The Canadian Inquisition

This story is not directly climate-related, but it illustrates the familiar authoritarian behaviour of the thought police within academia and the attempts to promote an agenda and suppress all dissenting views.

You can read about the story at the BBC, CBC, the Spectator, Quillette, and many other sources.

At a third-rate Canadian university near Toronto called Wilfred Laurier, a graduate student and teaching assistant, Lindsay Shepherd, was teaching a course on grammar. She discussed the use of pronouns and whether it was appropriate to use “they” as a singular pronoun. As part of the class she showed a short clip from a programme on TVO – a public TV channel – featuring a discussion on this question involving two academics, Nicholas Matte and Jordan Peterson.

A few days later, Shepherd was hauled in for an interrogation with the class professor, Nathan Rambukkana, another professor, Herbert Pimlott, and the university’s “manager of Gendered Violence Prevention and Support”, Adria Joel. But unknown to the inquisitors, smart cookie Shepherd recorded the interview. Some excerpts from the interview are transcribed here, but it really is worth listening to the original recording either from that link or the CBC one.

Please do listen to the recording. It really is straight of Kafka, as Jonathan Haidt says. She asks what the complaint was. She asks how many people complained. Neither of these questions are answered.

What is interesting is that despite being outnumbered 3 to 1, and being reduced to tears at several points by the bullying (which gets no sympathy whatsoever from her inquisitors), she exposes the shallowness of the arguments of her interrogators, who have nothing to say beyond regurgitating words like “problematic” and “unsafe”, and bringing up completely irrelevant claims about “white supremacists” and Nazis.

Rather than engaging in any discussion of the issues, the interrogation starts with an attack on Peterson, which evolves into saying that showing a TV clip featuring him is “like neutrally playing a speech by Hitler”.

At 15:20 in the interview, Pimlott says “it’s like some of the climate change deniers that are given a 50-50 chance with meteorologists”. He then also goes on to talk about “the Nazis”.

The female interrogator Adria Joel brings up the university’s “Gendered and sexual violence” policy. At 22 minutes, when Shepherd asks what she violated in that policy,  Joel claims that Shepherd is guilty of “Um… So… gender-based violence, transphobia,  causing harm to trans students by …err…”. So apparently showing a clip from public TV is committing violence.

After the grilling, Shepherd released the recording to the press and the story blew up.

The two academics, Rambukkana and Pimlott, are supposedly professors of “Communication Studies”. Until recently they both had twitter accounts, but since the recording was made public, Rambukkana has deleted his, while Pimlott’s still exists but is ‘protected’, so only his friends can see it.  So the two “communicators” seem remarkably reluctant to communicate – does that sound familiar?

Lindsay Shepherd, on the other hand, who was not on social media, has set up a twitter account in the last few days and already has over 10,000 followers. Rambukkana has made an apology in which he admits that he “didn’t do enough to try to support you in this meeting”, which is a rather Orwellian way of saying that he relentlessly criticised her, and he also regrets comparing Peterson with Hitler. The president of the university has also written an apology.

Lindsay Shepherd has recorded a youtube video in which she says she’s happy that they apologised, and that she does not think that Rambukkana should be fired.

There is also a video by Peterson talking about the incident, preceded by an introduction with a clip from the film of 1984.


  1. Next to the BBC story you link to was this story “’Sexist’ inclusive writing row riles France” with the same angry ignorant intolerance being shown by those who want to imposed their linguistic fatwa in the name of equality. Except that, because languages work differently, many of the changes insisted on go in the opposite direction. While the Brits (or is it just the Guardian?) have converted actresses to actors, the French are changing their female auteurs to auteures. Same irrational obsessions by the same thought police, with the opposite effect.

    Likewise with our Greens, who were up in arms a couple of weeks ago at the government reneging on its promise to reduce by two thirds the share of nuclear in the energy mix by 2025. Many seemed to believe that nuclear is bad for the climate. Never mind the logic, it’s the indignation that counts.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Further insight into post-modern grip on academia comes from the ongoing saga of Professor Jordon Peterson at his own institution, University of Toronto. Now he is in trouble for considering a website for exposing course content that prevails in gender and cultural studies.

