause, no matter how good, tends to lead to tyranny.
Third, I see on its post of November 24, 2017 that the B’nai Brith plans to make submissions as part of the investigation of Hall’s views. I cannot speak for the University of Lethbridge Faculty Association or the university administration, but I would be very surprised if they would accept such a submission. To accept a B’nai Brith submission would be unfair to all the individuals and groups who might also like to make a submission: for example, me, Owen Holmes, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, various Muslim associations, Peace organizations, Boycott Divestment and Sanctions organizations, and so on. To open up the investigation process in this way appears to me to be an administrative nightmare. Nevertheless, whatever is the decision made by the faculty association and the university administration about this, both you and I should stand by it. If this means that any submission by the B’nai Brith is ignored, so be it.
That being said I think that it would be a valuable thing to give the B’nai Brith an opportunity to lay out what it thinks the limits of academic freedom should be, and why, which leads me to my fourth recommendation.
Fourth, encourage President Mahon, or members of the faculty, to have the University of Lethbridge put on a conference about the limits to academic freedom. Perhaps the government of Alberta could find some funds to support such a conference. I am sure that there are many academics who would welcome the opportunity to participate in one. There is never going to be a complete consensus on where the limits should be drawn, but it would be very helpful to consider a range of perspectives on this for a variety of issues. It would also be a help for academics and administrators to know where each other thinks the lines are – not knowing this is one of the reasons why the case of Professor Hall has been a debacle. Holding such a conference would be a way of turning a bad situation around, and making the University of Lethbridge a leading light of liberal education.
Fifth, encourage an Alberta university to institute a course for university administrators and faculty on the history and philosophy of academic freedom and responsibility. Such a course could be a valuable component in the development of greater competence among individuals who need to be able to deal with this highly explosive issue that often erupts unexpectedly within universities, causing enormous damage.
In closing I want to come back to my opening sentence about having blood on my hands if I do not write to you. In addition to giving my attention to the views of Professor Hall I have been studying what it is that makes us humans go to war. War propaganda is a major factor. I have come to see the preservation of academic freedom as one of the keys to overcoming our blindness when those who want to profit by war manipulate and deceive us. This is too large a topic to expand upon here. Many do not see as clearly as I do about this and I am sure I do not see with perfect clarity myself. But I have begun to see, and so I write to you.
Academic Freedom and Responsibility: Understanding the case of Professor Anthony Hall – Nov. 22, 2016
On October 21, 2016, I met Tony Hall for the first time.
We met because I believe that the right to freedom of expression is a precious principle, essential to the health of democracy, and that its close cousin, academic freedom for tenured professors, should be fiercely defended. It appears to me that both of these principles were violated when professor Anthony Hall was suspended. It also appears to me that in exercising his right to freedom of expression professor Hall has been engaging in unusual actions of responsibility which the university ought to recognize as included in its mission. As a responsible citizen I want to see the principles upheld, and the actions vindicated. So we met, for about an hour, just to get a better sense of who each other is.
To be clear, this website is not a defence of Tony. It is a defence of academic freedom, and a plea for academic responsibility. Defence though it is, academic freedom has limits. A reasonable defence will acknowledge these limits, and attempt to define where the boundary lies. On the one hand, if Tony has crossed the bounds then this site will support those who wish to see him removed from his tenured position. On the other, if he has not crossed the bounds, then this site will support his reinstatement. The primary purpose of this site, however, is not to influence the university in its decisions about the case, but to create a more widespread understanding of the value of academic freedom, the importance of protecting it, and the role it plays in enabling universities to be responsible to the communities they serve.
The analysis here will be done in a collaborative fashion. You, my reader, whether you support or oppose the actions of the university, whether you are an academic, a student, a university president, an average citizen, a Canadian, an Iranian, Tony Hall, or whoever you are, are invited to participate. My role will be to orchestrate the analysis as best I can, giving a fair hearing to all. You will see more detail about this at the bottom of this home page.
I hope to help you make up your own mind about the case as rationally as possible, and to deepen your understanding of academic freedom and responsibility. I hope I do so too. I have already said that my initial impression is that the administration of the University of Lethbridge has violated the principles of freedom of expression and of academic freedom, but I am willing to change my mind as new information comes to light and new arguments are offered.
