Why Recording Your Next Meeting Is a Really Smart Move
What the story of Lyndsay Shepherd teaches us about the necessity for proof
If you're Canadian, and you haven't been living in solitary confinement, you'll know who Lindsay Shepherd is. The rest of the world may have caught a brief glimpse of her in International News coverage in 2017. This is her story and it is a testament to the power of the recorded voice. It served as her only redress in an event that cost her her career.
In October of 2017, Lindsay Shepherd, a Wilfrid Laurier University teaching assistant, and undergraduate student, was summoned to a meeting held by three members of staff at the Canadian University. The subject of the meeting was a video she had played to students as part of a lesson plan. The lesson was on languages and the use of pronouns in modern language.
To initiate a balanced discussion on the topic, she had shown a video clip that was freely available on the internet. The clip was from a TVOntario show called The Agenda with Steve Piakin and showed Jordan Peterson in a debate on the use of pronouns and gender identity.
There was a debate raging across Universities in Canada at the time about freedom of speech and Peterson's outspoken views on legislation that the government had passed in June of 2017. The debate centered around Bill C-16, an act that enshrined the use of transgender-based words and pronouns into law (Bill C-16). Peterson is a Canadian clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of Toronto.
Although Shepherd did not share Peterson's views, she felt the video was appropriate for the context of her lesson. It formed part of her teaching strategy, presenting both sides of the argument to allow for an informed debate on the topic. The three men who summoned her to a meeting on campus the following day did not agree.
The Egregious Acts of Academia
Over the course of an hour, she was grilled, attacked and reduced to tears by the three men. The nineteen-year-old was told that she would need oversight in her classes from that point onward and that she was not to present any materials to students unless said materials had been vetted by her faculty mentor, Professor Rambukkana, who was present in the meeting. Prior to this, Rambukkana had shown no interest in her, despite him being her "mentor" and she had been free to decide on lesson content and planning.
Rambukkana told her that her class had been the subject of complaints and that these complaints were of a confidential nature, but referred directly to the video and its views. Students, he said, had felt threatened by the content and had not felt safe to speak out.
She stood her ground and asked how many had complained and what had the specifics of the complaints been. They refused to answer, saying simply the complaints were confidential. Rambukkana launched into a character attack on Peterson, comparing him to Hitler and calling him racist, misogynistic and a white supremacist who was amongst other things homophobic and transphobic.
The men attending the meeting were her supervisor, the head of her academic program, Rambukkana, and an acting manager from the university's Diversity and Equity Office. For almost the whole duration of that hour-long meeting, they lambasted her, bullied her and systematically tore her down, ignoring all her counter-arguments and attempts to find out exactly what she had done wrong. She left the meeting feeling completely devastated.
Her career in academia was effectively over and the continued harassment she received on campus from lecturers and heads of the department over the following few months served merely to confirm this. Nothing scares away academia more than controversy and she had landed right in the middle of what would turn into a spectacle that was covered internationally.
Lindsay Shepherd may simply have disappeared into the annals of history as another victim. A case of the word of a young female student against three influential University staff members. That never happened. The reason was simple. She had secretly recorded the entire meeting and released the recording to the media and online. The men's words and their shameful verbal attacks on her were on record for the whole world to hear. There was no denying their intent and the underhanded methods they had employed to intimidate and scare her.
A subsequent independent inquiry established there had been no complaints received from her students by the University or any Faculty members. The motivations the three men provided for the attack on her lessons were neither based in law nor in keeping with the Universities policies. Their actions had, in fact, breached many of the Laurier's own guidelines regarding the treatment of students and faculty members. It should have been complete vindication, but they harassed her for the rest of her time at Laurier, in a blatant display of institutionally sanctioned abuse.
Justice is Served
In 2018 Shepherd, accepting that her career was ruined, launched a legal claim against Laurier and the three individuals present at the meeting. The recording had made this possible. It was no longer just her voice against theirs. They would now have to refute their own statements. Interestingly, Peterson was so outraged at the lack of support Wilfrid Laurier had shown Shepherd that he added his voice to the matter, instituting his own legal action against Rambukkana and his two associates for libel and defamation.
Shepherd has become a leading activist for freedom of speech. In May 2018, she received the Harry Weldon Canadian Values Award from Canadians for Accountability. She is especially outspoken on the subject of free speech on campuses. Her life now has a new purpose and if justice is served, she will be compensated handsomely for the treatment she received at the hand of Laurier University and its staff.
This was all made possible thanks to her foresight. Next time you're called into a meeting, no matter what the context of this meeting may be, consider recording it. Now I know there are legal restrictions in some countries regarding the admissibility of such recordings in legal proceedings and you may, depending on the situation, choose to advise the room of the fact you are recording the conversation.
Most modern smartphones come with built-in audio software for exactly this purpose and are unobtrusive. Hopefully, you will never end up in a situation like Lyndsay Shepherd, but just in case you do, remember this story. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.