Canadian law expert John Whyte will speak about threats to democracy during First Amendment Days

John Whyte
John Whyte

AMES, Iowa - A leading constitutional law scholar who helped draft the 1982 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms will discuss the current state of democracy in a public lecture at Iowa State University.

John Whyte will present "Is Democracy Dying?" at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 11, at the Alliant Energy-Lee Liu Auditorium in Howe Hall. The lecture is one of several events taking place on campus during Iowa State's First Amendment Days celebration, April 11-13.

While democracy has had a successful track record, Whyte will explore how it's coping with today's challenges: novel personalities, unequal distribution, poor manners, deep ethnic and social divisions, changes in communication systems and shifts in legal and political morals.

"I think that human well-being depends on living in well-functioning and just and stable political societies, and these things don't come naturally," Whyte said.

Whyte was educated at the University of Toronto, Queen's University and Harvard Law School. He was a member of the Queen's University Faculty of Law for 28 years, where he served as its Dean from 1987 to 1992. He has also taught at Osgoode Hall Law School of York University and at the University of Toronto Faculty of law, and at Niigata University, Tilburg University and the University of Melbourne. He was the Douglas McK. Brown Visiting Professor at University of British Columbia and held the Law Foundation of Saskatchewan Chair at the University of Saskatchewan. He has been awarded an honorary degree by York University.

His public service career includes serving as the Director of Constitutional Law for the Government of Saskatchewan during national constitutional negotiations from 1979 to 1982. In this position, Whyte helped draft Canada's Constitution Act, 1982, including the new Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He also served as Saskatchewan's Deputy Minister of Justice and Deputy Attorney-General from 1997 to 2002.

He has appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada in several constitutional cases and also has been part of constitutional reform processes in the Republic of Georgia, Nepal and Vietnam.

Whyte also has an interest in the challenge nations face in establishing ethical relationships with distinct minority communities. In particular he has examined mounting issues between nations and the rights of indigenous peoples.

Mark Witherspoon, editorial adviser of the Iowa State Daily and the founder of Iowa State's First Amendment celebration, met Whyte years ago while camping in northern Minnesota.

"[Whyte] is one of the most brilliant men I've ever met," Witherspoon said. "[Whyte speaking] provides another country's views about free expression laws. And from someone who was integral in getting those laws passed."

Now in its 16th year, Iowa State's First Amendment Days celebrates the five freedoms protected by the First Amendment: religion, speech, press, assembly and petition.

In addition to his public lecture, Whyte will visit Iowa State classes and attend several of the First Amendment events on campus.

"I think it's fantastic that there's this annual thing called First Amendment Days that is going right to the heart of what it means to be a free citizen in a free society and say, 'we need to examine this every year,'" Whyte said. "I'm very honored to be asked to be part of this really noble event. And also, I love the idea of coming to the Midwest."

First Amendment Days is organized by the First Amendment Committee, which is made up members of the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, the Iowa State Daily Media Group, the Leo Mores Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Whyte's presentation is sponsored by Greenlee's First Amendment Committee and the Committee on Lectures, which are funded by Student Government.

More information on ISU lectures is available online, or by calling 515-294-9935.

See the complete First Amendment Days 2018 (April 11-13) schedule: https://greenlee.iastate.edu/info-for/fad18/.