Alice Sullivan cancelled by Canadian Department of Justice

The Canadian Government has cancelled a talk by a UK academic. 

Alice Sullivan is a professor of sociology at University College London. She is an expert on the collection of data on sex and gender and a member of the advisory board of CAF. Sullivan was due to give a talk to staff at the Canadian Department of Justice to mark International Women’s Day. The topic of her talk was the value of collecting data on both sex and gender, as opposed to collecting data on gender only and not sex. 

The Canadian Department of Justice argued in a report in 2018 that “Departments… should only collect… sex information by exception”. Subsequently, this has been the policy of the Canadian government. 

After Sullivan sent the Department of Justice the slides for her talk, she was contacted by a member of the department who told that her talk had been cancelled. Sullivan has reported that she was given no justification for the cancellation, but that the woman she spoke to hinted that the reason was that “you are not allowed to talk about sex in Canada”. The woman furthermore stated that her promised honorarium of $999 CAD (£585) would not be paid, because, to quote Sullivan, “the Department of Justice did not want any record of me on their books”. Sullivan asked whom she could write to for a written explanation, but was told that the Department of Justice would not provide this information. 

The Department of Justice has subsequently stated to the Telegraph that it: 

cancelled a proposed internal event that was meant to mark International Women’s Day, in favour of promoting a whole-of-government event offered by the Canada School of Public Service that aligns more closely with the theme of the International Women’s Day 2024 of investing in women and accelerating progress. 

Academic freedom extends to all areas where academics carry academic work: primarily universities, but also government departments. If the Department of Justice cancelled Sullivan’s talk simply because it objected to the views she was going to argue for, then it restricted her academic freedom.  

There is reason to believe the Department may have cancelled Sullivan’s talk simply because it objected to the views she was going to argue for: 

  1. The position of the Department on collecting data on sex and gender is directly contrary to the view Sullivan would have argued for.
  1. A member of the Department hinted that the talk was cancelled because “you are not allowed to talk about sex in Canada”. 
  1. The Department was evidently reluctant to state why it had cancelled the talk. It gave Sullivan no reason, and its subsequent statement to the Telegraph was vague and verbose. 

Recently, the UK government has cancelled talks due to be given to government departments, on the basis of disagreement with the speakers’ political views. CAF has reported on this here

If the Canadian Government cancelled Professor Sullivan’s talk on the grounds that it objects to her insistence on collecting data on sex as well as gender, this is a shameful violation of academic freedom.