    What is the opposite of diversity? You got it: university. Or as liberal journalist Nicholas Kristof put the criticism upon academia: “People who don’t look like us are welcome, as long as they think like us.”


  3. This idea that universities should be or should have “safe places” is to my mind morally reprehensible. Universities should be “dangerous”, places where you learn to think, argue , change your beliefs, stand up for what you believe in. They should not produce marshmallows.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Setting aside the fact that Wilfred Laurier U was formerly known as Waterloo Lutheran University …

    The academic pedigree of Lindsay Shepherd’s prime prosecutor – Assistant professor, Nathan Rambukkana, Ph.D. – probably tells you everything you need to know about the deplorable state of so-called higher education in North America. A sample from Rambukkana’s bio:

    This project employs discourse analysis in combination with digital humanities methodologies to investigate past, existing, and emerging forms of digitally mediated intimacy. These include such topics as hashtags as technosocial assemblages; MMOs and avatar infidelity; the politics of race-activist hashtags such as #Ferguson; haptics and digital touching; and the emerging sex robot industry.

    Amazing, eh?!

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Hilary – I just read some more of the good Professor’s bio. What a word salad.

    And what a shame obscurantists like him are sticking their oar into the still forming inter-disciplinary area of ‘digital humanities’.

    Some good work has taken place under that rubric that unfortunately I think many people will be inclined to dismiss as soon as they see someone like Rambukkana involved with his scholarly inspirations of ” feminist, queer, postcolonial, and critical race theories; semiotics, affect theory, event theory and psychoanalysis.”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The reactionary illiteracy of far too many in academia is profoundly disturbing.
    It is showing that some academics are caught up in a bizarre anti-intellectual amorality that reduces intellect and reason, not to mention critical thinking skills.
    Kudos to the young lady for showing in appalling detail how academic sausage is made.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Ron Clutz’s article gives some useful background detail about Professor Jordan Peterson’s thought crimes. I commented there a week ago, putting up my usual defence of Marxism and socialism against the accusation that it’s at the origin of green madness, political correctness, and everything else that’s wrong with academia. Looking at Paul’s list of Professor Pimlott’s papers above, I don’t think I’ll be doing that again. Note that they’re not Marxist analyses though. They’re boring old media studies.


  8. University safe spaces for some, not for others. Shades of Mao’s Cultural Revolution
    driven by the Red Guards, a student mass movement encouraged by Mao Zedong.

    The Red Guard became Mao’s power base as he reinstalled himself as leader of
    the party, purging it of his critics and competitors. Comprised mostly of fanatical
    students, the Red Guards took shape in June 1966, following a student protest
    in Beijing University. Within weeks they had mobilised into a militia10 million strong.
    Motivated by Mao’s slogans “It is right to rebel” the student Red Guard attacked
    anyone they considered a threat to Mao or to his socialist vision.


  9. In a related phenomenon – the new Star Trek series, ‘Discovery’ continues to provide a highly entertaining window into the mind of the SJW and their projections.

    For those who don’t know, the series writers are heavily influenced by SJW regressives’ thinking and agendas.

    The episode I watched last night had a Vulcan suicide bomber who was a “logic extremist”

    I sh*t. You. Not.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Beth

    Approaching the edges of quantum gravity exegesis.
    Graviton bosons live.
    But nonrenormalizability really makes me think.
    In universities nowhere is safe and “no one can hear you scream”.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Great thread. Thanks Paul for kicking off what could be a very wide discussion indeed. The parallels between what happened with Lindsay Shepherd and the climate inquisition are very real. However, in my view, radical transgender activism (transactivism is its latest short name) goes beyond all that, a very deep challenge to everything that’s gone before in human history, as an excellent segment on BBC Radio 4 Today made clear recently. And it was notable for me that Gavin Schmidt tweeted against Mark Jacobson suing fellow scientists for something critical published by PNAS. I agree with Danny that some good and much needed academic work on our brave new digital world will get lost in the rubbish if we’re not careful here. And I agree with Geoff. Baby and bathwater – but at what point is baby enabled to choose its gender and did I use the right dehumanising pronoun? We need to recognise the good, including in unexpected places, marxists and all, and face up to the real possibility of disaster. No pressure then, as Richard Curtis would say.


