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Satirical Article on Vic Toews No Laughing Matter for Concordia University

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Émile Durkheim (1857-1917) established the academic discipline of Sociology. He is not a professor at Concordia University.
Émile Durkheim (1857-1917) established the academic discipline of Sociology. He is not a professor at Concordia University.

Concordia lawyers have demanded an end to funny business on as the University seeks to clip the wings of yours truly, the website’s political satirist in residence.

The piece was called Interview with Sociologist Nixed by Vic Toews' Office. It made fun of the Harper government’s claim that “committing sociology” is some kind of terror-friendly crime. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews was the butt of the joke, but, strangely enough, it was Concordia University’s PR department that took offence.

Concordia’s Director of Media Relations Chris Mota contacted the media coop’s Tim McSorley and informed him that, according to a legal opinion the University had received, my article had defamed the University. If the piece was not removed in the next few hours, a legal warning would be drafted and court proceedings could follow.

I still don’t understand how Concordia can claim it was defamed. There was a note from the author at the end of the article pointing out its satirical nature (i.e. it is supposed to be funny but not factual). And even if somebody didn’t know what satire is, and actually believed that Canada’s Public Safety Minister had nixed a media interview that had been scheduled with a Concordia Sociology professor by the name of Dr. Émile Durkheim despite the fact that it had been approved by Concordia’s Provost, how does that reflect badly on Concordia?

In this absurd story, Concordia was playing the straight man to wack-job Vic Toews. The University had no problem with the media interviewing the long-dead late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century sociologist. It was the Minister of Public Safety who halted the process because Dr. Durkheim had been found guilty of “committing sociology.”

Be that as it may, the higher-ups at Concordia were not amused. The University made good on its threat to send an official legal warning and court action may be pending.

To its credit, the media coop has refused to take the piece down from the website. The coop does not censor its authors.

Nevertheless, completely on my own initiative, I have redacted the article to remove any mention of Concordia University and Concordia personnel (both fictional and real). I have done so in the hope that the media coop will thus be spared any legal troubles. In the redacted piece, you can see the context in which Concordia was mentioned and decide for yourself whether or not the University was defamed.

If you agree with my position that Concordia was not defamed, then you must be asking yourself the same question that I have been asking myself over the past few days: Why has the University gone through so much trouble to silence this political satire?

My suspicion is that it is not so much the content of the article that poses a problem for Concordia administrators, but rather the author himself. You see, Concordia and I have a history.

Concordia and me

Some years ago I wrote a historical novel called North of 9/11. The fictional story is set against the all-too-real backdrop of the post-9/11 paranoia that was so rampant on the campus of Concordia University in September of 2001. Readers see real Concordia administrators fan the flames of post-9/11 anti-Muslim and anti-Arab racism as the fictional characters of the novel find themselves the target of an RCMP investigation.

I was scheduled to give an on-campus reading from my novel on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy. That reading was banned by Concordia’s “Risk Assessment Committee,” an action that earned the University condemnation from PEN Canada (a writers’ freedom group of international renown) and negative international headlines. Through the Québec Access to Information Commission, I later obtained documents that show University security had actually been spying on me and reporting on my activities in the days leading up to the event.

Now, you might think that the whole North of 9/11 fiasco would have taught Concordia administrators that trying to strong-arm a writer just generates negative publicity and unwanted attention. You might think that administrators would be pleased when a writer who had previously criticized the University for its authoritarian suppression of free speech actually casts the institution (albeit in a satirical piece) as a voice of pro-sociological sanity. You might think such things, but you would be wrong.

If Concordia administrators have learned anything, it is that David Bernans is dangerous, that anything he says about Concordia must be bad, and that if there are any legal grounds that can be used to shut him up, there should be no hesitation when it comes to throwing the book at him.

Of course the University could save itself a good deal of trouble (not to mention legal fees paid by taxpayer dollars) by investing in a sense of humour.

David Bernans is a Québec-based writer and translator. He is the author of Collateral Murder. Follow him on twitter @dbernans.


* The author regrets to inform you that this piece is not satirical in any way shape or form. However, it does contain more than the recommended daily dose of irony.


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