Conservative MP’s talk screens questions, bans protesters at UW
Stephen Woodworth’s last visit to the University of Waterloo was certainly memorable.
In March 2013, the Kitchener Centre MP spoke in favour of Motion 312 — the motion which asks Canada’s Criminal Code to define a person human from the moment of conception.
However, his lecture ended early due to protestors interrupting the event and causing what Woodsworth described as “lawless behaviour.”
He was invited back to UW campus Thursday evening to finish his discussion and raise some of his points again.
But this time was different.
There were heavy police regulations and restrictions as to who could attend the event.
Ethan Jackson, a student at Wilfrid Laurier University, was not in attendance Thursday on the account that he has been banned from UW’s campus.
Jackson, 21, was a vocal protestor at Woodworth’s visit in March, dressing up in a giant costume of female genitalia.
“It was a performance to make it known that we did not want to be quiet,” Jackson explained. “We wanted to disrupt the lecture; that is valid and that is what we did.”
Now, questions of censorship have arisen as a result of the many restrictions that took place Thursday evening.
Aside from the multiple police patrolling the event, attendees were only permitted inside the talk if they were on a list and questions were only asked during the forum if they were written on a piece of paper first.
Jane Richard, the president of K-W Right to Life explained her thoughts as to whether Thursday’s discussion violated freedom of speech.
“Censorship was only necessary because [protestors] violated their end of it the previous year,” she said. “There can be protesting, but what isn’t right is to shut the speaker down and have the authorities come in and say that he should be shut down instead of the protestors.”
She continued to explain that the MP was unable to be heard during his first visit due to loud shouting and hollering.
“It was quite a show, there was a guy dressed up like a vagina,” she added. “The language and the demeanor and forwardness was very, very disruptive.”
Jackson explained that the demonstration was a collective decision from around 50 participants. This group wanted to speak out not only against Motion 312, but the act of censorship itself.
“There were different points where the group would put on fake feminine pads and products and circle [Woodworth] and take over the podium,” he elaborated. “That was the time where I put on the vulva costume.”
“I joined them at the front [and] Stephen Woodworth took a sip of his water and called me ‘disgusting,’ which is what made me go off,” he continued.
Since then, Jackson has been banned from UW campus and faces a $10,000 fine if he protests on campus again.
He firmly believes this is a violation of free speech.
“They have done everything in their power as a university to limit who can speak and through various methods and procedures through each keynote speaker event they put in notification saying what you can and cannot attend, what you can or cannot say,” Jackson said.
“I mean you have to pre-sign up to even be there.”
In response to Jackson’s accusations of speech impediment, Woodworth explained that last year’s protest could be considered a form of censorship on his side.
“I felt an obligation to come back to demonstrate that no one needs to be intimidated by those who wish to suppress free speech,” Woodworth said. “I wasn’t able to complete my remarks.”
Woodworth continued that the restrictions put in place Thursday evening were done so as to allow the opportunity for him to speak freely without any interruptions.
“Unfortunately that means doing things by the book and it means protection for those who wish to speak freely,” he said. “It would be nice if we lived in a world where no one acted in an evil or lawless way, but we don’t live in such a world and we need the ability to protect those who want to go about these ways peacefully.”
He continued to explain that in the appropriate setting, Woodworth would be more than willing to have an open dialogue for those who “want to reach out” to him.
“I don’t turn down invitations,” Woodworth said. “If some legitimate group doesn’t agree with me and wants to have public event, I have never turned down such a thing.”
“The only requirement I have is that it is respectful and lawful.”
Jackson, however, explained that Woodworth has not responded to any of his multiple requests.
“I have got nothing back,” he said. “I’ve left some letters for Stephen Woodworth and it could very well be that he’s never received them because of his office, but no, I haven’t gotten anything back.”