A “Free Speech Wall” at Carleton University was a project intended to provide students a zone to speak their minds. The wall was a board wrapped in paper, put in one of the busiest parts of campus, along with some markers for students to write their thoughts down.
Unfortunately for them, one student took it upon himself to decide that the Free Speech Wall wasn’t so free after all.
Seventh-year human rights student Arun Smith destroyed the wall after just a few hours. He said that it was an “act of violence” against the gay community, that it had become a space for “the expression of hate,” and called the area around the wall a “war zone.”
Luckily for Smith, gross exaggerations like comparing a campus project to a war zone is perfectly legal thanks to free speech.
Smith’s main issue was that the wall was becoming a hub for homophobic comments. He describes himself as an anti-homophobia campaigner.
What’s strange about this story is that the wall reportedly did not bear any truly offensive materials at the time Smith acted: no swastikas or slurs or homophobic material. There was one “Harper is a douche,” which, while lacking in sophistication, is hardly hate speech.
Smith later tweeted that “not every opinion is valid, nor deserving of expression.” To Smith’s credit, that’s very true. Not all opinions are created equal and universities aren’t always bastions of free speech and freedom of expression. Smith, unfortunately, doesn’t get to be the arbiter of what is and isn’t allowed to stay on campus. He might consider himself some modern-day moral crusader against hate-speech, but he’s actually just as bad as those who actively want to censor people who disagree with them.
The trouble with free speech is that if you want it, you have to be prepared to tolerate the consequences. You get free speech, to a degree, and so does everyone you disagree with. (You’d think that after seven years studying human rights at a reputable Canadian institution, you’d have that basic tenant of freedom of speech committed to memory.)
A new wall, dubbed “Free Speech Wall 2.0? has gone up since Smith took its predecessor down. Will it survive Carleton University’s ”war zone”? Stay tuned.
But oh, how delicious the irony that an activist who proclaims that not all opinions are worthy has opinions that might not be worth anything themselves.
Above: Carleton’s Free Speech Wall 2.0 Image credit: Janet Neilson