Open letter to Dr. Cannon: the Flanagan flap

On Nov. 30 2010, University of Calgary political science professor Dr. Tom Flanagan advocated for the political murder of Julian Assange, the founder of the international non-profit media organization WikiLeaks.

Speaking on a national CBC broadcast of Power & Politics with Evan Solomon, Dr. Flanagan said: “I think that Assange should be assassinated, actually. I think that Obama should put on a contract and maybe use a drone or something.”

When host Evan Solomon interrupted saying, “Tom, that’s pretty harsh stuff,” Dr. Flanagan replied, “Well, I’m feeling very manly today.”

He ended the segment with, “I wouldn’t feel unhappy if Assange disappeared.”

Dr. Flanagan has since apologized for his comments, telling CBC News: “I regret that I made a glib comment about a serious issue.”

His prompt apology is most certainly welcome, but unfortunately for the U of C’s reputation, the damage has been done. A number of the most prominent English-language news sources in the world including The Guardian, The Nation, The Jerusalem Post, National Public Radio and The Telegraph carried Dr. Flanagan’s remarks, along with many Canadian news outlets and countless blogs.

Dr. Flanagan’s initial remarks remain relevant to the U of C community because although debate and even harsh disagreement about the release are not only inevitable but perfectly natural for an open and democratic society like Canada’s, we must draw a line at advocating for political murder, something that Dr. Flanagan failed to do.

Better than most, a professor of political science should understand that academic freedom is not possible without political freedom, and that political freedom cannot survive in a climate where journalists and opponents of a ruling regime hear public intellectuals advocate for their assassination on the nightly news.

If this were a Russian, Chinese or Iranian intellectual calling for the murder of a regime opponent, Canadians would be appalled. Considering Canada’s proud tradition of political freedom, it is all the more offensive to hear an active member of the University of Calgary faculty and the former chief of staff and campaign manager for the sitting Canadian prime minister do the same.

The University of Calgary should distance itself publically from Dr. Flanagan’s initial remarks, condemn Dr. Flanagan in the harshest possible terms and censure him for abusing the good name of the university and for the damage this has done to the reputation of not only the school, but of the 150,000 alumni and the degrees they hold.

This should be done peacefully. After all, even though thousands of University of Calgary students, staff and faculty have disagreed with Dr. Flanagan’s opinions over the years, no one has publically called for him to be murdered, even in jest.

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