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Albert Howard and Frances Widdowson won't be invited back to TRU after 'reckless' comments

02/07/2015 06:10 EST | Updated 04/09/2015 05:59 EDT
Two academics from Calgary have been told they won't be invited back to Thompson Rivers University after some students felt the comments they made at the Trending Now: #NewLaw conference on Aboriginal law were offensive and inappropriate.

The presentation — made on Wednesday by independent researchers Albert Howard and Frances Widdowson of Mount Royal University — was called Potential Futures: Aboriginal Policy and its Interaction with the Law. Some students felt the content insinuated First Nations people take advantage of government funding.

"The experience we had here was entirely unexpected. They used it to their advantage to say some reckless things that are not only entirely inconsistent with the views of this faculty but I feel unacceptable to society at large," conference organizer and TRU law student Elyse Bouer told Daybreak Kamloops.

"I think a lot of people were left feeling disturbed and disappointed."

Howard felt the presentation was mischaracterized. He said it looked at how lawyers take advantage of funding put aside for aboriginal people.

"We were trying to convey the existence of an aboriginal industry that has developed around the huge amounts of money that are being transferred in the interests of native people and are intercepted by a whole layer of people, the largest component of which is the legal element," he said.

"Aboriginal people today are living in poverty…lawyers are making a fortune in keeping them there — keeping them in need of their services and the services of other people in the industry."

Howard said he was approached by some students who appreciated his perspective, but the law students that spoke to the CBC felt differently.

"The language they used and a lot of topics they said and addressed and a lot of things they had up on the projector screens were certainly a lot more shocking and dramatic that that," said second year law student Blake Tancock.

Howard said he feels he is being censored because his views don't line up with those of the TRU faculty. He said he plans to "expose" the university's approach by bringing his concerns to the Society of Academic Freedom and Scholarship.

"I found that one rather strange thing was that we kept being assured of how accepting they were of a wide range of views, open discussion — how they welcomed a range of opinions and freedom of speech and so on, and I thought, I take that for granted at any Canadian university contemporarily," he said.

To hear the full interview with Albert Howard and the reaction of law students at TRU to his presentation, click the audio labelled: Aboriginal law presenters told they won't be invited back to TRU.

To hear First Nations advocate and former lawyer Michelle Good's thoughts on where a university should draw the line on freedom of speech, click the audio labelled: Michelle Good on racism and freedom of speech.

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