Lindsay Shepherd is a Canadian columnist who became known for her involvement, as a graduate student and teaching assistant, in an academic freedom controversy at Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) in Waterloo, Ontario, in 2017.
|Education||Simon Fraser University (BA)|
Wilfrid Laurier University (MA)
|Known for||Academic freedom activism|
In November 2017, Shepherd played her communications class two clips of a debate with psychologist Jordan Peterson on Bill C-16, which added "gender identity or expression" as a prohibited ground for discrimination to the Canadian Human Rights Act and as an identifiable group to the Criminal Code. Following the class, Shepherd was summoned to a meeting with her supervisor. Also present were the head of her academic program and an acting manager from the university's Diversity and Equity Office. Shepherd surreptitiously recorded audio from the meeting, in which she was asked about the video clips and told that "at least one" complaint about her class had been raised. Shepherd was accused of having created a "toxic climate for some of the students" by playing the clips[a] and told she would have to submit a lesson plan to Professor Nathan Rambukkana prior to each class.[b]
After she released the recording, an independent fact-finder hired by the university reported that the meeting should not have taken place, that "no formal complaint, nor informal concern relative to a Laurier policy" had been registered, and that Shepherd had done nothing wrong by showing the clips.
After the tape's release, Shepherd became active online about issues of free speech and academic freedom. In 2018, she founded the Laurier Society for Open Inquiry at WLU, and in May that year received the 2018 Harry Weldon Canadian Values Award from Canadians for Accountability. The following month she filed a lawsuit against the university, the two professors, the third staff member and a student, alleging "harassment, intentional infliction of nervous shock, negligence, and constructive dismissal". Peterson also filed a lawsuit, for defamation, against the university and the staff members in the meeting.
Early life and educationEdit
Shepherd was born in British Columbia and raised in a non-religious household. Her mother teaches elementary school and her father is a youth counsellor. She attended Cariboo Hill Secondary School, Burnaby, before completing her undergraduate degree in communication at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. In 2018 she received a Master of Arts degree in cultural analysis and social theory from Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU), after joining the graduate program in September 2017.
Wilfrid Laurier University incidentEdit
On 1 November 2017, Shepherd was teaching a WLU first-year undergraduate class, "Canadian Communication in Context". Discussing grammar and pronouns, she showed the class one two-minute clip and a second three-minute clip from The Agenda with Steve Paikin, a current-affairs program produced by TVOntario, a publicly funded channel. First broadcast in 2016, the context of the episode was Bill C-16, which added "gender identity or expression"[c] as a prohibited ground for discrimination to the Canadian Human Rights Act and as an identifiable group to the Criminal Code. The bill became law in June 2017.
The first clip featured the host, Steve Paikin, discussing gender-neutral pronouns with Jordan Peterson, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto. A critic of Bill C-16 and "what he sees as an intolerant left-wing in higher education", according to The Globe and Mail, Peterson was arguing against being legally compelled to use pronouns such as zie and zher or the singular they. He told Paikin that he was being asked "to use a certain set of words that I think are the constructions of people who have a political ideology that I don't believe in and that I also regard as dangerous", and described it as an "attempt to control language in a direction that isn't happening organically ... but by force and by fiat". In the second clip from the same debate, Peterson discussed the issues with Nicholas Matte, a historian who teaches in the Sexual Diversity Studies program at Toronto. Matte told Peterson: "I don't care about your language use. I care about the safety of people being harmed."
After the clips were shown, a heated discussion took place among students in the class, some supportive of Peterson and others critical; one told a college newspaper that students had used the discussion "as an excuse to make fun of trans identities".
