It’s Okay to Have Unpopular Opinions

Commentary, Culture Wars, Brian Giesbrecht

Rafael Zaki is a medical student who has filed a court application alleging that he was expelled from the University of Manitoba School of Medicine for expressing controversial opinions. Zaki is a Coptic Christian, an ancient Egyptian people who have increasingly emigrated to Western countries to escape persecution at home.

Zaki says: “My parents immigrated seeking to practice our religion without discrimination, and to secure a better future for their children.”

That “better future” has now been thrown into doubt because Zaki had the temerity to express opinions that offended some of his fellow students and teachers.

Zaki has expressed both pro-life and pro-gun opinions online. Those opinions are quite common within various religious and rural communities, less so in an urban medical school. It seems that Zaki’s views so offended fellow students, and at least one of his teachers, that he was expelled. Some students claimed that Zaki’s unfashionable views made them feel “unsafe.” He is appealing that expulsion in court.

Unless his appeal is successful, Zaki’s dream of becoming a doctor will not be realized. What’s more, his family’s belief that they were coming to a country where freedoms are real will be an illusion.

Why does he want to become a doctor? Here is how he puts it: “Through medical training I hope to serve the sick and vulnerable…and increase access to quality care and resources for all.”

The court will ultimately have to rule on the validity of Zaki’s claims. But if they are substantiated, there are ironies here. For example, Zaki alleges that the assistant dean was largely responsible for expelling him. That doctor is also a member of a persecuted group. In fact, the doctor’s mother escaped from Nazi terror, and probably death, to come to this country. But until not that long ago, Jews were forbidden from entering certain social and golf clubs, even in Winnipeg. The medical school that expelled Zaki for the crime of being different had an informal quota system that excluded many qualified Jewish students from enrolment. Ukrainian, Polish, and Asian students faced similar discrimination. Is it now to be the Coptics’ turn?

But doctors don’t have to be white, male, and Anglo-Saxon. Neither do they all have to hold the same opinions. Discrimination against people who hold unfashionable opinions is just as wrong as discrimination based on skin colour, religion, or sexual orientation.

If Zaki was indeed expelled merely for holding and expressing unpopular opinions, this is deeply wrong. In this age of social media, there are many flashpoints where thoughtful people can disagreeabortion, gun rights, climate change, and systemic racism are some. It’s okay to have different opinions. In fact, the free discussion and debate of differing opinions is what has led to all human progress. As long as opinions are not threats of violence, everyoneand this includes studentsmust have the unfettered right to express and debate those opinions.

If any medical students are so fragile that the mere expression of contrary opinions makes them feel “unsafe,” they should definitely find a less demanding profession. Surely, the “diversity” holy grail that today’s universities seek must include diversity of opinion.

The right to speak freely was long in the making. There are countries where it still doesn’t exist. Canada should not be one of them.

Brian Giesbrecht, retired judge, is a senior fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash.