University of Winnipeg valedictorian Erin Larson used part of her speech to hundreds gathered for the institution’s fall convocation Sunday to criticize the U of W’s decision to award an honorary doctor of laws degree to federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.
Her scathing comments followed a protest by about 40 members of a group called the Coalition for Integrity in Academic Accolades. The protesters brandished placards criticizing the university for its decision to honour Toews.
Both the coalition and Larson charge that Toews did not deserve the honour because of what they allege are his political positions against “tolerance, compassion and respect for human rights.” Many of the group’s placards featured comments from the Conservative MP on same-sex marriage, refugees and the justice system.
While it was a largely silent protest by coalition members as grads arrived outside on Spence Street, Larson’s was anything but as she took aim at Manitoba’s senior MP, who was seated just feet from the lectern the Bachelor of Arts (Honours) grad spoke from.
“While I’m immensely proud to be an alumnus of the University of Winnipeg and extremely honoured to have been selected valedictorian, I have to admit I’m not proud to share the stage with everyone who is on it today,” Larson, 22, said in her address. “I feel the University of Winnipeg has recently suffered a profound loss of integrity due to the actions of the administration.”