According to Toby Finlay, an administrator with the university's Rainbow Centre, an LGBTQ support group, one student approached them with an expression of concern about the clips. The Rainbow Centre then spoke to Adria Joel, acting manager of gender violence prevention in the university's Diversity and Equity Office. On 7 November 2017 Nathan Rambukkana, Shepherd's supervisor, emailed Shepherd to ask that she attend a meeting the following day with him, Joel, and Herbert Pimlott, head of Shepherd's academic program. Shepherd's mother suggested that she record the discussion; the other participants did not know they were being recorded. Citing confidentiality, they did not show Shepherd the complaint, say who had complained, or explain how many complaints there had been; she was told only that "one or multiple students had come forward" expressing concern.
During the 40-minute meeting, Shepherd was accused of having created a "toxic climate for some of the students" by playing the clips and adopting a neutral stance between the positions. Shepherd argued that students must be exposed to mainstream ideas, and that the ideas should be presented without taking sides. The professor compared the pronoun debate to discussing whether a student of color should have rights; that is, it is "not something intellectually neutral that is up for debate". Shepherd responded that the matter at hand was indeed "out there" and up for debate. Arguing that the ideas had been presented as a valid perspective, the professor compared the Peterson clip to "neutrally playing a speech by Hitler or Milo Yiannopoulos from Gamergate." Presenting such material devoid of criticism was "diametrically opposed to everything that we've been talking about in the lectures", he said.
The professor added that Peterson's arguments were "counter to the Canadian Human Rights Code [sic]",[d] and that what had happened in class had been contrary to the university's Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy; the manager offered the view that it might have violated the Ontario Human Rights Code.[b]
The meeting ended with Rambukkana asking that Shepherd send him her lesson plan prior to each class because there had been a breakdown in communication. This was the extent of her punishment, but Rambukkana said that he wasn't sure what else might happen going forward and that he had to discuss the matter with other members of the faculty.
Recording released, apologiesEdit
Shepherd released the recording to the National Post, as well as to a local newspaper and another on Canada's west coast. The National Post contacted her immediately, and Christie Blatchford ran the story in the Post on 10 November. WLU's president, Deborah MacLatchy, and Professor Nathan Rambukkana published letters of apology on 21 November. MacLatchy said of the meeting that it "does not reflect the values and practices to which Laurier aspires". In his apology, Rambukkana said he should have done more to support Shepherd as her course director and supervisor, and that he had reconsidered some of his positions since the meeting. He wrote that he regretted comparing Peterson to Hitler, which was "untrue and was never my intention".[e]
The university asked a lawyer, Robert Centa, to conduct an independent investigation. His report, which the university did not release, found that Shepherd had not violated university policies and that the meeting had involved "significant overreach". On 18 December 2017 the university president, Deborah MacLatchy, issued a statement saying that there had been "numerous errors in judgement made in the handling of the meeting". The meeting should not have taken place, she wrote, because "[n]o formal complaint, nor informal concern relative to a Laurier policy, was registered about the screening of the video." She concluded that there had been "no wrongdoing on the part of Ms. Shepherd in showing the clip from TVO in her tutorial".
According to MacLatchy, the information about the class had been received via a staff member in the Rainbow Centre "from students who had been on campus talking about it. The policy was not designed to deal with those kind of comments and concerns not actually being raised through the process." In April 2018 she repeated that whatever issue had been raised about the clips, it "was not a complaint as the term is defined in the university’s Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy, which Mr. Centa reviewed in establishing his findings".
In June 2018, Shepherd filed a lawsuit against the university, Rambukkana, Pimlott, Joel, and a graduate student for damages of $3.6 million, claiming "harassment, intentional infliction of nervous shock, negligence, and constructive dismissal". On 18 June that year, Peterson filed a $1.5-million defamation lawsuit against Laurier, Rambukkana, Pimlott, and Joel. His statement of claim alleges that he was compared to Hitler and portrayed as "sexist, misogynist, dangerous and racist" during the November 2017 meeting. In December 2018, Rambukkana and Pimlott filed a third-party claim against Shepherd, alleging she had had control over the recording and should therefore be liable for any damages Peterson suffered as a result of its publication.
