If you stroll through Concordia University’s library building today, you’ll see a booth with a video playing that links psychiatry to several of the ills that society is now and has been afflicted with, from 9/11 to Hitler. If you look a little closer you’ll see that it’s a group called the Citizens’ Commission on Human Rights behind the exhibit. If you ask the protesters in the Guy Fox masks outside, they’ll tell you that the group attacking the psychiatric profession is actually a front for the Church of Scientology.
Yes, that’s right, the same Scientology that Tom Cruise is part of, the same Scientology that the group of masked protesters known as Anonymous Montreal who are part of the global Anonymous movement refer to as a dangerous cult. That Scientology.
While Scientology’s association with the display and the display itself has brought much criticism from psychiatrists, students, the aforementioned protest group and people in general, one question that comes to mind is just what the Church of Scientology is doing with a display at Concordia in the first place.
For Michael Di Grappa, Concordia’s vice-president, it is a matter of academic freedom and freedom of expression. He told The Gazette that “there is an expectation that the exhibit will respect the spirit of our commitment to academic freedom. It is a precondition of any event on our campus that the emphasis will be and at all times will remain on the respectful discussion and debate of possibly opposing positions in a secure, collegial environment.”
Considering some of the other organizations that have had displays at Concordia in the past while, one wonders if there may be something else at play when it comes to the University’s decision-making regarding permission to display on campus. Last year, for example, the Gillette Company had a booth promoting Venus brand razors under the guise of a scholarship.
Meanwhile, the school has attempted, sometimes successfully, to block groups from speaking or holding events on campus deemed too politically sensitive or controversial. There is even a secret Risk Assessment Committee that was established for just such a purpose. Also, theatrical protestors and other groups hoping to change the discourse and challenge the corporate presence are generally asked to vacate the premises.
So while some events and groups are deemed to risky or politically controversial to be part of campus life, corporate displays are welcome despite the resistance to them and the Church of Scientology, which is controversial from the get-go, is allowed to put up an exhibit that will undoubtedly upset many. If this looks like a double standard, then the question becomes why.
While we have not learned at press time the cost of setting up a booth at Concordia, the reasoning behind who gets a permit and who gets denied campus access could very well be one of money. In that case, this supposed free speech is nothing more than paying to preach.