Let us now turn to the essential facts of the case. Tony is both a peace activist and an academic. He taught for 26 years at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, and, before that, for 9 years at Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario. He spent 15 years of his life writing two majesterial books, The American Empire and the Fourth World and Earth Into Property, comprising a series titled The Bowl with One Spoon.
“The bowl with one spoon” is imagery found on wampum belts used to commemorate the peace agreement among native Americans of the Haudenosaunee confederacy (also known as the Iroquois confederacy). It is a metaphor for sharing the use of resources in a huge area of North America in the Great Lakes region. In The American Empire and the Fourth World Tony recounts how Europeans came to dominate the indigenous peoples of North America, dispossessing them of resources, and suppressing their ways of life. In Earth Into Property he resumes this account and extends his analysis to the spread of global capitalism. General patterns of domination and resource appropriation repeat themselves everywhere.
In light of this analysis Tony became first skeptical, then a complete disbeliever, in the official narrative of what happened on the infamous day of September 11, 2001, known as “9/11”. He worked with Splitting the Sky, in his attempt to arrest George Bush on his visit to Calgary in 2009. Such behaviour was bound to earn him enemies, and must have been very discomfiting to those who believe the official narrative. Just prior to this event Tony gave a presentation to the Sociology Department at the University of Winnipeg, titled Should George W. Bush Be Arrested in Calgary, Alberta, To Be Tried For International Crimes?in which he said
The most serious failures connected to the events of 9/11 are not those of US intelligence agencies, airport security services, NORAD and the like. Rather the deepest and darkest of the failures to protect us for those enemies that menace us most lie with journalists, mainstream media outlets, professors and the universities that employ us. It is we who have in the vast majority of cases chosen to abandon our skepticism and with it our professional ethics and responsibilities. By and large our professional class and caste continue to respond to the events of 9/11 in ways that are expedient rather than wise. As I see it, therefore, it is a mass treason of the intellectuals that constitutes the most significant underlying condition resulting in the continuing fraud known as the War on Terror. The War on Terror continues to be packaged, promoted and sold to the public in the most aggressive campaign of psychological warfare ever mounted. How many of us are complicit with our silence in this black psyop, the key enabling factor in the ongoing aggressive wars justified in the name of an unfounded and unproven official conspiracy theory of 9/11?
I stand with Tony Hall in this assessment. Surely all citizens of the world have a responsibility to develop as best they can an accurate understanding of any historical event as significant as 9/11. And is it not a special responsibility of those who belong to academe, who have been given the time and resources to explore such issues, to do so, and to help others see the truth as they see it? This is not to say that every university professor should drop whatever research program he or she is engaged in, and turn to 9/11, but surely those who do should be encouraged, and not suspended without pay.
Contrary to the view of Noam Chomsky (at minute 5:50), what happened on 9/11 is important in several respects, one of which is to uncover a coverup, if such occurred. The well-being of billions of human beings depend upon good policy decisions being made, especially in matters of war and peace, and good policy decisions depend upon honest sources of information.
But suppose professor Hall is wrong. Suppose that the official narrative is right. Would it not then be irresponsible to be calling into question that narrative, and causing embarrassment to the university and to Canadians by actions such as attempting to have George Bush arrested?
I say no. My own view is that, even if the probability were only one in a million that Hall is right, his academic freedom and responsibility to call into question the official narrative, to come to conclusions that differ from the official narrative, to offer his reasons for why he has come to the conclusions he has, and to act in accord with what those conclusions call for, is to be respected. I offer supporting arguments for this view of mine throughout this site, but for now let me ask you, my readers, if you disagree, and on what grounds to you base your disagreement? I welcome your comments below.
An ominous indication of events to come appeared in the Lethbridge Herald in a June 19, 2016 article titled “Conspiracy Theories“. That term is an inquiry stopper. It is a code word for “nutty”, and nobody wants to be thought of as a nut. My opinion is that the article was highly selective, choosing facts that would put Tony in a negative light (given how most people view the world), but leaving out facts that would put him in a more positive light. Subsequently several letters to the editor appeared, accusing Tony of “spewing hatred”, and urging the university of get rid of him.