After the incident, Shepherd gave multiple interviews, including to newspapers and CBC News, as well as on YouTube shows such the Dave Rubin Report and Louder with Crowder, discussing the implications for free speech and academic freedom. She remained active online, gathering over 30,000 Twitter followers by December 2017. She appears in the 2019 documentary No Safe Spaces.
In early 2018, Shepherd founded the Laurier Society for Open Inquiry (LSOI). The LSOI invited Faith Goldy to speak at the university in March that year as the first in its "Unpopular Opinions Speaker Series". Before Goldy could speak, someone activated the fire alarm and the event had to be cancelled. This proved to be a pivotal moment for Shepherd and she stated the experience caused her to no longer consider herself a leftist in her Youtube video "GOODBYE TO THE LEFT".
The Boston Herald identified Shepherd in May 2018 as one of a group of intellectuals described as the intellectual dark web. On 7 February 2019, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms announced that Shepherd was joining the Justice Centre as a "Campus Free Speech Fellow". As of 2019, Shepherd writes a biweekly column for The Post Millennial, a Canadian news site founded in 2017. As of December 2019, Shepherd has worked for the conservative organisation True North Centre.
On 14 July 2019 Shepherd was banned from Twitter (at first permanently), due to an exchange with Jessica Yaniv on the social media platform. In their exchange Yaniv said "I heard @realDonaldTrump is building a wall inside of your uterus aka your ‘reproductive abnormality’ hopefully the wall works as intended", to which Shepherd responded "At least I have a uterus, you fat ugly man". Shepherd said she would look to using other platforms, possibly including Thinkspot, a platform proposed by Jordan Peterson. Shepherd's Twitter was reinstated later in July 2019.
- Shepherd, Lindsay (2021). Diversity and Exclusion: Confronting the Campus Free Speech Crisis. p. 249. ISBN 978-0993919572.
- Lindsay Shepherd (WLU meeting, 8 November 2017, from c. 00:01:53): "Obviously the person who had an issue did not express it to me; they just went straight to whoever ... I don't really know what happened."
Professor (from c. 00:04:44): " ... the reality is that it has created a toxic climate for some of the students. ...
Lindsay Shepherd: "How many? Who? Like, how many? One? ...
Professor: "It's one or multiple students who've come forward saying that this is something that they were concerned about and that it made them uncomfortable."
Aaron Hutchins (Maclean's, 12 December 2017): "As for Shepherd, she called her boyfriend [after the class] to say she thought everything went well and that the students were really engaged. Neither knew one student from the class would soon contact the Rainbow Centre, the campus LGBTQ support community, to complain about the discussion. Toby Finlay, an administrator at the Rainbow Centre, wouldn’t share the specifics of the conversation due to confidentiality reasons, but adds: 'It was through us that they made the complaint that led to the situation that blew up in the media.'"
Deborah MacLatchy (president of WLU, 18 December 2017): "No formal complaint, nor informal concern relative to a Laurier policy, was registered about the screening of the video."
Simona Chiose (The Globe and Mail, 18 December 2017): "Mr. Centa's [Robert Centa, the independent fact-finder] report presents a different version of how the screening of the debate came to the attention of the staff members, the university's president said."Students in the class talked about the video screening on campus, and staff in the diversity and equity office found out about those conversations, although Ms. Joel was not asked to intervene. "The information came via the staff person, from students who had been on campus talking about it," Dr. MacLatchy said. "The policy was not designed to deal with those kind of comments and concerns not actually being raised through the process."
Lindsay Shepherd (CBC News, 20 December 2017)): "The story is there was a student who was concerned about the content of the tutorial, but they were just having a discussion. And then a representative or staff member from the on-campus Rainbow Centre, which is the LGBTQ collective, took it upon themselves to complain to Professor Rambukkana, who then brought me into that meeting."
Simona Chiose (The Globe and Mail, 5 April 2018): "This week, the university reiterated that any issue that was flagged was not a complaint. 'It was not a complaint as the term is defined in the university’s Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy, which Mr. Centa [Robert Centa, the independent fact-finder] reviewed in establishing his findings,' the university said in a statement in response to questions from The Globe.