  12. SpikeOnline have picked up on the story:

    “Laurier has since apologised, and the vice-chancellor, Deborah MacLatchy, has made a public statement defending free speech and free expression. This came with a caveat, though: that it ‘is not a simple matter’ to uphold these principles while respecting important human rights and the ‘institutional values of diversity and inclusion’. MacLatchy’s qualification expresses the familiar trade-off approach to values: free speech versus diversity and inclusion.”

    Even when they are caught out red-handed censoring free speech and imposing biased viewpoints and teaching methods upon their students, they still default to their SJW ideology.These people won’t change; they need to be removed from higher education before they irretrievably into the gutter.


  13. Quite a few years ago I used to include a section upon the consequences of peak oil in my Fossil Fuels teaching model and could scare impressionable young students half to death. One year they were so concerned that they organized their own seminar upon preparation for times of increasing energy shortage. They asked for my input by e-mail, to which I agreed. I had lived through the oil embargo and mentioned various strategies people adopted. Almost as an afterthought (remembering packs of semi wild dogs I had seen in Egypt) I suggested that “a familiarity with firearms might come in useful”. This created a mini-uproar and I was hauled before the head of school and others to explain myself “Didn’t I know that having firearms was illegal” and so on. “If some of our student’s parents read your email….” To placate those outraged I agreed to send another email to students partially rescinding my first. Some time later I was told by some of my students that they found the circumstances behind my second email “really amusing”.
    Sbepherd’s inquisition was so, so much worse than mine. Yet there is a similarity: both of us had acted in good faith with no evil intent, but both had been subject to an inquisition by those in authority who were fearful of PC correctness. I have the greatest sympathy for her and admiration for how she proceeded. I hope she has a future at the university.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Jaime: Spiked are a key voice in my view. But not an infallible one. I met Ella Whelan at The Battle of Ideas recently and two days ago she was in the thick of things, writing, despite herself, in support of Labour Party feminists on the transgender issue, very well, in Lily Madigan is not a woman, and taking part in the Channel 5 discussion of the #MeToo movement and rape generally post-Weinstein (here for UK viewers or those with VPN). I thought Ella was less than sensitive in the latter case, despite having some important points to make. I can think of other examples, one involving Katie Hopkins and Jack Munroe, who “identifies as non-binary transgender and goes by singular ‘they’ pronouns”. Spiked’s support for Hopkins there was a mistake. She should have admitted she was wrong and saved herself over £100k. Having an anti-SJW stance isn’t enough. I particularly appreciated Frank Furedi’s candid response to me at the Battle of Ideas, when I raised one issue of great concern with him. And Ella got it right in that article on Wednesday: making an alliance with feminists with whom she disagrees in other areas, because the transactivist challenge is such a fundamental one. We will all find unexpected friends if we do this right.


  15. Richard – on that point, I’d highly recommend reading this twitter exchange. It argues exactly why it was such an awful mistake to add the ‘T’ to ‘LGB’:


  16. Hilary.
    Communications like you conveyed at 7.50pm expand my vocabulary bigtime. Who knew I could confabulate “haptic” with touching (I can’t wait to try that one out – might get slapped though – another haptic experience!). But the word I enjoyed using best today was ‘nonrenormalizability’. Pity I probably will never have another chance to use it.
    Is this explosion of word diarrhoea a bit like the effects of LSD? I have no experience.


  17. Danny: I hadn’t seen that thread, thanks. It shows among other things how well-known MSM people (Liddle, Hitchens etc) are finally waking up to the challenge. I’d particularly single out Janice Turner in The Times as both compassionate and hard-hitting, much earlier than most. The support of many gays is key (I experienced this myself in the January 2016 debate on all this in the Ruby community – search for ‘Drake’ and ‘rubydino’ my gay ally here). But it’s also very important to note that many transgender people are themselves vehemently against the new activism. It was before a meeting at which one such dissenter, Miranda Yardley, was going to speak that 60-year-old feminist grandmother ‘Skepticat’ (what a good name) got physically attacked by a young trans lunatic – at Speakers Corner of all places. Janice Turner was there and wrote it up well in The Times but Maria’s own account is the most important.