On August 26, 2016, B’nai Brith Canada posted a news release about a comment posted on Tony Hall’s Facebook page. The comment contained an image and text which was clearly hate speech. It should be obvious to anyone without an extremely prejudicial attitude toward Tony that this was not put up by Tony himself. It is a false flag designed to undermine his credibility. Here it is:
The text on this image is:
“There never was a ‘Holocaust’, but there should have been and, rest assured, there WILL be, as you serpentine kikes richly deserve one. I will not rest until every single filthy, parasitic kike is rounded up and slaughtered like the vermin that they are. The white man has had more than enough of the international Jewry and we are more than prepared to smite the parasite for the millionth time. The greedy, hook-nosed kikes knows that their days are numbered and, unlike in the past, they have nowhere to run. This time there will be no kikes alive to spread around the planet like cockroaches. We will get them ALL into the oven and their putrid memory will finally be erased from the planet once and for all. Like all parasite, the Jew will continue to reproduce until every single last one has been wiped out. This is why it is crucial that all kikes are ruthlessly and mercilessly butchered for the good of us all. KILL ALL JEWS NOW! EVERY LAST ONE!”
Three days later, B’nai Brith put up another post, titled “Calgary Police Investigating Antisemitic Post on Facebook“, linking once again to the above image and text. On this page I posted the following comment:
The image and text that appeared on Anthony Hall’s Facebook wall are absolutely appalling. It’s hard to believe that anyone thinks like that. Yet, the fact that such messages even exist help me to realize what kind of a world it is we live in. It makes me wonder whether they should be banned, as otherwise I would be unaware.
It is important to realize that Professor Hall publicly condemns that image and text. Go to False Flag Weekly, http://noliesradio.org/archives/119976, at minute 36, to see and hear his denunciation.
When I put on my “fairness” glasses and look at that image I see Tony Hall in the headlock, and the arms locking his head are the image and the text. Does anyone else see that, or are my “fairness” glasses defective?
This comment remained on the B’nai Brith post for about a month, but was then taken down.
In the meantime B’nai Brith put up another post, on September 27, titled “Alberta Professor Blames Sept. 11 Attacks on Israel, Supports ‘Open Debate’ on Holocaust“, urging supporters to sign a petition demanding that professor Hall be “investigated.” The next day another post appeared titled “Website says Holocaust-denying Professor Has Been ‘Asked to Step Down’“. These posts linked to the petition page: “Lethbridge University: Say NO to Antisemitism!”
The argument put forward by B’nai Brith on its petition page is as follows:
Whereas Holocaust denial is considered to be antisemitism under the definitions of both the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC); And whereas the University of Lethbridge is a publicly funded institution of higher learning;
We the undersigned believe that a university professor, whose salary is paid with public funds, has an obligation to uphold the values of scholarship and academic rigour. Holocaust denial and false-flag conspiracy theories should not, therefore, be presented as fact or legitimate results of research and scholarship by someone in a position of academic authority. The Holocaust is a well-documented historical tragedy, and by allowing one of its professors to question these facts, the University of Lethbridge has not only undermined the sanctity of legitimate historical scholarship, but has also allowed the perpetuation of antisemitism at the hands of a member of its faculty.
Whether these views are presented inside or outside the classroom is irrelevant, when the individual is promoting himself as a faculty member at a university, and when that individual uses their credentials as a professor to legitimize antisemitic views.
We do not want our tax dollars going to fund anti-historical, anti-academic, and antisemitic content by representatives of our post-secondary institutions.
We demand that the University of Lethbridge immediately investigate the conduct of Professor Anthony Hall, and put in place measures to ensure that no student on its campus is exposed to antisemitism, Holocaust denial or discriminatory conspiracy theories at the hands of any of its teaching faculty or staff.
This campaign reminded me of the tactics used in Nazi Germany to oust university professors who questioned the regime. I wrote more comments and put them up on the B’nai Brith site saying why I would not sign such a petition, ending one of them thus:
Are we Canadians going to be like Nazis, reinforcing our views by bullying and pressuring our universities to dismiss dissident university professors? Or are we going to take the democratic way, and open the issues up to honest debate, which is exactly what Professor Hall has called for?