- Professor (WLU meeting, 8 November 2017, from c. 00:03:50): "These arguments are counter to the Canadian Human Rights Code ever since—and I know that we talked about C-16—ever since this passed, it is discriminatory to be targeting someone due to their gender identity or gender expression."
Professor (from c. 00:22:06): "What happened was contrary to ... the [university's] Gender and Sexual Violence Policy." ... Shepherd: "Sorry, what did I violate in that policy?" Manager: "So, gender-based violence, transphobia, in that policy. Causing harm to trans students by bringing their identity as invalid or their pronouns as invalid [several speaking at once] ... which under the Ontario Human Rights Code are a protected thing and also something that Laurier holds as a value."
See "12.4 Gendered and Sexual Violence Policy and Procedures", Wilfrid Laurier University, archived 22 November 2017.
The Ontario Human Rights Code added gender identity and expression as a protected ground in 2012. According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, "Refusing to refer to a trans person by their chosen name and a personal pronoun that matches their gender identity, or purposely misgendering, will likely be discrimination when it takes place in a social area covered by the Code, including employment, housing and services like education."
- Canadian Human Rights Act, Prohibited grounds of discrimination, 3(1): "For all purposes of this Act, the prohibited grounds of discrimination are race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, disability and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered."
- It is not clear whether the professor was referring to the Canadian Human Rights Act (federal law) or the Ontario Human Rights Code (provincial law).
- Nathan Rambukkana (apology to Lindsay Shepherd, 21 November 2017):
But instead I tried to make a point about the need to contextualize difficult material, and drew on the example of playing a speech by Hitler to do it. This was, obviously, a poorly chosen example. I meant to use it to drive home a point about context by saying here was material that would definitely need to be contextualized rather than presented neutrally, and instead I implied that Dr. Peterson is like Hitler, which is untrue and was never my intention. While I disagree strongly with many of Dr. Peterson's academic positions and actions, the tired analogy does him a disservice and was the opposite of useful in our discussion.
- Shepherd, Lindsay (2021). "Chapter 9: Job, Money, and Resources". Diversity and Exclusion.
- Hutchins, Aaron (12 December 2017). "What really happened at Wilfrid Laurier University". Maclean's. Archived from the original on 10 June 2018. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
- "Full recording, Wilfrid Laurier University incident". November 2017. Archived from the original on 22 June 2018. Retrieved 19 June 2018 – via YouTube.
- Chadhury, Aadita (26 January 2018). "The WLU/Lindsay Shepherd controversy was never about free speech". Medium. Archived from the original on 10 February 2019. Retrieved 22 December 2018.
- "An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code" Archived 2017-08-02 at the Wayback Machine, Government of Canada.
- Blatchford, Christie (10 November 2017). "Christie Blatchford: Thought police strike again as Wilfrid Laurier grad student is chastised for showing Jordan Peterson video". National Post.
- Recording, 00:01:53.
- Recording, 00:04:44.
- MacLatchy, Deborah (18 December 2017). "President’s statement re: independent fact-finder report" Archived 2018-06-20 at the Wayback Machine, Wilfrid Laurier University.
- Chiose, Simone (18 December 2017). "Wilfrid Laurier University exonerates TA Lindsay Shepherd" Archived 2018-06-25 at the Wayback Machine, The Globe and Mail.
- "Teaching assistant reacts after Wilfrid Laurier University president promises change"], CBC News, 20 December 2017, 00:02:16 Archived 2018-06-24 at the Wayback Machine.
- Chiose, Simona (5 April 2018). "Documents reveal new details in Lindsay Shepherd-Wilfrid Laurier University saga" Archived 2018-04-11 at the Wayback Machine, The Globe and Mail.
- Brean, Joseph (12 June 2018). "Lindsay Shepherd sues Wilfrid Laurier, claiming 'attacks' have 'rendered her unemployable in academia'". National Post.
