The Cambridge Reporter
Thursday, February 23, 2000
(Letter to the Editor)

Professor replies to Kubassek

So Erika Kubassek wants me fired from my job at the University of Waterloo! (Cambridge Reporter, Feb. 17, letter to editor, Kubassek protest attacks internet porn)

What provoked her so?

Why, it was the fact that I had the temerity to protest the University of Waterloo's 1994 local ban of five Usenetnewsgroups, and ask that it be overturned?

Unfortunately, Kubassek doesn't really understand what happened.

She apparently thinks I somehow have power over the Internet as a whole, and doesn't realize that the newsgroups in question were distributing text, not pictures.

The funny thing about the ban was that it was inconsistent. The University banned five newsgroups dealing with sexual topics, but continued to distribute dozens of others, with content even more prurient than the banned ones.

It was as if your local library banned the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, but continued to subscribe to Hustler.

For years my arguments in support of overturning Waterloo's ban were ignored by top University administrators.

But something changed in 1999. Waterloo hired a new president, David Johnston, a lawyer with expertise in electronic media issues. (He was formerly the chair of the Information Highway Advisory Council.)

I wrote a letter to Johnston, outlining my objections to Waterloo's ban, and Johnston overturned it, restoring the five newsgroups in question. It was a politically difficult, but wise, decision, and Johnston deserves a lot of credit for it.

As a professor, I have very little power.

I'm not an MP, and I can't pass laws.

I'm not a policeman, and I can't enforce the law. My only power is the power of my ideas.

In this case, it was my ideas that convinced someone in a position of power (the UW President) to take the right action and end institutional censorship at Waterloo.

Ideas are the only thing I have to work with, and, ultimately, that's what people like Erika Kubassek are afraid of.

In Canada, we have certain freedoms protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. One of those is freedom of expression. Freedom of expression doesn't just mean freedom for speech everybody agrees with; in the words of a US Supreme Court Justice, it also means freedom for the thought we hate.

The Charter protects my rights as well as those of Erika Kubassek. Isn't it great to live in a country where free speech is enshrined as a core value?

Jeffrey Shallit

Copyright © 2000 by Jeffrey Shallit. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.