  18. Richard – serious question here. I don’t know if you saw my Star Trek comment above. What do you make of this SJW insertion into Star Trek canon of a Vulcan suicide bomber who is a “logic extremist” (not to mention a wider narrative also introducing Vulcan xenophobes). I mean I just don’t even know where to start. I was laughing most of the evening last night after watching it.


  19. I thought Vulcans almost by definition were Logic Extremists, valuing that attribute above all others. Certainly, by suppressing his human side, Spock was a logic fanatic. Apart from suicide bombing, how did the extremism manifest itself?
    Can we expect a Klingon snowflake?


  20. Alan – it is mostly Star Trek clothing on regressive/SJW bodies. The writers either don’t know anything about Star Trek canon or they just don’t care.


  21. When we read George Orwell we thought it was the nation state that Big Brother had corrupted. Now we learn that it is the university that has been corrupted by its own professors.

    I can’t remember who said it, but the claim is that some people have been educated beyond their intelligence.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. “Educated beyond their intelligence’ was popularized by Denis Skinner who said it of George Osborne and other Tory ministers, but I don’t believe he originated it.


  23. Danny: On the “SJW insertion into Star Trek canon” I have little to offer, as I haven’t seen it. But it reflects a strong cultural acceptance of some of this stuff. And that’s based, too much, on this kind of ‘public debate’:

    That’s Skepticat, with the black eye, engaging with Ada, one of her persecutors. People got used to demonisation as epistemology with ‘climate denial’. This shows where it’s heading.

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Thanks for that Richard – saved for future deployment!

    OK I should have been clearer in what I was getting at.

    Vulcans in Star Trek are the embodiment of rationality and logic. This latest farce from the SJWs who have inexplicably been able to infect popular culture continues their crusade against logic and reason itself.

    Even a discipline as fundamental as mathematics is dismissed as “colonial” or worse, sometimes even “white supremacy”. In eschewing any shared concept of rationality (along with handmaidens logic & mathematics) they quite literally make rational debate impossible. One of their substitutes for this is, as you say, “demonisation as epistemology”.

    I found the Vulcan narrative as disturbing as I did funny – what they are attempting to do is portray those who are rational and logical as also ideological. And not to mean it in the sense that one may reasonably observe that rational, logical people are also informed by ideologies – rather it is to assert that to be rational and logical is to be ideological.


  25. Here’s an example of current academic feminist thinking, which by their own argument is now effectively an oxymoron:


  26. Richard, in response to your comment

    Ella Whelan is of course right about ‘Lily Madigan’. He is not a woman. He is not, in my opinion, even trans. What he is is a particularly obnoxious attention-seeking, Labour-supporting social engineering activist, a jumped up teenager who has assumed the ‘identity’ of a trannie in order to demand the rights and privileges of a real woman in order to insert his own twisted self into a hierarchical social structure which he probably actually loathes. Of course, this doesn’t let loony lefty pseudo-feminists (as distinct from traditional feminists) off the hook; it just means there are also loony lefty pseudo-trannies looking to muscle in on a piece of the social justice action, who have their own slightly different agenda.

    Danny, your observations about the Vulcan “logic extremist” are interesting. The program makers may indeed be trying to convey the dangerous and subversive idea that to be logical is to be ‘extreme’ and therefore be infected by ideology. What is laughable is that a Vulcan extremist is itself illogical; no logical Vulcan worth their salt would resort to anything as extreme and illogical as a suicide bombing. A Vulcan extremist would, by necessity, have to completely reject logic (and hence their culture) in order to opt for a non-logical, ideologically based alternative. It would be like an ex-Muslim turning to terrorism in order to promote the rejection of Islam. They would not be taking their ideology to extremes, they would be violently rejecting the dominant ideology in favour of an alternative.

