UPDATE 15 OCT 4pm – Even the graduating class’ valedictorian, 22-year-old queer-identified Erin Larson, is speaking out against honouring Toews.
“We’re honouring a known homophobe who’s prejudiced against members of the Islamic faith and denies women their rights,” says Larson. “I want the university to know that we do not recognise Vic Toews as our moral and ethical equals. I feel it detracts from my own accomplishments on Sunday. I’d almost rather have a diploma that doesn’t say ‘University of Winnipeg’ on it.”
Larson plans to address the controversy in her speech to the graduating class.
“I’m going to encourage our student body to rebuke the university and instead of donating to the university as alumni, to make donations to human rights organisations. The university needs to know that we won’t stand for being put in the same category as Vic Toews,” she says.
OCT 14 – A protest is planned at the University of Winnipeg’s convocation ceremony on Sunday, Oct 17 against the school’s decision to award an honorary degree to former Conservative public safety minister Vic Toews. Activists will encourage attendees at the ceremony to turn their backs on Toews as he receives the accolade.
“Toews’ positions are based on ignorance and are in direct opposition to the notions of compassion and justice that should be idealized by institutions of higher learning and the Canadian justice system,” writes protest organizer Rob McGregor in an email to members of the protest group, the Coalition for Integrity in Academic Accolades.
McGregor says protesters will be outside the convocation ceremony at Duckworth Centre on campus, wearing sandwich boards that read, “Ask me about how Vic Toews wants to take away rights of gay Canadians,” or “Ask me about how Vic Toews is trying to take away the right to a legal abortion.” Activists also plan to hand out flyers laying out the case against Toews.
As justice minister in the Harper government, Toews introduced the controversial bill to raise the age of consent for vaginal sex from 14 to 16 years, which passed into law a year after he left office. He also floated plans to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 12 to 10 years, and to introduce a “three strikes” law that would see repeat offenders jailed indefinitely.
Toews is also a vocal opponent of same-sex marriage and laws that protect gays and lesbians from hate speech. He led the failed attempt to reopen the same-sex marriage debate in Parliament in 2006 and had his department draft legislation, that was never introduced, to give legal protections to those who discriminate against gay people on religious grounds.
The Canadian Tamil Congress criticized Toews recently for referring to passengers aboard the Tamil refugee ship MV Sun Sea as “terrorists,” saying his remarks incited “distrust and anger” toward the Sri Lankan community.
A press release from the University of Winnipeg notes that Toews received a BA from the school in 1973.
“He has shown dedication and commitment to our university’s unique role in revitalizing Winnipeg’s downtown,” says university president Lloyd Axworthy in the release. “He has also actively demonstrated support of our goal of providing access to education to traditionally under-represented students such as Aboriginal, new Canadian and inner-city youth.”