Weaponizing Words: The Dilemmas of Free Speech

June 27, 2018

Samir Gandesha, Morgane Oger, & Josh Paterson

Wednesday, June 27, 6:00PM–8:00PM, Room 7000, SFU Harbour Centre

Sponsored by SFU's Institute for the Humanities

In recent years, one of the most contentious issues has become the limits of free speech. On the one hand, as Joan Wallach Scott has argued, free speech has been “weaponized by the right,” as was recently exemplified by Milo Yiannopoulos’s ill-fated speaking engagement at UC Berkeley. Free speech becomes the opportunity to provoke, insult and even threaten members of vulnerable communities. On the other hand, free speech is vital not only to liberal-democratic institutions, but also to the activity of political dissent and ultimately the possibility of radical alternatives that break dramatically with the status quo. Such dissent has become increasingly imperilled around the world, from Turkey and India to the United States. In Canada, we see repeated attacks on the right to dissent in the form of the proliferation of SLAPP suits or Strategic Law Suits Against Public Participation, the Anti-Terror Legislation formerly known as Bill C-51, attacks on the freedom of the press, etc. The dilemmas of free speech and expression are deep and seemingly intractable, especially for those progressives who are committed both to the protection of vulnerable communities and to robust dissent and meaningful social change. Two philosophical statements that best reflect contemporary dilemmas of free speech are J.S. Mill’s On Liberty, which argues that individuals’ freedoms ought to be maximized so long as these freedoms do not “harm” others, and Herbert Marcuse’s concept of “repressive tolerance,” which suggests that Mill’s liberal defence of free speech, rather than promoting genuine alternatives, only serves to inhibit them by buttressing the prevailing one-dimensionality of advanced industrial society. 

Drawing upon his recent article in openDemocracy, the Director of the Institute for the Humanities, Samir Gandesha, will reflect on Mill’s and Marcuse’s contributions to the dilemma of Free speech and expression and academic freedom. His lecture will be followed by responses from Morgane Oger, BC NDP Vice-President, and Josh Paterson of the BCCLA.


Samir Gandesha is an Associate Professor in the Department of the Humanities and the Director of the Institute for the Humanities at Simon Fraser University. He specializes in modern European thought and culture, with a particular emphasis on the 19th and 20th centuries. His work has appeared in Political TheoryNew German Critique,  Constellations Logos, Kant StudienPhilosophy and Social CriticismTopia, the European Legacy, the European Journal of Social TheoryArt Papers, the Cambridge Companion to Adorno and Herbert Marcuse: A Critical Reader as well as in several other edited books. He is co-editor with Lars Rensmann of Arendt and Adorno: Political and Philosophical Investigations (Stanford, 2012). He is co-editor (with Johan Hartle) of Spell of Capital: Reification and Spectacle (University of Amsterdam Press, 2017) and Aesthetic Marx (Bloomsbury Press, 2017) also with Johan Hartle. He has also contributed to openDemocracy, Canadian Dimension, the Vancouver Sun and the Globe and Mail. In the Spring of 2017, he was the Liu Boming Visiting Scholar in Philosophy at the University of Nanjing and Visiting Lecturer at Suzhou University of Science and Technology in China.


Morgane Oger is the Executive Director of the Morgane Oger Foundation, which works to narrow the gap between human rights laws as they are written and as they are experienced by Canadians. Morgane Oger was the BC NDP candidate in the then BC Liberal stronghold of Vancouver-False Creek during the 2017 General Election. Working across party lines, Oger has become recognized as an effective community organizer and educator, changing hearts and minds to help win significant change on issues focused around equality, LGBTQ2+ inclusion, and accessible education. Oger has helped shape Canada’s human rights law, write police policies, improve healthcare delivery, pen policy for K-12 education, prevent extrajudicial deportations overseas, protect trans youth in schools, and formulate national transgender policy. Previously on the City of Vancouver LGBTQ2+ advisory committee and on the Vancouver District Parent Advisory Council where she served as Chair, Oger volunteers on the Vancouver Police Department LGBTQ2+ advisory group, with Women Against Violence Against Women, and mentors aspiring young politicians with intersectional experiences.

Josh Paterson is a lawyer and the Executive Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA). Josh got his start acting as the Director of the Freedom of Expression, Equality and Dignity Project at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association in Toronto. After moving to Vancouver in the territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skxwú7mesh (Squamish) & səlil̓wətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) peoples, he joined a busy union-side labour and human rights practice, and spent much of his time working on one of BC’s largest racial discrimination cases in history. Josh’s career as a lawyer has focused on protecting some of the most marginalized people from human rights violations, civil liberties restrictions, discrimination and environmental injustice. He has worked for several years as a lawyer for First Nations in their fights to protect their constitutional rights and their inherent legal authority. His work has included law reform and policy advocacy, public education, community organizing, government relations and litigation. Josh holds law and master’s degrees from the University of Toronto, and clerked at Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice.


Hilda Fernandez Alvarez  works as a Lacanian psychoanalyst in private practice and as a psychotherapist, registered with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors, for a public institution (Vancouver Coastal Health) in Vancouver, Canada. She received an MA in Clinical Psychology from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), an MA in Spanish Literature from the University of British Columbia (UBC), and she has more than 20 years of Lacanian training. She is engaged in a PhD Program in the Department of Geography at Simon Fraser University (SFU), where she is conducting research on discursive spaces of trauma and the provision of services, awarded with a VCHRI Team Grant. She co-founded the Lacan Salon in 2007 and currently serves as its clinical director. She leads a Clinical Seminar in Vancouver since the fall 2015 and has published a number of articles on psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. She is passionate about the transmission of psychoanalysis and community building.