Acadia University to investigate professor after racist comments

Justin BrakeAPTN NewsA professor in Nova Scotia known for expressing anti-Indigenous racism and residential school denialism is now being investigated by the university where he works.Heather Hemming, vice-president academic at Acadia University in Wolfville, said in a Feb. 13 letter to associate professor of psychology Rick Mehta that the school has received complaints from students, faculty and others expressing concerns that “relate to the manner in which you are expressing views that you are alleged to be advancing or supporting and, in some instances, time that you are spending on these issues in the classroom.“The university has a legal responsibility to provide an environment free from discrimination, sexual harassment and personal harassment,” the letter continued.“The nature and frequency of these complaints and the significance of the allegations is concerning for the university, and we have determined the necessity of proceeding to a formal investigation.”Mehta made national headlines in January for publicly defending Lynn Beyak after the Ontario senator was booted from the Conservative caucus for refusing to remove racist letters from her website.Last spring Beyak downplayed the intent and role of residential schools as tools of assimilation and cultural genocide of Indigenous children and youth. Her public comments garnered widespread criticism.During an interview with APTN last month Mehta questioned the integrity of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report and said he and other settlers living today “had nothing to do with those atrocities that were done in the past,” and that he doesn’t want to “take blame or feel guilty” for them.Mehta bills himself as a free-speech advocate trying to build bridges across political divides, but critics say he perpetuates harmful stereotypes and is simply seeking attention.He also said during the interview with APTN that those behind Idle No More were “echo activists” working alongside corrupt chiefs to draw money from Canada’s coffers.“Because of course when you have a victimhood narrative, that does give a basis now for apologies and compensation and whatnot,” he said.Mehta claimed that Indigenous people in Alberta who oppose the tar sands and the associated environmental and health consequences “could have moved somewhere else in the country.”Further, he questioned the legitimacy of oral history, the method of knowledge-sharing that has enabled Indigenous societies to pass traditional knowledge and wisdom from generation to generation, saying “there’s no way to verify the [truth of a] statement one way or another.”Mehta has also vocalized his opposition to Acadia University’s decision to do land acknowledgements on campus. He has criticized the decision-making process that led university administration, faculty and students to acknowledge before classes that they are on the traditional and unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq.Asked if he acknowledges that he lives and works on land the Mi’kmaq have always maintained is unceded, Mehta said the Mi’kmaq “can take that up with the courts.”Presented with the facts that a disproportionate number of Indigenous men and women are represented in Canadian prisons, of the poverty and lack of clean drinking water on First Nations, of the intergenerational trauma from residential schools, the ’60s Scoop and the ongoing crisis of Indigenous children in state care, and the mental health, addiction and suicide epidemics — and asked whether these could be described as consequences of Canada’s efforts to assimilate or eradicate Indigenous people, Mehta said “everyone does have personal agency as well,” and that “at some point we do need to start balancing rights with responsibilities, because those do go hand in hand.”Harrison Paul, a member of the Indigenous Students Society of Acadia, told APTN that some students “reacted in a state of shock” to Mehta’s comments on residential schools “because they couldn’t believe that at the institution we are [at] now something like that could have been said.”Paul said some students told him they didn’t feel safe studying under Mehta, and that he would like to see the university ensure Indigenous students aren’t forced to take compulsory courses with Mehta.Matthew Sears, a professor of classics and ancient history at University of New Brunswick, has called on Acadia to take action.“Free speech doesn’t mean you’re free to say those kinds of things without consequence,” he told APTN, saying too that “academic freedom doesn’t mean that you get to be a political activist, especially outside of your field, without repercussions.”“Trying to say that there are two sides [to residential schools], or it wasn’t deliberate cultural genocide, or there are good stories to come out of these, is to my mind intellectually the same as Holocaust denial.”Acadia has retained Wayne MacKay, professor emeritus at Dalhousie University’s Schulich School of Law, to investigate and provide a report to the university, Hemming said.An Acadia spokesperson said Monday that the university is not in a position to comment.Mehta said he is worried the investigation into his commentary may not lead to a fair outcome given the university has already taken steps to reduce his course load.After several years of teaching the large sections of the required introductory psychology courses, he said Acadia has changed his teaching allocation so that he’s teaching smaller courses.He said the change is not warranted based on his record, and that he hasn’t been offered a satisfactory explanation despite an appeal.Last month Mehta said “a lot of different groups have gotten the short end of the stick from our settlers, so we want to ask the question of why is it some groups have managed to flourish and others have not?”“Let’s say the Chinese are much better than they were before — the Irish, as examples. They were treated quite poorly. So they’ve managed to integrate into Canadian society and are successful, so we should ask them the question of why is it that the First Nations haven’t?”Sears said Mehta has “abdicated his responsibility as an educator because he can’t possibly provide a meaningful and educational environment for his students with these public [statements].”With files from the Canadian Press

