When former NHL star and sexual abuse survivor and advocate Theo Fleury tweeted out his anti-vaccine views he put two universities that gave him an honorary degree in a difficult position. How could they show their support for his past work — giving voice to those affected by the trauma of sexual abuse — while condemning his aggressive anti-vaccine views.
The two universities chose strikingly different paths, with Guelph-Humber taking a more reticent position.
On Sept. 8, 2021, Guelph-Humber released a statement about one of their past honorary degree recipients releasing anti-vaccine posts on social media and how his comments don’t reflect Guelph-Humber’s position on the Covid-19 vaccine. The honorary degree recipient who shared these posts was former NHL player and child sexual abuse survivor and advocate Theo Fleury.
Fleury has released several anti-vaccine tweets such as a tweet about “vaccine passport hypocrisy” that stated “did you know that Canada has 43,217 registered sex offenders? And none of them have to carry a passport or QR code because it violates their privacy rights.” But the tweet that had people wanting Theo Fleury stripped of this honour was a tweet that said “with vaccine passports the pedophiles will know where your kids are at all times.” The tweet was deleted but created a situation where Guelph-Humber felt the need to comment.
Fleury attempts to raise the point about vaccine passports taking privacy away from people who deserve to keep their privacy while pedophiles and sexual abusers can have privacy despite what they’ve done when they really shouldn’t. Parents should be able to know where these people are so they can feel safer.
Theo Fleury was given the degree of Doctor of Laws by Guelph-Humber for his commitment to enhancing the psychological health and wellness of Canadians in 2014. Theo Fleury began the “Victor Walk” in 2013 which gives a voice to those affected by the trauma of childhood sexual abuse.
Fleury was also a successful NHL player as he played over 1000 games with the Calgary Flames, New York Rangers, Colorado Avalanche, and the Chicago Blackhawks. Fleury won a Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989 but his career as a hockey player wasn’t easy. Fleury was sexually abused while playing in the juniors which drove him to drugs and alcohol during his NHL career.
Brandon University, a university in Manitoba made headlines after they publicly condemned the comments made by Fleury. Brandon University wrote in their statement “Brandon University is steadfast in our support of academic freedom, academic inquiry, and of robust public debate around issues of consequence. These freedoms, however, must be balanced against responsibilities like honesty, like integrity, and like good faith. We are disappointed that honorary degree recipient Theo Fleury is, increasingly, not meeting that balance.”
Guelph-Humber decided to approach this differently, making a statement but not using Theo Fleury’s name and just referring to him as an “honorary degree recipient.” The statement released by Guelph-Humber wrote “the University of Guelph-Humber is aware that erroneous, misleading and damaging statements have been expressed on social media by one of its past honorary degree recipients. They do not reflect the opinions or views of the University of Guelph-Humber or the University of Guelph. The spreading of misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccination effectiveness is irresponsible and even dangerous, as it puts public health and safety at risk. While we support the right of an individual to express their own opinions, we do not support the sharing of beliefs and opinions as facts.”
In scenarios like this, the decision-makers always have to deal with an immense amount of difficulty when choosing whether or not to strip someone of an honorary degree after what he’s been through and the good he’s done over comments he’s made.
But a third-year business student David Disevo believes that besides the good he has done, the comments Fleury made are worthy of him losing his honorary degree. Disevo said his comments on the vaccine passport are “very inappropriate on his part” and “especially (Fleury) being an individual who experienced such a horrific act, he should not be making sarcastic remarks about pedophilia.”
Disevo says he understands and thanks Fleury for the good he’s done and how he is motivating others to make good decisions but believes that “he is not someone Guelph-Humber should be honouring.”
Both Guelph-Humber and Brandon University know it’s important to understand that the comments made by Fleury come from him struggling to trust authority given what’s happened to him early in his life; however, they believe he has gone beyond that and shared false information which instills fear into people.
With the news breaking about Kyle Beach opening up about what happened with him and his sexual abuse case against Brad Aldrich and the Chicago Blackhawks, Theo Fleury’s advocacy for sexual abuse against children is more prominent than ever.
Theo Fleury is honoured and revered not only for being a survivor of childhood sexual assault, but for going on to have a successful NHL career in spite of what happened to him and having to deal with the memory of what happened to him. Fleury turned to drugs and alcohol in his career to help him cope with all this. Theo Fleury should have been the last player who should have had to deal with this and the last player to not receive help from it but wasn’t because of what happened to Kyle Beach.
As of now, Guelph-Humber has decided to not strip Fleury of his honorary degree.