H. Wade MacLauchlan: sage or censor?

January 2015

Former UPEI President Wade MacLauchlan has announced his candidacy for the leadership of the ruling provincial Liberal Party. He is a notable figure of the P.E.I. elite, for whom political life would seem both logical and fitting. Given his résumé, MacLauchlan would doubtless make an interesting premier.

It is worth noting, however, that his reputation was earned in higher education, and that he is seeking a democratic office. These are two arenas of public life where the values of liberal speech, inquiry, and exchange are vital. A university that does not permit academic freedom fails in its scholarly mandate. And a polity which fails to make known the facts and arguments of government action fails in representing its citizens. A person would think that, given such a background, his record here would be stellar.

But H. Wade showed his true colours as UPEI’s president during the infamous Danish Cartoon Controversy, culminating with the attacks in Muslim countries against the embassies of Denmark. These violent demonstrations were reactions to the 2005 publication, in a Danish newspaper, of drawings depicting the Islamic prophet.

The threat of violence from protesters, both within and without Denmark itself, was very real in the subsequent months. Yet on the safe ground of the United States and Canada, no newspaper, magazine, or television program would even display the cartoons. This act would have suggested solidarity with the publication under attack, and more importantly informed readers and viewers of the story.

No publication, that is, with the exception of UPEI’s own student paper The Cadre, whose editors chose to reprint the cartoons for the above reasons. (They were later joined in Canada by Ezra Levant’s Western Standard magazine). At the least, students, faculty, and staff at UPEI would have been able to see the subject of controversy for themselves, rather than simply be told that a faraway rag had committed the thought crime of “causing offence”.

To its credit, P.E.I.’s Islamic association supported the right of The Cadre to print the cartoons, citing the importance of free expression. It didn’t call on the paper to be censored.

But this is exactly what happened. On order from President MacLauchlan, UPEI staff scoured the campus of all copies of the offending paper, determined to undo the editors’ Wrong Think by force.

The Cadre is run through the student union, not the university proper: a crucial distinction here. It was not MacLauchlan’s prerogative to approve or cancel the publication, regardless of his objection to its content. He could have released a statement expressing disagreement with the paper’s decision, which would have been incorrect but still within the confines of moral action. To whitewash The Cadre’s issue, on the other hand, was not kosher.

All of this means that in just one small battle between democracy and its opposition, H. Wade was on the wrong side.

Later, he posed for photographs with a Muslim woman named Koli Hoogeveen who praised his intervention against the insulters of Muhammed. In other words, it was not enough that MacLauchlan committed the profane act of censorship. He also wanted to be praised for it!

Now, you may think that all of this represents a blip on the man’s notable career, if even a blip at all. But imagine if a Premier MacLauchlan were to learn that an unwanted or “offensive” story were being published here in The Guardian. Would he dispatch his subordinates to snatch the papers away, as he did at UPEI? I don’t think he can be trusted on this point, as the man has exhibited a totalitarian streak, becoming less of a university president than of a third world autocrat.

Call me old fashioned, but people really ought to care about this. H. Wade wasn’t up against the Globe and Mail or some lofty media empire, but a small student paper, acting on the best intentions of democratic spirit, with no tangible means to fight back.

Someone like him should be called a bully. And a bully shouldn’t be premier.

At the very least, MacLauchlan the Candidate deserves to be asked some tough questions about his stunning censorship. And if he is of better character than his former self, he will express some remorse for that shameful episode.