To bolster their call for an investigation B’nai Brith put up a link on their petition page to a YouTube video which they claim is “proof positive” that “Professor Anthony Hall teaches holocaust denial and Jewish conspiracies”. To me this video seemed so far from proof positive of what B’nai Brith was saying about professor Hall that it actually indicated that they could not substantiate it very well at all. It is true that Tony calls for a review of many of the details of the prevailing narrative of the “holocaust” in the light of available evidence, but why should we regard that in itself as “holocaust denial”? If the evidence pointed to the need for substantial change to that narrative why should we consider that to be “antisemitic”? It is also true that Tony believes there was a Zionist state component to the events of 9/11, but this does not imply a stereotyped “Jewish” conspiracy. I put up a comment asking for an explanation. No explanation was given, but shortly after that all my comments were removed from the B’nai Brith site. I will not go into more detail here, but you can see complete details on the page titled “My comments removed from the B’nai Brith Canada site“.
While these posts were being put up on the B’nai Brith Canada website, Bernie Farber wrote an article, Facebook removes anti-Semitic post after online blowback, for the Toronto based Now magazine. In this article, dated September 7, 2016, Farber smeared professor Hall with lines like this: “Like any good Jew-hater, Hall also engages in Jewish conspiracy theories.” Although the article is filled with innuendo, Farber presented no evidence whatsoever that Tony Hall is a “Jew-hater”. (Incidentally, Farber was a good friend of one of my heroes, Alan Borovoy, who I am sure is now rolling in his grave. For more on Borovoy on this site go to Freedom of Expression.)
A few days after the B’nai Brith petition was put up, professor Hall was suspended without pay.
Tony responded publicly in this YouTube video.
Soon after, a counter-petition was put up by Denis Rancourt a researcher with the Ontario Civil Liberties Association, demanding that the Chair of the Board of Governors of the university, Kurt E. Schlachter, step down:
Resign from your position as Chair of the Board of Governors for failing your duty to defend academic freedom and procedural justice at the University of Lethbridge.
In a letter dated October 14, 2016, the president of the University of Lethbridge, Dr. Mike Mahon, offered an explanation for the action taken:
This action is not focused on Dr. Hall’s published scholarship, driven by
complaints of students, or the demands of external advocacy groups. It is
focused on his YouTube based videos and comments in social media that have been characterized as being anti-Semitic, supportive of holocaust denial
and engagement in conspiracy theories. In sharing and communicating his
views such as he has, we have a concern that Dr. Hall has contravened
section 3 of the Alberta Human Rights Act, and that he has created an
environment that is discriminatory for students and his faculty colleagues
whose personal backgrounds, research topics or beliefs are at odds with
Dr. Hall’s stated views. The University is reviewing Dr. Hall’s online
activities to determine if a complaint to the appropriate Human Rights
tribunal is warranted and justifiable and to determine if a discriminatory
atmosphere has been created by Dr. Hall.
Section 3 of the Alberta Human Rights Act begins as follows:
Code of Conduct
Discrimination re publications, notices
3(1) No person shall publish, issue or display or cause to be published, issued or displayed before the public any statement, publication, notice, sign, symbol, emblem or other representation that
(a) indicates discrimination or an intention to discriminate against a person or a class of persons, or
(b) is likely to expose a person or a class of persons to hatred or contempt
because of the race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, gender identity, gender expression, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation of that person or class of persons.
(2) Nothing in this section shall be deemed to interfere with the free expression of opinion on any subject.
I find it particularly noteworthy that subsection 3(1), which prohibits “hate speech” is immediately followed by subsection 3(2). When I first read this I was tempted to think that it meant that freedom of expression took priority over the “hate speech” prohibition, but that doesn’t make sense, and on subsequent readings I began to interpret it differently. Subsection 3(2) appears to be an attempt to define “free expression” in such a way that any expression caught by 3(1) is not to count as freedom of expression.
Perhaps the point of subsection 3(2) is to avert conflict with Section 2b of the Canadian Charter of Right and Freedoms. The Charter states:
2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
which is qualified by Section 1, of the Charter, which limits the guaranteed rights and freedoms thus:
… subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
I do not see how a piece of provincial legislation can redefine terms used in the Charter so as to avoid a possible conflict. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is part of the constitution of Canada, and all legislation, whether federal or provincial, is required to stay within the parameters it sets out. The question arises: Does Section 3 of the Alberta Human Rights code exceed these parameters? Is the prohibition of “hate speech” a violation of the right to freedom of expression?
