Vic Toews Gets U of W Honourary Degree; and Valedictorian Pillories Him

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Catchfire Catchfire's picture
Vic Toews Gets U of W Honourary Degree; and Valedictorian Pillories Him

"Loss of Integrity": University of Winnipeg Valedictorian

University of Winnipeg valedictorian Erin Larson used part of her speech to hundreds gathered for the institution’s fall convocation Sunday to criticize the U of W’s decision to award an honorary doctor of laws degree to federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

Her scathing comments followed a protest by about 40 members of a group called the Coalition for Integrity in Academic Accolades. The protesters brandished placards criticizing the university for its decision to honour Toews.

Both the coalition and Larson charge that Toews did not deserve the honour because of what they allege are his political positions against “tolerance, compassion and respect for human rights.” Many of the group’s placards featured comments from the Conservative MP on same-sex marriage, refugees and the justice system.

While it was a largely silent protest by coalition members as grads arrived outside on Spence Street, Larson’s was anything but as she took aim at Manitoba’s senior MP, who was seated just feet from the lectern the Bachelor of Arts (Honours) grad spoke from.

“While I’m immensely proud to be an alumnus of the University of Winnipeg and extremely honoured to have been selected valedictorian, I have to admit I’m not proud to share the stage with everyone who is on it today,” Larson, 22, said in her address. “I feel the University of Winnipeg has recently suffered a profound loss of integrity due to the actions of the administration.”

Great job!



Yes, saw some CBC reporting on this. That sellout, Lloyd Axworthy, wasn't at all pleased. Nor was the war criminal 'honoured'.

bagkitty bagkitty's picture

Well, speaking as a vindictive person about another vindictive person (and I think it is fair comment to describe Toews in such a fashion) I wish he had been literally (physically) pilloried, and not just scolded.

Nice to see people actually calling for some integrity in academic accolades - I hope they move beyond any single instance and make this a wider ranging criticism.


Brilliant, Catchfire, thanks for the fiery catch!


people like that make me proud to be a 'pegger

And this should serve as a reminder to all the people who said she shouldn't have said anything since it's not  "the right place to make a statement".  If that's the case stop rewarding authority figures for their "service", especially ones that are currently serving, with these honorary degrees.  Give them to someone who truly deserves them! 


I wished one of the protest signs would have pointed out his hypocrisy on sanctity of marriage given he destroyed his own with his own spear as it were.


I'm not surprised Axworthy said what he did. On the one hand it is a criticism of his institution moreso than Toews. And even if it weren't he would be expected to take a neutral stance as head of the university.

In any case, good on her for saying what she did. Toews deserves to be shamed as much for what he did as part of Filmon's government as for his work as Harper's lackey, and if a politician can't face up to public criticism he or she should find another line of work.

Besides, it's a rare day when someone in the Harper cabinet even gets close to the public in an event that isn't scripted by the PMO. Best to take advantage of the opportunity.



laine lowe laine lowe's picture

It's a criticism of his hipocrisy as well since Axworthy has been trying to change the face of U of W as being a nationally acclaimed centre for human rights studies. How can he approve giving an honourary degree to a homophobe and racist and still claim that the institution he heads is a centre of excellence in human rights?


Was Axworthy personally in favour of the degree? I presume it was a decision by the board.

Not trying to excuse him, just wondering if anyone knows.

laine lowe laine lowe's picture

Well if his vision for the University is different than his Board's, then it's hard to take the institution's claims seriously.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

As someone who used to work in the department which awarded Honorary Degrees for a major Canadian university, I can say with confidence that if the principal wants to give a particular individual a free doctorate, chances are that person will get one. Also, the Principal plays a large role in chosing the "Board"--who are almost invariably industry magnates of some sort or another, and likely are of a view with the principal.

Also: who gives an honorary doctorate to a sitting MP? Winnipeg, apparently...


Here is a bit of the reply from Axworthy's office which I received when I sent an email opposing giving Toews an honourary degree:

" Let me respond by explaining how the University goes about making decisions on Honorary Degrees. It is an open process whereby anyone from the University community and beyond puts forward a nomination, it is reviewed and recommended by the Honorary Degrees Committee and then approved by the University's Senate which includes representatives from faculty, students, staff and administration. In the case of Mr. Toews nomination, both the Committee and the Senate voted unanimously to grant the degree...

However, we are a University that practices openness and tolerance for diverse views and opinions. The University has awarded Honorary Degrees to a variety of individuals from all political, social and economic backgrounds. We accept that not everyone will be in favour of every person who is selected for this honour. In the case of Mr. Toews, as both an alumnus (BA '73) and through his service in government as a public servant and Member of Parliament, he has demonstrated support for the University and its commitment to renewal in the inner city."


