Valedictorian takes swipe at Toews’ degree
Monday, October 18, 2010
Valedictorian Erin Larson used her speech at the fall convocation on Sunday to say the choice compromised the university’s integrity, although she didn’t name Toews directly.
Erin Larson tells the crowd at the U of W fall graduation on Sunday that the school’s integrity has been compromised.(CBC)“I’m extremely honoured to be selected as the valedictorian [but] I have to admit I’m not proud to share the stage with everybody that is on it today,” Larson said, as Toews, the federal public safety minister, sat nearby looking uncomfortable.
After the ceremony, U of W president Lloyd Axworthy said he was disappointed the valedictory address was used to make a political statement.
“The young woman who was the valedictorian wanted to use it as a platform for some political views — that’s her right to use it in that way — but it put a little bit of a damper on the proceedings at the end, which is too bad,” he said.
Federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews looks down as valedictorian Erin Larson speaks at the fall graduation ceremony. (CBC)The choice of Toews to receive an honorary degree was an open one, made by a committee that included students and faculty, Axworthy added.
About 40 people also gathered outside the university Sunday afternoon to protest against the honorary degree, holding placards condemning Toews for public statements he has made about crime, immigration and same-sex marriage.
The minister’s stance on gay rights and other issues has marginalized some Canadians, said the protesters, arguing the minister’s honorary degree flew in the face of the university’s reputation for being inclusive and progressive.
Vic Toews sits just a few feet away from the podium during the University of Winnipeg valedictory address. (CBC)Protester Jacquie Nicholson chose to stay outside the graduation ceremony, holding a sign, rather than inside, receiving her diploma.
“Vic Toews’s policies are non-research-based, non-evidence-based,” Nicholson said. “They’re based on fear, encouraging people to sort of reach deep inside and find their prejudices, their fears, their gut instincts.”
Protester Robert McGregor, a U of W alumnus, said Toews doesn’t stand up for all Canadians.
“The kind of people like Vic Toews, who have expressed bigoted, hateful things in both statements and in policy in government, should not be honoured by anyone,” McGregor said.
Larson should be applauded: prof
A political science professor at the university told CBC News on Monday that convocation is just the place to make political statements. Prof. Shannon Sampert said Larson should be applauded for what she did.
“I think, frankly, a student like that, who can stand up in the face of all this kind of authority and all this kind of pomp and circumstance and dignity and actually speak her mind, I think that we should be supporting the student,” Sampert said.
Sampert said Larson made it clear before the convocation that she was going to make a statement against the honorary degree.
“If you do not want a political statement you should not be giving honorary degrees to controversial politicians,” Sampert added.
With files from CBC’s Meaghan Ketcheson