The student government and a workers’ union at the University of Guelph decided on Tuesday to cancel a federal debate scheduled for the next day as provincial policy would have forced organizers to allow the local People’s Party of Canada candidate to attend.
The Central Student Association and CUPE 1334 said in a statement that they have the right to bar individuals from having a platform to speak on campus if allowing them would “jeopardize or compromise our anti-oppressive mandate and the safety of our students and workers.”
Based on the party’s platform, the two organizations found that the PPC policies “discriminate against people in the University of Guelph community” and thus contradict the CSA and CUPE’s work to “make an inclusive campus for all students and workers.”
However, due to freedom of speech rules mandated by the Progressive Conservative government earlier this year, the organizers could not hold a federal debate on the Guelph campus without allowing the local PPC candidate Mark Paralovos to participate.
If post-secondary institutions did not implement the free speech policies, they would be left vulnerable to funding cuts by the province. Therefore, to keep Paralovos off the debate stage, the unions cancelled the election event altogether.
Organizers told The Avro Post on Wednesday afternoon that Paralovos had threatened to arrive on campus with supporters to protest the debate if he was not invited. Jensen Williams, speaking on behalf of CUPE, said that they did not want violent protests similar to what occurred recently in Hamilton.
Jensen nearly five hours later told The Post that her claim that Paralovos threatened to protest if he was excluded from the debate was false, and that it was the University of Guelph administration who assumed there would be violence because of what occurred in Hamilton.
The decision to not invite Paralovos and subsequently shut down the debate so he would not protest was a non-partisan one, Williams stated. The spokeswoman pointed to the immigration, refugees and Canadian identity planks put forward on the People’s Party platform as attacking minorities represented by both the unions.
Requests for comment sent out to the provincial government and Paralovos have not yet received a response.
An election weeks away
The Federal Election Panel Discussion, which had over 100 Facebook profiles marked as “interested” or “going”, was planned as a way for students, who are part of the largest voting bloc, to get a sense of the parties available to them on Oct. 21, when the country will vote.
Originally invited was Liberal incumbent MP Lloyd Longfield, Green Party candidate Steve Dyck, Conservative Party candidate Dr. Ashish Sachan, New Democrat Aisha Jahangir and the Communist Party’s Juanita Burnett.
However, there was some pressure for Mark Paralovos, the People’s Party of Canada candidate, to be invited. Paralovos has previously struggled with receiving access to local debates and campaign events, but has since been welcomed to attend several after reporting by local media.
The move by the unions has resulted in backlash from Paralovos and his camp. In a tweet, the federal candidate implied that there could be legal action.
Paralovos asked on Twitter: “What I have to wonder is: do these two who have signed their names to this libellous and defamatory statement understand what they’ve done?”
“I guess we’ll find out soon enough,” he added, posting a link to a section of the Canadian criminal code dealing with libel, a law that covers the slander of individuals.
People’s Party leader, Maxime Bernier, has been accused of racism and discrimination, which he has denied. Specifically, there has been backlash to the part of the PPC platform calling for cutting immigration into Canada by over half, citing the economic impact of current levels.
Earlier this year, a visit by Bernier was made in secret after a location change due to what the PPC called safety concerns after anti-fascist activists planned a protest. As Bernier spoke to a private audience with Paralovos, a protest was held at city hall.