- Blatchford, Christie (3 May 2018). "Christie Blatchford: Wilfrid Laurier professor withdraws from free speech task force in protest". Ottawa Citizen. Archived from the original on 19 June 2018. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
- Crawford, Blair (13 May 2018). "Laurier free speech advocate Lindsay Shepherd honoured in Ottawa". Ottawa Citizen. Archived from the original on 18 June 2018. Retrieved 11 June 2018.
- Chiose, Simona (21 June 2018). "Jordan Peterson sues Wilfrid Laurier University for defamation" Archived 23 June 2018 at the Wayback Machine, The Globe and Mail.
- Chalk, Casey (6 December 2018). "What happened to the Canadian run off campus for defending free speech". The Federalist. Archived from the original on 6 March 2019. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
- Todd, Doug (11 January 2019). "Douglas Todd: The many things Lindsay Shepherd is not". The Vancouver Sun. Archived from the original on 13 January 2019. Retrieved 13 January 2019.
- Booth, Laura (12 December 2017). "Who is Lindsay Shepherd?". The Waterloo Region Record. Archived from the original on 8 January 2018. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
- Jaschik, Scott (22 November 2017). "The Interrogation of a TA" Archived 2018-06-24 at the Wayback Machine, Inside Higher Ed.
- Winsa, Pat (15 January 2017). "He says freedom, they say hate. The pronoun fight is back" Archived 2018-03-07 at the Wayback Machine, Toronto Star.
- "Genders, Rights and Freedom of Speech", The Agenda with Steve Paikin, TVOntario, 16 October 2016, from 00:04:45 Archived 2018-06-14 at the Wayback Machine.
- The Agenda with Steve Paikin, from 00:49:32 Archived 14 June 2018 at the Wayback Machine.
- Recording, 00:04:49.
- Recording, 00:09:55.
- Brown, Mick (31 March 2018). "How did controversial psychologist Jordan Peterson become an international phenomenon?". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 14 June 2018. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
- Recording, 00:03:50.
- Platt, Brian (20 November 2017). "What the Wilfrid Laurier professors got wrong about Bill C-16 and gender identity discrimination". National Post.
- Recording, 00:22:06.
- "Questions and answers about gender identity and pronouns" Archived 2018-03-28 at the Wayback Machine, Ontario Human Rights Commission.
"Globe editorial: The problem with trying to protect pronouns" Archived 2018-01-10 at the Wayback Machine, The Globe and Mail, 20 November 2017.
- "Full Text: Apology from Wilfrid Laurier officials over handling of free speech controversy". Global News. 21 November 2017. Archived from the original on 23 November 2017. Retrieved 25 November 2017.
- "Breaking: President of Laurier issues apology regarding Lindsey Shepherd". The Cord. 21 November 2017. Archived from the original on 1 December 2017. Retrieved 25 November 2017.
- Platt, Brian (21 November 2017). "Wilfrid Laurier University's president apologizes to Lindsay Shepherd for dressing-down over Jordan Peterson clip". National Post.
- McQuigge, Michelle (17 November 2017). "Wilfrid Laurier University TA claims censure over video clip on gender pronouns". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on 18 November 2017. Retrieved 18 November 2017.
- Joseph, Rebecca (18 December 2017). "Wilfrid Laurier admits it mishandled Lindsay Shepherd academic freedom case". Global News. Archived from the original on 11 June 2018. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
- Chiose, Simona (18 December 2017). "Wilfrid Laurier exonerates TA Lindsay Shepherd". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on 25 June 2018. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
- Jeffords, Shawn (18 December 2017). "Lindsay Shepherd Controversy: Students Never Complained About TA, Laurier Finds". HuffPost. Archived from the original on 29 December 2017. Retrieved 28 December 2017.
- "Lindsay Shepherd files $3.6M law suit against Laurier over alleged abusive treatment" Archived 2018-06-22 at the Wayback Machine, The Cord, 15 June 2018.