Interpreting the constitution and its implications for legislation is not the primary focus on this page. (Further consideration will be given under Law, Freedom of Expression, and Academic Freedom.) However, the apparent legal conflict serves to highlight the underlying moral conflict. On the one hand, surely we ought to work against the cultivation of hatred and contempt, whether it be within ourselves or others. On the other hand, surely we ought to acquire our beliefs as honestly as we are able, free from influences that are irrelevant to the pursuit of truth, and to exchange our beliefs with others in the hope of coming closer to the truth ourselves, and to aid others in their own search for the truth.
These two “oughts”, while not necessarily in conflict, often tend to collide. Exploring the truth about historical events, especially those which involve aggression and atrocity, inevitably trigger animosities on both sides. If the truth is to emerge then freedom for all sides to say what happened from their point of view must be granted, and this includes freedom from the fear of eliciting a natural response of hatred toward the aggressor, or of hatred toward those making disturbing claims. It appears to me that in the context of discussions of cultural domination the Alberta Human Rights Act, as formulated in Section 3, is hopelessly at odds with the Charter guarantee of freedom of expression. The Charter places limits on freedom of expression, but surely suppression of the truth surrounding unjustified aggression, regardless of the emotions to which it gives rise, is not justified in a free and democratic society.
An implicit recognition of this conflict is to be found in the very name of the project attempting to deal with the abuse and ill-treatment of First Nations children in Canada under the Indian Residential school system: “Truth and Reconciliation“. On the one hand, Canadian aboriginals are encouraged to speak the truth about what happened to them, and on the other hand, there is a call for reconciliation because the truth they tell is bound to give rise to a need to deal with the shame, anger, contempt, and hatred provoked in both the victims and the victimizers by such truth-telling.
The life work of professor Anthony Hall has been centered on the history of oppressed peoples. This as an area in which it is difficult to find a path to truth which does not provoke responses of hatred and contempt. Indeed, a great deal of hatred and contempt has been directed toward Tony himself, as can be found in comments on YouTube videos, letters to the Lethbridge Herald, the B’nai Brith website, and so on. Here’s one example, a comment posted to an article on Two Row Times:
Dr. Anthony Hall is an anti-Semitic piece of dog crap. The fact that indigenous people of North America even associate with this scum is sickening.
I turn now to you, my readers, to consider three questions in this context:
- Given the need for wide leeway in the search for truth, what should be the limits to academic freedom, which, if exceeded, unnecessarily promote hatred?
- How should universities deal with professors who go beyond these limits?
- What responsibility do universities have to promote understanding in socially significant controversial areas?
The first two questions are not one and the same. Answers to them define two lines which may be far apart. For example, in a classroom discussion of a story about sexual abuse in a Catholic residential school a professor might express vehement moral outrage at the Catholic church, and you might consider this to be beyond the limits of how a classroom discussion should be conducted because of how it tends to foster hatred toward Catholics and intimidates Catholic students and suppresses their views. But it does not follow from this that the universities should put mechanisms of control into place to catch any such possible instances of fostering hatred. Such mechanisms themselves must be constructed so as to avoid unnecessary obstructions in the way of the search for truth, and it is simply not possible to do this without letting some dubious expressions of moral disapproval go.
Universities already have a strong mechanism in place to ensure that professors do not exceed appropriate limits to academic freedom – the process of obtaining tenure. Tony Hall has already been subject to that process. Once a professor has tenure perhaps there can be no suitable further mechanisms of control. Suppose, however, that a professor expressed a view similar to the one in the text next to the visual image near the top of this page, which slanderously framed professor Hall. I, for one, would consider that to be a serious breach calling for removal of the professor from the campus, and loss of tenure – though I do not know what should be the mechanisms for determining that the breach has occurred. What do you think?
The symbol of a bowl with one spoon, which Tony associates with his two-volume series of books, represents a commons for the Haudenosaunee confederacy. It is a shared geographical territory, to be used in peace as hunting grounds for all. I would like here to extend the symbolism to another kind of commons, that of ideas, which have the remarkable property that, unlike money, when you have some, and share with others, just as much still belongs to you. I hope that this extension is not an inappropriate appropriation of a symbol which is not part of my own British cultural tradition, but rather an honouring of a North American indigenous culture from which my own tradition might have learned so much more had we not been blinded by the assumption that we were/are superior.
