Monday, October 3, 2011

Prof in the park speaks out

By Trish Elliott 
Act Up In Sask
Sunday, 02 October 2011

University of Regina professor Emily Eaton finally got her chance to speak in Victoria Park – and the outspoken academic didn’t mince words. Eaton spoke at a Charter of Rights and Freedoms Celebration held in the park on Thursday, Sept. 29.

Eaton was originally scheduled to speak in the park on June 14, as part of a Profs in the Park lecture series jointly sponsored by the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District and the University of Regina Faculty of Arts. When the RDBID asked her to change her topic, Palestinian solidarity, the whole series ended up being cancelled amid accusations of censorship. “It was the RDBID that pulled the lecture, not the university,” Eaton said, stating that the business improvement office hasn’t presented an honest version of events.

Eaton called on the public to recognize that the complaints about her lecture are part of a campaign “to stop certain political discussions.”

“What I am speaking about is dangerous to a particular constellation of interests,” she said.

Unfortunately the censorship issue shifted focus away from the topic of Palestinian rights, she added.

“Although I think what they (the RDBID) did was disgusting, they are not alone in it,” she said. A general “campaign of fear” makes people reluctant to speak openly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she said.

While the Charter provides protection for some civil rights, it doesn’t address the every day experiences that shut down people’s freedom of expression, Eaton argued. She challenged people to look beyond the discourse of liberal civil rights.

“The regular way people around these issues get marginalized, there are no Charter protections for that,” she said. As an example, she cited colleagues who quietly advised her to protect her tenure prospects by making less noise. Similarly, politicians have been advised to shy away from rallies supporting the rights of Palestinians, she said.

But Eaton called on her audience to set aside the censorship problem and get back to key demands, which she identified as: end the occupation of Palestinian land; dismantle the wall; recognize the equality rights of Israel’s Arab citizens, and; protect the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

“Israel has been in contravention of several international laws, and the international community has done nothing about it,” she said.

Eaton’s talk was part of a Charter of Rights and Freedoms Celebration day headed up by education professor Marc Spooner. Throughout the afternoon, event organizers handed out copies of the Charter in several languages, and invited people to make signs and speak their minds at an open mic. Other featured speakers included aboriginal and environmental activist Sue Deranger, political science professor Joyce Green, lawyer Larry Kowalchuk and labour activist Cara Banks.

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