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The Right to Offend: Q&A with Dr. Rick Mehta


 Colin Mitchell – The ATH

A discussion with Dr. Rick Mehta

News Editor Colin Mitchell sat down with Dr. Rick Mehta on Friday January 12th to discuss recent remarks made in various media outlets. The Athenaeum in no way endorses or sanctions the views expressed in the article below. 

First off, what do you see as the main issue with the things you’ve said and the backlash you have received regarding indigenous peoples and the letter you sent to Andrew Scheer?

So basically, the attack was not on the people but on the decolonization movement. That’s a very different issue. There’s decolonization vs. the people. In terms of the decolonization, its proponents are people who are claiming, you know, they claim to be community leaders, but are not people who have been elected to that position. It’s people who are claiming to represent their entire community but people who are self-selected. They differ from the majority of their community in the sense that they’re going to be much more highly educated than people who don’t have access to clean drinking water, as an example. These are things they can take for granted. They’re in a financially better situation, more highly educated and tend to be urban and have better access to resources, so they’re not in a position to claim that they’re true representatives of their community. It has to do with the framework under which the decolonization is occurring.

What is your opposition to the decolonization movement?

It’s based on a premise of guilt. Instilling guilt into the non-indigenous people, so anyone who dares to question their motives or what their- I hate to say demands- but basically what they want to institute is just ignored or they’re going to be called racists. The fact that they’re suppressing debate, which is the kind of action someone would perform if they don’t wish to be scrutinized. If the TRC was truly about truth, the idea that there are lots of stories of people who had positive experiences would still be there. I got a phone call from a lady whose name I wish I’d written down, but-

Just to clarify, you’re saying that there are lots of stories of people who had positive experiences in residential schools?

Exactly. With the one woman who worked in the system, she told me it originated in Sault St. Marie by a chief who had requested it. He wanted it because it was the new way of living so he wanted his people to adapt. So that’s one major issue. The other point she mentioned, which I hadn’t thought about, was look at the new $10 bill. Look at the individuals on it. One of them, if you do your homework, is someone who was from the residential schools and was a successful figure. That really counters the narrative. I’m not at all opposed to acknowledging atrocities, but it is within the context of the entire picture.

You claim that the TRC was a biased process because it didn’t take all views into account. There were over 6750 statements collected, 1355 hours of interviews, and 7 national events. Which views are missing?

We need to look at the details of who was actually selected for the process. How representative was that sample? Was it a biased sample? Or was it a representative sample? Let’s say Tomson Highway, he talked about 7000 people who had a wonderful experience. I’ve received letters now from another individual who’s trying to get their voices heard.


Senator Beyak defended the “good deeds” by “well intentioned” religious teachers in residential schools. With nearly 150,000 students who passed through and over 31,000 sexual assault claims made through independent assessment processes, can you really defend the good intentions of those in charge?

We need to look at the comparison of what was happening in society at the time. There’s what’s happening within indigenous communities, but attitudes about what was happening towards abuses at homes in general would be the other side. In terms of our history, and how we dealt with those issues was very different from how we deal with those now. Whatever happened within those schools and other schools that was considered acceptable is a relevant comparison that needs to be made to get a full picture.

Are you saying that the acceptability of sexual assault is relative in terms of how it was received at different points in time? That it was more acceptable then than it is now?

I mean, partly awareness, and how we dealt with it. The culture has changed quite dramatically over the times. If we’re doing that analysis it needs to be with the full picture and within the context of what was going on at the time and what was considered acceptable then vs. now.

You wrote in your letter to Andrew Scheer that multiculturalism needs to end. Why?

It’s a way of separating the world into us vs. them. Instead of looking at our commonalities and then trying to sort out our differences, the way it’s marketed is ‘we must not only acknowledge we’re different but celebrate our differences’. But those differences don’t always mesh together for ways that are functional in Western society. I’ll give the example of what happened to me when I was an undergrad in my first years of university. At the University of Toronto I was a first generation East Indian Canadian. This was when multiculturalism was starting its first wave under the Mulroney years, and I’m there as a student. I thought I’d join the Indian Students Association. I noticed that the males would filter who their sisters could date, so if someone wants to date a girl they’d have to get permission from their male relative. When I voiced opposition and said that women were more than capable of choosing who they wanted to go out with, I was called various names. The one that stuck was “Oreo Cookie”- brown on the outside, white within. Canada’s placed on the premise that men and women are equal when it comes to dignity, so when the issue of whether women should be equal to men in all ways or not came to me, I thought it was more important than the cultural value of being an East Indian. That comes to the question of are we going to have a conversation about our values? You can’t have that conversation under the framework of multiculturalism. There has to be the idea that Canada has its identity, these are the kinds of goals we strive towards, but try to have bit of flexibility. The old was ‘live our way or get out’ and I think that’s a bit harsh. I don’t think we have to go back to that extreme.