    Liked by 1 person

  27. Apparently I have been living in a dark cave far from the gender battlefields of academe. As a geologist I always found myself insulated from most matters cultural. The only feminist matter of concern was planning sufficient “rest stops” on field trips of suitable duration for those students of the female persuasion. Since delving within these e-pages I have been deluged with evidence that my cherished institutions of learning that I have inhabited for several decades are actually sliding into a verbal morass concerning gender issues. Thank the lord we don’t have it as bad as the French – can they still communicate without giving offence?

    Yet even my science of choice is not without a feminine blot. I had come across this paper

    Its introduction begins:
    “Glaciers are icons of global climate change,with common representations stripping them of social and cultural contexts to portray iceas simplified climate change yardsticks and thermometers. In geophysicist Henry Pollack’s articulation, ‘Ice asks no questions, presents no arguments, reads no newspapers, listens to no debates. It is not burdened by ideology and carries no political baggage as it crosses thethreshold from solid to liquid. It just melts’(Pollack, 2009: 114). This perspective appears consistently in public discourse, from media to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). But the ‘ice is just ice’ conceptualization contrasts sharply with conclusions by researchers such as Cruikshank (2005), who asks if glaciers listen, Orlove et al. (2008b), who analyze the cultural framing of glaciers, Carey (2007), who sees an endangered species narrative applied to glaciers, Jackson (2015), who exposes how glaciers are depicted as ruins, and Sorlin (2015), who refers to the present as a cryo-historical moment because ‘ice has become historical, i.e. that ice is an element of change and thus something that can be considered as part of society..

    At this point I gave up in disgust. I am an unrepentant 100% masculine geologist. I would have loved to discuss this with my former geologist wife, but she has long gone.

    Liked by 2 people

  28. Sorry don’t know what happened there. Can someone remove the extract of the paper which I had no intention of including.


  29. Danny: Sounds like they intend to boldly go where none of us has the faintest clue what they’re on about. It would simply be funny but, as with climate, there’s legislative backing for the craziness in the works. The government’s proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004 were what the meeting was about that Skepticat got assaulted for wanting to attend (her first on the subject) two months ago. I don’t claim to know what the Act should say but it seems glaringly obvious that robust debate is essential. And that goes for many other areas the neo-trekkies apparently wish to influence.

    Jaime: You may be right about Lily’s motivation. But I think we have to careful on that more generally, because young folk with genuine problems with gender dysphoria are being manipulated by a highly polarising and demonising framing of the ‘debate’. What we can I’m sure agree is that there are perverse incentives at work by now.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. Jaime Oh how embarrassing. I took it that the feminist glacier paper was genuine, but didn’t read enough of it to realize it was a spoof. The problem is that when you know it’s a spoof, it’s obvious. But before that it does resemble a genuine research paper, but one that rings all sorts of alarm bells [Remind you of anyone here?] The problem is that it “smells” almost right. I didn’t stop reading it because I thought it fake, but because it was stupid and I lost interest.
    Were the editor and the reviewers (hah!) in on the act I wonder?

    I am so very pleased my chosen science is free of gender issues (so far?).

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Here are some Pimlott tweets from 2013:

    Is Harper govt censoring critical voices on climate? RT Freedom to Read 2013: Return of the Blacklist

    Cdns need an \”Office of Scientific/Artistic Freedom\” Freedom to Read 2013: Return of #Blacklist #cdnpoli #censorship

    Censorship is alive and well in Canada – just ask govt scientists… Or ask me… #FTRweek #cdnpoli

    And here he is in 2010 explaining his academic work:

    My work tends to be interdisciplinary because I usually start with a question and the question that I’m always interested in asking is why are some ideas, some perspectives given greater credibility in the media and distributed more widely and why do people accept certain ideas over others?

    Gibberish. Asking a question doesn’t mean you have to go all interdisciplinary. And dishonest. His question really meant ‘Why aren’t people like me and my chums given more media coverage?’

    He’s sorted that one out, poor fool.


