Teaching Assistant Suing Canadian University Over Free Speech Flap

David Krayden | Ottawa Bureau Chief

A teaching assistant who became the focus of academia’s attacks on free speech in Canada is suing a Waterloo, Ont. university, two professors and an administrator for $3.6 million.

As the Toronto Sun reports, Lindsay Shepherd’s lawsuit references harassment, intentional infliction of nervous shock and negligence. Shepherd says the ordeal has “rendered her unemployable in Canadian academia.”

Shepherd raised the ire of Sir Wilfred Laurier University when she showed her class a video of a debate between famed Canadian free speech advocate Jordan Peterson and another opponent over the use of gender neutral pronouns, a concept that Peterson dismisses.

According to news reports at the time, professors Nathan Rambukkana and Herbert Pimlott along with the university’s officer of gendered violence prevention, Adria Joel, subsequently met privately with Shepherd to say she had violated university policy and Canadian law by showing the video. Shepherd secretly recorded the grilling and shared it with the media.

The recording, widely disseminated by the Canadian media, has Rambukkana suggesting that Shepherd was “spreading transphobia,” creating a “toxic climate” and that listening to Peterson defend his views was akin to “neutrally playing a speech by Hitler.”

The lawsuit alleges that during the meeting with the professors and administrator “all three lambasted Shepherd, viciously attacking her personally, falsely alleging there had been complaints … insisting that, in playing the TV Ontario clip, she had been threatening to her students.”

“The defendants created a toxic environment and made it unbearable for her,” her lawyer Howard Levitt told the Toronto Sun. “It astonishes me even months later. They are being hoisted on their own petards.”

“I’ve practised labour law for 39 years and I have never seen anything like this.”

The lawsuit alleges that Rambukkana “ludicrously claimed that her showing the TV Ontario clip breached the Charter of Rights” and federal human rights code. . (and) was illegal,”

“Shepherd was accused of targeting ‘Trans Folks,’ even though Shepherd had chosen no side,” the lawsuit claims.

“They continued to abuse her even after she began sobbing, as they accused her of causing harm to unnamed students. She pleaded, ‘I am stressed out because to me this is so wrong, so wrong,’ noting ‘the very spirit of the university is to challenge ideas you already have,'” the lawsuit claims.

Although the univeristy’s president, Deborah MacLatchy and Rambukkana issued apologies, the lawsuit alleges:

“In Rambukkana’s forced apology, he continued to lie, insisting that there had been a complaint and that he had been doing his duty by addressing it.”

Rambukkana, Pimlott and Joel “created a poisoned work environment for Shepherd and thereby breached the University’s contractual obligations to Shepherd,” the lawsuit claims.

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