Blanchet’s defence of N-word used by professor condemned by NDP and the Green Party

Matthew Green

OTTAWA – Federal political parties are condemning the Bloc Québécois for defending the academic use of the N-word.

New Democrat Matthew Green said academic freedom cannot be used to justify a racial slur that still hurts many, including himself, a Black MP.

“For someone who has had that word hurled against them from the time I was nine years old to now as a politician, that is a dehumanizing word,” Green said. “It is a form of racial violence against people. And for those that would choose to defend it, what they are really defending is the prerogative to uphold white supremacy.”

At a news conference on Thursday, Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet supported an academic’s right to use controversial words.

Blanchet’s comments came after the University of Ottawa suspended part-time professor Verushka Lieutenant-Duval in September. A student complained that Lieutenant-Duval had used the N-word during an art and gender class. The professor has apologized, but her suspension has caused a deep rift on and off-campus.

Blanchet said that sharing knowledge should not be considered a racial attack in the context of a classroom

Asked by reporters to weigh into the debate, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole didn’t condemn the use of the N-word in academia. But he said universities need to find a balance when grappling with offensive content.

“The touchstone has to be respect, in any context, including the university context,” O’Toole told reporters Thursday. “There are works of literature that harken back to a time where there was terrible treatment of Black Canadians and Black people, and so we have to be conscious.”

Green said people often use the guise of freedom of speech to defend slurs, but he said there must be a “reasonable limit.” Like the Bloc, political parties that create a “false dilemma” between academic freedom and offence should be focused on those traumatized by such words, he said.

“When we have a community that is saying explicitly that this causes them harm in the environment that they are trying to access — their employment or they are trying to access their education — we should listen to them first,” Green said.

“It’s the same when we are talking about gender equality, when we are talking about sexual orientation. It’s the same when we are talking about any marginalized group. We should listen first and give primacy to the groups that are impacted in these environments that are public institutions.”

The Bloc, Green said, has shown a consistent trend of blocking parliamentarians who have attempted to address systemic racism, including voting down a recent motion brought by NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.

On Thursday, Singh, who has sparred with the Bloc and called one of its MPs racist, said the Quebec nationalist party’s comments were misguided.

“In this context, it is very clear that that is not a word that should be used,” Singh said. “But the debate and academic discussion is a completely separate but very fair and vital point.

“But to conflate the two is very problematic.”

Newly elected Green Party leader Annamie Paul said she has been called the N-word several times during her leadership campaign. Paul told David Cochran, the guest host of  the television program Power and Politics that she’d be happy to educate Blanchet on the word’s painful historical roots.

“I find it extremely provocative that Monsieur Blanchet called a press conference with regard to this,” Paul said. “Respectfully again, I must tell him that he is incorrect, and I would be happy to explain all the reasons why to him.”