As the American Political Science Association prepares to meet in Boston this week, a small network of scholars — including a pair of high-profile social conservatives — is circulating a petition asking the association to think carefully about its plans to meet in Toronto next year.
At issue are Canada’s federal and provincial human-rights commissions, which have recently been accused of trampling on free speech. In a decision last May, the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission ordered a right-wing Christian organization to “cease publishing in newspapers, by e-mail, on the radio, in public speeches, or on the Internet, in future, disparaging remarks about gays and homosexuals.” And Maclean’s, the Canadian newsweekly, was brought before a British Columbia tribunal in June for publishing an allegedly anti-Muslim article; the tribunal has not yet issued a ruling.
The political-science petition, whose initial signers include Robert P. George, a professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University, and Harvey C. Mansfield, a professor of government at Harvard University, warns that scholars visiting Toronto might face legal jeopardy if they made controversial statements. Scholars should be able to speak about “public policy concerning homosexuality or the character of and proper response to terrorist elements acting in the name of Islam, without fear of legal repercussions of any kind,” the petition reads.
The campaign has the flavor of a boycott. According to a report in the National Post, the petition’s authors plan to distribute buttons at this week’s conference that say “Toronto 2009? Non!”
But the petition itself makes a milder demand. It asks the association to solicit legal advice and to consult with the Canadian government to ensure that scholars’ civil liberties will be protected. “Our petition is simply asking for clarification,” said one of its authors, James R. Stoner, a professor of political science at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, in an interview with The Chronicle today. “We’re asking the APSA to acknowledge that there’s some issue concerning this, and that we can presume that the customary standards of academic freedom will be assured.”
Mr. Stoner speculated that the association’s governing council might refer the matter to an existing committee that has been asked to help scholars cope with homeland-security agencies when they cross the U.S.-Canadian border for next year’s meeting.
The new petition comes just weeks after the association affirmed its plan to meet in New Orleans in 2012. Some activists have objected to that site because of Louisiana’s anti-gay-marriage law, which is more restrictive than similar laws elsewhere. Daniel R. Pinello, a professor of government at the City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, is continuing to promote a boycott of the 2012 meeting. (Mr. Pinello crossed swords with Mr. Stoner, among others, in a 2003 e-mail debate on politics in the classroom that seems to foreshadow both the Toronto and New Orleans disputes.) —David Glenn