  32. There’s another odious example of the same sort of behaviour here:

    The Guardian view on Taylor Swift: an envoy for Trump’s values?

    “In the year since Donald Trump was elected, the entertainment world has been largely united in its disdain for his presidency. But a notable voice has been missing from the chorus: that of Taylor Swift, the world’s biggest pop star. Her silence is striking, highlighting the parallels between the singer and the president: their adept use of social media to foster a diehard support base; their solipsism; their laser focus on the bottom line; their support among the “alt-right”.”

    “…Her silence seems to be more wilful: a product of her inward gaze, perhaps, or her pettiness and refusal to concede to critics. ”

    Again, this is straight out of 1984. Taylor Swift has apparently failed to join in along with everybody else in the daily two-minute hate against Donald Trump. And for this she is attacked and smeared in a cowardly anonymous editorial.


  33. In the first comment I cited some papers of Herbert Pimlott. I neglected to refer to the any of the scholarly works of the other inquisitor, Nathan Rambukkana. Here are a few of his contributions to academic knowledge:

    Taking the Leather Out of Leathersex: The Implications of an Internet-mediated Sadomasochistic Public Sphere for Subcultural Identity Formation

    Uncomfortable BridgesThe Bisexual Politics of Outing Polyamory

    Is Slash an Alternative Medium? ‘Queer’ Heterotopias and the Role of Autonomous Media Space in Radical World Building


  34. And your point is Paul? All appear to be essential reading materials for the fetish cognoscenti. No doubt he practices berating young students by using a bevy of blow-up dolls clad in leather (=past research materials put to good use).

    Oh what sad times we live in.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. The story gets more Kafkaesque:


  36. Levitt’ll level laurier.

    It is the legal duty of an employer to protect the mental and physical health of employees. That means protection from harassment, violence and bullying. Across Canada, there has been a major push through legislative amendments to make employers more accountable for fostering mentally safe work environments. This push is backed by case law which has found employers liable for exposing employees to unsafe work environments that have caused unnecessary psychological harm.


  37. Yes, thanks Clipe, there’s a lot going on with Lindsay Shepherd. Something I was going to mention in my next main post, whenever that may be. [But please put things related to the polar bear paper in relevant threads like this one.]


  38. Paul,

    A couple of corrections are possible with the benefit of time elapsed:

    1) Shepherd wasn’t “reduced to tears by the bullying,” but by the betrayal of what she thought a liberal university like Laurier stood for—exactly as she said while crying. I know, it sounds like a polite fiction, a way of minimizing embarrassment, but evidence suggests it’s literally true. Listen to subsequent interviews and you’ll hear Shepherd choke up and become audibly upset when describing the illiberal misosophy behind her interrogation, whereas she describes the interrogation itself with a kind of amused equanimity. So, as corny and improbable as this sounds, it seems Shepherd was telling the truth: she was crying for Wilfred Laurier, not herself.

    2) The interrogators did, in fact, disclose the identity of the complainants, if somewhat cryptically: “a number of students complained.” They weren’t lying. Zero IS a number.

    Not to boast, but I knew there’d been no complaints from students as soon as I heard the recording. It wasn’t necessary to wait for further revelations, because there’s only one reason people would use the specific words that Shepherd’s interrogators used. The bluff was trivially see-thru, to me anyway.

    But then I’m a keener-than-average student of literary quibbles, verbal loopholes, plausible deniability or whatever you like to call this genre of deception. I was the first person I know to refute the myth that Peter Gleick had “denied” forging the HI document. He never denied it. He just wanted inattentive listeners and skim-readers to THINK he was denying it.


  39. Alan,

    “Remind you of anyone here?”

    Nope. Who should I be reminded of? Has someone been secretly taking the piss? I’m generally the last person to know when someone is pulling my leg, thanks to my own chronic irony deficiency.


  40. Paul,

    ADDENDUM: I’m now told the inquisitors used the words “one or more students.” If so, I must have simply imagined the dead-giveaway phrasing (“a number of students”), enabling me to jump to the true conclusion on the basis of no (non-hallucinatory) evidence.

    That’s how good I am. 🙂


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