Scholars at Risk is pleased to announce the launch of Scholars at Risk – Canada Section, which took place on June 22, 2012 at the University of Toronto’s Massey College. The Honourable Dr. Lloyd Axworthy, President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Winnipeg, formally launched the section, presenting a keynote that focused on the responsibility of academic institutions to protect academic counterparts worldwide who are unable to pursue scholarship safely.
The launch of the Canadian Section represents the culmination of several years of partnership between Canadian higher education institutions and the wider, international Scholars at Risk Network. SAR ‘sections’ are a means of engaging national institutions in that wider effort, and of enhancing organization and coordination of local activities in support of academic freedom, university autonomy and related values. In joining Scholars at Risk, Canadian higher education institutions, academic leadership and staff are sending a strong message of solidarity with scholars and institutions in situations where academic freedom is restricted and research, publication, teaching and learning are repressed.
Participants at the launch event included faculty, administrators, union representatives, human rights leaders and students. SAR representatives from across Canada and SAR’s partner network in the Netherlands took part in the launch. The day began with presentations providing background on the inspiration for involvement in Scholars at Risk’s work. Massey College Master John Fraser opened proceedings, reflecting on the College’s long-standing involvement in Scholars at Risk and sharing inspiring stories of scholars previously hosted by Massey. Vicki Bismilla, Vice-President Academic and Chief Learning Officer of Centennial College, shared her college’s experience integrating SAR activities into the institution’s established programs and encouraged participants to consider the fact that engaging in SAR’s work can help an institution meet its core mission. SAR’s Executive Director, Robert Quinn, offered remarks on the role that institutions and individuals have in defending the intellectual space in society, drawing examples from SAR’s experience protecting threatened scholars and promoting academic freedom.
Two SAR scholars, Anna Dolidze of Georgia and Dr. Clement Jumbe of Zimbabwe, presented at the launch. Both shared with attendees their stories, summarizing the threats they had faced in their home countries, the (often quite indirect) paths they took to reengaging with academia in their new countries, and the ways in which the Scholars at Risk network and Canadian institutions have been able to help them.
President of PEN Canada and award-winning author Charles Foran gave remarks at midday, drawing from his experience with threatened and refugee writers in Canada. Charles described writers and scholars as in the vanguard of moving society forward because of their willingness to inquire, to create and to generate ideas. Throughout the afternoon, participants discussed the goals of the Canadian section, learned more about SAR activities available to university and college members of the section and determined next steps for the section. It was agreed that a steering committee would be established to coordinate joint activities of the section and to represent Canada in the wider SAR network. Following this discussion, the Scholars at Risk – Canada Section was officially launched by The Honourable Dr. Lloyd Axworthy, President and Vice-Chancellor of The University of Winnipeg. To mark the occasion, representatives from founding member institutions of the Canada Section participated in a signing ceremony, committing anew to join in solidarity with Scholars at Risk members worldwide to protect endangered scholars and promote academic freedom.