In her article in the Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy, The Value of Water and the Meaning of Water Law for the Native Americans Known as the Haudenosaunee, Joyce Tekahnawiiaks King, a Mohawk, writes:
The Peacemaker demonstrated the One Dish/One Spoon principle in an analogy to the fifty Haudenosaunee Roianeson (translated in the English equivalent as chiefs) … Once the Five Nations agreed to unite, the Roianeson sat in a circle to listen to the Peacemaker. The Peacemaker expressed this principle by passing around a bowl of beaver tail, a delicacy among the People of the Longhouse. As the leaders sat in this circle of fifty, the Roianeson took only what they needed, knowing the bowl had to complete its circle. The “One Dish” demonstrated the collective responsibility of the people to share equally. … The spoon revealed an additional symbol lesson here: to avoid a sharp instrument, such as a knife, at a gathering of the people, because knives could cause the spilling of blood. Therefore employing sharp instruments-or even sharp words-was prohibited.
The Peacemaker in this quote refers to the founder of the Haudenosaunee confederacy who lived well before Columbus famous initial voyage to the Americas.
An exchange of ideas is like a collaborative hunting party where the quarry to be found is the truth. (As a near-vegan I have some discomfort with this simile, but as it’s apt I will use it.) On this website I will be your guide, but you are part of the hunting party. I welcome ideas from everyone, including those who hate Tony Hall. If you have an idea you think worthy of submission, please enter it as a comment on whatever page you think it most belongs. Be as critical as you like, but use the spoon. I recognize that criticism, like the edge of a spoon, can be somewhat sharp, but leave your knives at home. They don’t help in a collaborative search for truth. Comments are moderated, and if I think you have used a knife I will ask you to revise it before I make it public. I may, however, make an exception for those who are persistently hateful, and let them expose themselves publicly as the hateful people they are.
The truths to be pursued here have to do with academic freedom and responsibility, not with the controversial claims that Tony Hall has made that have made him the target of a campaign to remove him from the University of Lethbridge. These claims, such as the claim that the Report of the 911 Commission is a coverup, should, of course, be discussed, but at this site we can only do so much, and there are plenty of other sites for discussing the controversial claims. I have my own opinions about these claims, but in many instances I withhold judgement, and in any case do not believe that I have special insights that cannot easily be found elsewhere. More importantly, I do not believe that the truth or falsity of Tony’s claims have any particular bearing upon the issues we are focused on. I hold the view that a university is a place where all ideas, even false ones, are entitled to receive a fair hearing. This is because we can never be sure which ideas are true and which are false unless we entitle them to a fair hearing, and even when we come to the conclusion after a fair hearing that some idea is false, the process of giving it a fair hearing strengthens our understanding of the truth. Discussion of this viewpoint will be extended under the pages Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom.
In spite of the view I expressed in the preceding paragraph I need to be fair to those who think that some of Tony’s claims are patently false, and that this is relevant to whether he should be removed from the university. I certainly will not be censoring this view, but, for those who hold it, in order to be convincing you will need to make a double argument: first, that what you believe is patently false is indeed so, and second, why its being false should constitute grounds for depriving professor Hall of academic freedom.
As your guide I am mindful of your time. I am trying to design this site in such a way that you can choose how deep into details, elaborations, embroideries, and tangential remarks you go. This home page is the top level. The next level are the pages listed without indentation under “Topics” and “Further Details” in the sidebar. Next are the indented pages, where the degree of indentation is intended to indicate the depth of detail. If you’re short of time stick to the pages with the smallest degree of indentation. The comments themselves are the lowest level, though they are exposed on every page.
As this is a collaborative effort I will be bringing comments up onto the main pages themselves whenever I think they are of sufficient importance to be prominently displayed. Thus, if you are short of time, and you trust my judgement, you need not scour the comments for important contributions. They will be displayed in the body of the page. But I will not be displaying the same (or similar) ideas over and over again on the main pages if several different commenters have made them.
As I bring comments up onto the main pages they will receive an update date – displayed with a dash next to the title. If you wish to keep an eye on updates you will have to keep track of these dates yourself. I had hoped to automate this in some fashion for you, but I have not had time to do so. Perhaps I will have the opportunity to do so in the future.
Unlike a typical blog, in which posts are displayed in reverse chronological order, all the pages on this site have a fixed order. I will be updating them, and dating them accordingly, but they will remain in the same place. I expect, however, to add more pages, and these may be interleaved with existing pages.
Think of this site as an online book to which you can make a contribution. Together may we arrive at a more clear understanding of freedom of expression and of academic freedom.