My favourite part is the bit about openness and tolerance, and then awarding a degree to an outspoken homophobe. Also, the last thing I heard about Toews' commitment to the inner city was his links with the Christian youth group who got a massive amount of city funding when there are countless struggling youth programs that don't require their participants to join prayers if they want to play basketball.

laine lowe laine lowe's picture

Maybe there's a Canada Action Plan poster associated with the U of W campus expansion. I totally agree with you, moal. I couldn't believe that all that funding went to an evangelical Christian group when so many other secular organizations with long standing records have seen their funding cut back.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Thanks for that, moal. Yes, the university I worked for had an "open" and "representative" process to determine honorary degrees as well. Yet for some reason, a massive proportion of the honorees had donated lots of money to the University, or worked for multi-national corporations who had (Pfizer was a particularly lucky company, if I recall correctly). Of course, they threw the occasional bone--actual authors or artists, community activists, etc. But they were in a clear minority.


Reminds me of the reception Bob Larson got at the U of W back in the 90s. Of course it wasn't Convocation, it was a private event for which he rented the Duckworth Centre. Students were so pissed off that his event was allowed given the University's anti-homophobia policy that the stage was mobbed and he was prevented from speaking.


So just so I understand, the UofW approved Toews for the honour and a minority voices it's protest.

Larson's use of her valedictory speech to vilify Toews and take the UofW to task for choosing him, regardless of the merits of that decision, was a cheap shot and, as Axworthy pointed out, unnecessarily politicized the event.

I doubt the reactions here would be the same if Jack Layton were to get an honourary degree from the University of Calgary and the valedictorian did the same thing because he didn't like liberals or socialists.

alan smithee alan smithee's picture

I'd like to shake Erin Larson's hand.

That was beautiful.

remind remind's picture

you know, it grows really tiresome having to explain to some people here about human rights

...and to explain how those who willfully seek to violate them, cannot be compared with those who do not, then having to explain how they should not recieve allocades for being the scum of the earth is even more of a piss off.


antispin perhaps you really should rethink you being here, and maybe I should flag your post so the mods can compare IP addresses for the other trolls they have banned.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

remind, please don't make baseless speculation as to whether other babblers are trolls or not. It is not helpful. AntiSpin has been a babbler for months now and disagrees with Larson's actions. He or she has a right to that opinion. If you disagree with it, engage it.

remind remind's picture

I did engage and explain why his position was a unacceptable one.

seriously we should not be seeing apologists for Toews on this forum, and that we did gave me a basis for my position. As such it is not baseless.

Respectfully, in the future I will be looking for a level playing field in respect to the use of the word "troll" here. It is something that I rarely do, whilst others use it frequently with no call out by a moderator. And should you, or the publisher, require links proving this, I have them at the ready.


Universities should probably get out of the business of granting honourary degrees. Many of them are tainted. Toews should earn his degree the old fashioned way. Wink


AntiSpin wrote:

So just so I understand, the UofW approved Toews for the honour and a minority voices it's protest.

Larson's use of her valedictory speech to vilify Toews and take the UofW to task for choosing him, regardless of the merits of that decision, was a cheap shot and, as Axworthy pointed out, unnecessarily politicized the event.

I doubt the reactions here would be the same if Jack Layton were to get an honourary degree from the University of Calgary and the valedictorian did the same thing because he didn't like liberals or socialists.

I see your point, and I actually agree with you in part. I recognize there are situations in which it is not appropriate to say or do certain things.

Why then do I support what she did?

We can talk about protocol and etiquette, but there are always people who are going to break those rules depending on how serious the issue is. Did Larson say something impolite and inapproriate for the occasion? Yes.

On the other hand, let's look at how many times Toews and the government he represents have broken and bent the rules, and the degree to which they have ignored the media and not been willing to face the public except in situations which they control completely

Given the good faith shown by the government I am less inclined to condemn someone for taking a very public opportunity when it arises, and she is pretty sure she is not going to get handcuffed for it.

It's part of the government's job to listen and make themselves available to the people, and when they break that trust they shouldn't be surprised when something like this happens.


Catchfire Catchfire's picture

When Vic Toews was picked as an honorary degree candidate by the University, they politicized the event. Indeed, I can think of no other verb that best describes awarding honorary degrees in the first place. Larson was picked by her peers to represent them at graduation, and she did her best to reward that trust. We all bear a responsibility to criticize and censure the institutions we're a part of when they disgrace themselves. I suppose if Larson had stood up and declared how honoured she was to share the stage with a homophobic, racist asshole, that wouldn't qualify as "unnecessarily politicizing" the event?


Toews is a huge hypocrit, liar, and a shameful exploiter of bigotry. He deserves to be confronted wherever he goes. Furthermore, Larson's particular point was that  the U of W's explicit, avowed (as in the U of W admin has promoted itself as such) commitment to human rights ran in conflict with Toews' anti-gay positions. The issues here are really obvious even for our culture of oblivion.


I think if you disagree you should say so, ESPECIALLY in high profile situations covered by the media.  While it might be very "nice" to simply point it out to her friends after the fact, no one would hear her.  

And besides, politicians have absolutely no right to complain about "cheap shots".  We are paying them very generous amounts of money and insane pension packages to do just that.