We had a very successful and lively meeting this year, with 36 people attending, and 22 members at the business meeting.
We thank Nancy Innis, the UWO local co-ordinator, for making the arrangements for morning coffee, lunch, and for looking after the reservations for the very pleasant meeting rooms. Nancy also arranged accommodations for our guest speaker, Karen Selik.
1) As president, in my opening remarks, I outlined briefly some highlights of SAFS activities in the past year.
I noted especially that SAFS has become more visible, in that members have written opinion pieces, letters, and have been the subject of news items in major newspapers like the National Post, the Globe and Mail, and the Ottawa Citizen. We have also taken part successfully in several radio interviews, so that many more people know us and what we are about. Nonetheless, we still have work to do in this area.
The University of Western Ontario chapter has as usual been very active, having successfully challenged the local union's preferential hiring clause.
We opposed the exclusionary advertisement by Wilfrid Laurier University's Psychology department calling for "women only," and generated a very public airing of opinions on such practices, probably more thoroughly than ever before. Although WLU did ultimately hire a woman, the effects of SAFS vigorous campaign were felt across the country. Recently, WLU Psychology announced publicly that it would not be advertising for women only in future.
SAFS undertook a campaign against the NSERC junior faculty awards designated for women only. I sent a letter to all NSERC grant selection committee members, outlining our position. That letter was widely circulated and as a consequence, I debated an NSERC representative on the CBC Morning show. This process, as in the WLU incident, is ongoing, but one outcome has been the extension of the awards to aboriginals, male and female! The radio interview was heard by someone from the Donner Foundation and resulted in the suggestion that SAFS might apply for some Donner funds to carry on certain of our activities.
The Board took action in the case of a University of Manitoba professor who as a private individual questioned the need, at a school board meeting, for a homosexual awareness programme. The U of M student union complained to its equity office that this constituted hate literature. We wrote the president of U of M to the effect that such ideas should be discussable, even in a university context, stressing of course that we took no position on the content of the professor's report. That complaint was dismissed.
Some pronouncements by Robert Birgeneau, the incoming president of the University of Toronto, were quite emphatic about promoting equity hiring. He also suggested that anyone in a leadership role who disagreed with him would be in an uncomfortable position. The U of T local chapter took up this issue and has had a lively discussion with Birgeneau on the topic. It is probably fair to say that he has backtracked somewhat.
Most recently, another issue has arisen in the U of T Physics Department, which has been charged by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) with systemic discrimination. Again, local Toronto SAFS members have been in consultation with Physics about this, and have written cogently on the nature and definition of systemic discrimination. The decision of the OHRC not to refer this case to a board of enquiry has recently been announced. (See the U of T web page: www.newsandevents.utoronto.ca/ohrc/00072response.asp).
I want to thank the many members who wrote letters on these and other issues, sometimes at the Board's request, and sometimes on their own. I know that it takes time and energy away from one's regular work to do this, but it is effective.
2) At last year's AGM, we voted to establish an academic freedom award, and to call it the Furedy award, in recognition of Chris and John's generous memorial donation to SAFS, and also in recognition of John's long years of service to the Society. The award this year went to Rory Leishman, a freelance journalist from London. Because Rory was unable to be present this year, John Palmer, his nominator, received the award for him. Fittingly, John Furedy made the first presentation of this award. (See his remarks while making the presentation on page 9).
3) The formal morning session, chaired by Jim Ryan, was entitled "Combatting preferential hiring." Clive Seligman gave a very useful outline of some of the arguments used to support the Wilfrid Laurier exclusionary ad, as well as the counter-arguments. Clive's appeal of this ad to the Ontario Human Rights Commission is still not resolved.
Steve Lupker then gave an account of his and others' successful attempt to modify the newly-formed UWO union's clauses promoting group-identity or "equity" hiring. The majority of the faculty at UWO were in fact opposed to such practices, and the clauses were effectively defeated, thanks to prompt and persistent action by SAFS members and those sympathetic to our aims. Both talks generated a great deal of discussion.
4) Nancy Innis chaired the lunchtime speaker session. Our invited speaker was Karen Selick, a libertarian lawyer and frequent contributor to law magazines and to the National Post. She spoke on anti-hate legislation, and outlined for us the differences between anti-hate laws under the criminal code as compared to human rights commissions. For example, under the criminal code, there is a presumption of innocence, and the effects of being found guilty are punitive; whereas under human rights legislation, there is no necessary presumption of innocence (in fact, it often seems the reverse), and the effects are intended to be remedial, not punitive. The talk was very clear and informative and was greeted with long applause from the audience. There were also many questions and points of discussion afterward.
5) The Annual Business Meeting was held at the end of the day. The minutes will be circulated to members with this newsletter.