Just to clarify, your method of thinking is that everyone should be on the same playing field?

The way I see it is you’re driving on a highway and we all have similar rules. We have a way to express ourselves in terms of what kind of car you’re driving, what colour it is, what style. There’s room for self-expression but there needs to be a certain set of fundamental principles we agree on- you drive on the right side, you drive at certain speeds, which is different from a highway than a subdivision where there’ll be pedestrians and children. There have to be some areas where we have agreement and flexibility, but there have to be some rules and core values we adhere to. Within that, here’s ways that you can express yourself and express our differences.

Beforehand you mentioned you were opposed to an us vs. them dynamic, but earlier you said that people need to adapt to Western society. Is that not a logical contradiction?

It’s the idea that in certain places there’ll be less flexibility vs. others. Like food, for instance. Someone should be able to bring their food into the lunch room and not have people turn their noses at it and call them names for it. That I would consider less acceptable, but then it comes to core principles like equality of the sexes between men and women. There we cannot have a workplace where I can treat women like dirt because of my culture. We need to have a discussion because we need to fine-tune and I’m trying to figure out where do we have more flexibility as opposed to less flexibility

What is your opposition to the university right now? Where does the major contention lie?

One major issue is equity. It’s based on equality of outcome, as opposed to equality of opportunity. I’m all for making sure that everyone has the opportunity to be treated equally so they’re not discriminated against based on criteria that are irrelevant to the jobs. But to have equal outcomes and to define society in a specific way if its distribution isn’t reflected in the workforce, that the disparity there in and of itself is a problem without actually looking for reasons why. There are differences in the kinds of careers women choose over men. What you have to keep in mind is that these are just averages. The nuance needs to be there. I’m not saying ‘all women are this or that’, but on average what do we see when we compare men and women in their interests, so the idea is when it comes to individual differences there are going to be averages. But you still then need to look at the individual because we don’t know where they are in relation to that average. On average, men tend to prefer working with things whereas women on average tend to prefer working with people. But in terms of the exception you just have to look within my family. I just love working with people. That’s why I love doing first year psychology, because I thrive around people. I don’t mind being in a department that’s dominated by women. It doesn’t bother me the least bit. My mother, who was the computer programmer and became a senior systems analyst, who I think could be at Google, is the one telling me I should apply for the full professorship and make more money, but I’m more in line with the female average, which is I’m making money and I’m more than comfortable where I am as opposed to getting the promotion.


Comments -

As Margaret Atwood recently said, "extreme times breed extremists." We are presently living in extreme times, and this is why we continue to witness the extreme polarization of the left and the right to the point where they have become identical twins in their extreme behavior. In this extreme, the ability to listen, to consider, to think, and to respond rationally and reasonably has stopped-except on the part of the quieter, gentler moderates in the middle, but they are shouted down and condemned from both sides. Ideas, opinions, speculations, opinions, and beliefs must be expressible in a healthy society-except where they advocate for the annihilation of others. Everyone must have the inalienable right to hold and express offensive views. And everyone must have the inalienable right (some might say duty) to respond cogently, to express offense on the spot, and to counter with just arguments. First-year university students are adults, not kids, and need to get used to and learn to deal constructively with issues that push their buttons, make them uncomfortable, or sad, or scared. In order for a young adult to be ready for university, parents need to stop their practice of bubble-wrapping their young in order that they learn to be strong, critical thinking, responsible members of a healthy society, rather than weak, compliant victims of an unhealthy one. Kudos to Professor Rick Mehta and Senator Lynn Beyak for picking their battles and being prepared to deal with the consequences in an intelligent manner. They are at risk of being ostracized by both the left and the right. They are condemned by reactionaries on either side who don't want to hear or counter their rational arguments. This is the curse of living in extreme, if not interesting, times.