- Artuso, Antonella (21 June 2018). "'This is a warning': Jordan Peterson launches $1.5M defamation lawsuit against Wilfrid Laurier University", National Post.
- "Former Wilfrid Laurier TA Lindsay Shepherd, who released audio of meeting, sued by profs: lawyer | Globalnews.ca". globalnews.ca. 28 December 2018. Archived from the original on 29 December 2018. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
- "Two Laurier professors sue former TA who recorded disciplinary meeting". cbc.ca. 28 December 2018. Archived from the original on 30 December 2018. Retrieved 31 December 2018.
- "Teaching assistant reacts after Wilfrid Laurier University president promises change" Archived 2018-06-24 at the Wayback Machine, CBC News, 20 December 2017.
- Lindsay Shepherd LIVE: Free Speech Battle with Laurier University, The Rubin Report, 1 December 2017
- Lamoureux, Mack (20 December 2017). "Wilfrid Laurier Exonerates Lindsay Shepherd, We Can All Move On Now". VICE. Archived from the original on 12 June 2018. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
- "Louder with Crowder (2015– )". IMDb. 30 November 2017. Archived from the original on 18 July 2018. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
- "Column: Is this still a free country? The new movie 'No Safe Spaces' raises frightening doubts". Archived from the original on 27 December 2019. Retrieved 27 December 2019.
- "Editorial: Attending a meeting at Laurier Society for Open Inquiry". The Cord. 14 February 2018. Archived from the original on 12 June 2018. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
- Shepherd, Lindsay (22 March 2018). "Lindsay Shepherd: Why I invited Faith Goldy to Laurier" Archived 2018-06-21 at the Wayback Machine, Macleans.
- Shepherd, Lindsay. "GOODBYE TO THE LEFT". Youtube. Archived from the original on 16 May 2019. Retrieved 18 May 2019.
- "Editorial: Truth requires free thinking, honest talk". Boston Herald. 14 May 2018. Archived from the original on 17 January 2019. Retrieved 18 January 2019.
- "Lindsay Shepherd joins the Justice Centre as Campus Free Speech Fellow". Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. 7 February 2019. Archived from the original on 12 February 2019. Retrieved 10 February 2019.
- "Blackballed: The Lindsay Shepherd Interview". BlackBall Media. 2 December 2019. Archived from the original on 2 December 2019. Retrieved 2 December 2019.
- Snyder, Jesse (16 July 2019). "Free speech activist Lindsay Shepherd on her Twitter ban: 'Your instincts should not be to celebrate'". National Post. Retrieved 31 August 2020.
The exchange with Shepherd began after Yaniv made comments about Shepherd’s female genitalia, saying “at least my pussy is tight and not loose after pushing out a 10 pound baby.” Shepherd tweeted in response: “This is how men who don’t have functional romantic relationships speak. But… I guess that’s kinda what you are!” Yaniv then responded with a comment that could have been in reference to Shepherd’s septate uterus, a reproductive condition that can cause higher rates of pregnancy loss. “I heard @realDonaldTrump is building a wall inside of your uterus aka your ‘reproductive abnormality’ hopefully the walk works as intended,” Yaniv tweeted. “At least I have a uterus, you fat ugly man,” Shepherd then said. “Of course, he thinks reproductive issues are something to be mocked.”
- January 11, Douglas Todd Updated; 2019 (10 January 2019). "Douglas Todd: The many things Lindsay Shepherd is not | Vancouver Sun". Archived from the original on 7 December 2019. Retrieved 2 December 2019.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
- Lindsay Shepherd on Twitter
- Lindsay Shepherd's channel on YouTube
- Lindsay Shepherd at IMDb
- identitygrifting.ca, website operated by Lindsay Shepherd
- Hopper, Tristin (20 November 2017). "Here's the full recording of Wilfrid Laurier reprimanding Lindsay Shepherd for showing a Jordan Peterson video". National Post.