12 thoughts on “Acadia University to investigate professor after racist comments

    1. Where’s your life story? I’m Canadian Aboriginal, born in 1955 and struggled against overwhelming odds just to get a career because I wanted to do something with my life! Unfortunately, very few Canadians hire Aboriginals and when we eventually do get hired we’re not treated very well! In reality, Canadians treat East Indians far better than they treat Canadian Indians! I wrote an autobiography titled “Almost a born Loser!” I was advised to go out of the country to get it published because not many Canadians would want to publish it because it exposes too mch of the truth!

    1. Where’s your life story? I’m Canadian Aboriginal, born in 1955 and struggled against overwhelming odds just to get a career because I wanted to do something with my life! Unfortunately, very few Canadians hire Aboriginals and when we eventually do get hired we’re not treated very well! In reality, Canadians treat East Indians far better than they treat Canadian Indians! I wrote an autobiography titled “Almost a born Loser!” I was advised to go out of the country to get it published because not many Canadians would want to publish it because it exposes too mch of the truth!

  1. Rick Mehta is guilty of speaking up for those being silenced and he is on record having read this report by Frances Widdowson .. I came across both of them because of safs.ca where I was exploring who are advocating free speech in Canada .. I think its wise to end censorship now .. its not helping the ‘reconciliation’ process one little bit .. we are a big nation of many people .. let’s try to get along and let’s try to keep it real eh? https://cpsa-acsp.ca/documents/conference/2016/Widdowson-Frances.pdf

    1. For your information Frances Widdowson is a person who tried to get into First Nations funding and was rejected by the First Nations as being an individual with no integrity. Read her comparison between translating Dogrib into European philosophical discourses as a very racist attempt to say First Nations in this case Dene people were unsophisticated and barbaric and do not merit consideration as a nation. Freedom of speech does not mean unbridled speech without consequence.

      By posting your comments here with that tone, you are ignoring the fact that treaties were signed which gives you the opportunity to live here as a “Canadian” and to benefit off the wealth of my country. If we (the original peoples) did not see the treaties as being an agreement to share the land with people newly arrived and accepted into a marriage of family. (Remember the First Nations saw the Queen as a person and henceforth do not venerate the piece of metal that you and your kind like to see as god.)

      We in truth should reassert our sovereignty and null and void the treaties that your people conveniently ignore. And what would your Canada be then? Your army is comprised of 40 year old overweight middle-aged men tied to their vehicles, and a police force that is more tyrannous and obstructive to justice. Reconciliation will never happen because we as the real peoples of this land will never bow and scrape like your ancestors did in Europe before you arrived here.

  2. Rick Mehta is guilty of speaking up for those being silenced and he is on record having read this report by Frances Widdowson .. I came across both of them because of safs.ca where I was exploring who are advocating free speech in Canada .. I think its wise to end censorship now .. its not helping the ‘reconciliation’ process one little bit .. we are a big nation of many people .. let’s try to get along and let’s try to keep it real eh? https://cpsa-acsp.ca/documents/conference/2016/Widdowson-Frances.pdf

    1. For your information Frances Widdowson is a person who tried to get into First Nations funding and was rejected by the First Nations as being an individual with no integrity. Read her comparison between translating Dogrib into European philosophical discourses as a very racist attempt to say First Nations in this case Dene people were unsophisticated and barbaric and do not merit consideration as a nation. Freedom of speech does not mean unbridled speech without consequence.

      By posting your comments here with that tone, you are ignoring the fact that treaties were signed which gives you the opportunity to live here as a “Canadian” and to benefit off the wealth of my country. If we (the original peoples) did not see the treaties as being an agreement to share the land with people newly arrived and accepted into a marriage of family. (Remember the First Nations saw the Queen as a person and henceforth do not venerate the piece of metal that you and your kind like to see as god.)

      We in truth should reassert our sovereignty and null and void the treaties that your people conveniently ignore. And what would your Canada be then? Your army is comprised of 40 year old overweight middle-aged men tied to their vehicles, and a police force that is more tyrannous and obstructive to justice. Reconciliation will never happen because we as the real peoples of this land will never bow and scrape like your ancestors did in Europe before you arrived here.

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