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The UBC Senates’ Statement on Academic Freedom reads:
The members of the University enjoy certain rights and privileges essential to the fulfilment of its primary functions: instruction and the pursuit of knowledge. Central among these rights is the freedom, within the law, to pursue what seems to them as fruitful avenues of inquiry, to teach and to learn unhindered by external or non-academic constraints, and to engage in full and unrestricted consideration of any opinion.
This freedom extends not only to the regular members of the University, but to all who are invited to participate in its forum. Suppression of this freedom, whether by institutions of the state, the officers of the University, or the actions of private individuals, would prevent the University from carrying out its primary functions.
All members of the University must recognize this fundamental principle and must share responsibility for supporting, safeguarding and preserving this central freedom. Behaviour that obstructs free and full discussion, not only of ideas that are safe and accepted, but of those which may be unpopular or even abhorrent, vitally threatens the integrity of the University’s forum. Such behaviour cannot be tolerated.
UBC President Santa Ono released a statement on July 8, 2020 regarding the revision of room booking procedures:
...to better understand the legal framework within which the university can evaluate controversial speakers, I have had discussions with a number of faculty with expertise, as well as with internal and external counsel. I have also heard from many other individuals at UBC about how we can improve decision-making regarding speakers. In particular, our concern going forward is to be particularly attentive to those who experience the harmful consequences of speech that denigrates the full equality, inclusivity, and diversity to which UBC’s mission statement properly commits us.
As a result of engaging in this dialogue I have modified our approach to making these decisions, and I would like to thank everyone who has participated in these thoughtful discussions.
We have revised the event risk assessment and mitigation process for these bookings to clearly identify the level of risk for these events and therefore more clearly support decision-making regarding speakers. In addition, all requests for event bookings at the UBC Vancouver and Okanagan campuses or Robson Square are being assessed through the lens of the BC Human Rights Code by an external legal expert specializing in human rights and civil liberties law.
On the UBC website’s Freedom of Expression FAQ section, UBC states peaceful protest is allowed:
UBC’s commitment to freedom of expression includes your freedom to protest against a speaker with whom you disagree. Provided you don’t break the law and that you follow the direction of Campus Security and/or police, you can protest at any campus event. In the cases of controversial events, Campus Security and, if necessary, RCMP will create protest zones where community members can protest peacefully and make their voices heard.
...freedom of expression and freedom of inquiry must be exercised responsibly, in ways that recognize and respect the dignity of others, having careful regard to the dynamics of different relationships within the university environment, such as between professor and student, or supervisor and employee. A respectful environment is a climate in which the human dignity of each individual is valued, and the diverse perspectives, ideas and experiences of all members of the community are able to flourish.
Bullying or harassment is objectionable and unwanted behaviour that is verbally or physically abusive, vexatious or hostile, that is without reasonable justification, and that creates a hostile or intimidating environment for working, learning or living. Harassment may be intentional or unintentional. While bullying or harassment usually consists of repeated acts, a single serious incident that has a lasting harmful effect may also constitute bullying or harassment.
Bullying or harassing behaviour includes cumulative demeaning or intimidating comments, gestures or conduct; verbal aggression or yelling; threats to a person’s employment or educational status, person or property; persistent comments or conduct, including ostracism or exclusion of a person, that undermines an individual’s self-esteem so as to compromise their ability to achieve work or study goals; abuse of power, authority or position; sabotage of a person’s work; humiliating initiation practices; hazing; calling someone derogatory names; spreading of malicious rumours or lies; or making malicious or vexatious complaints about a person.
UBC’s Student Non-Academic Misconduct Policy contains a section forbidding disruption of the right of other members of the community to free speech:
4.2.3 Disruption: No student shall, by action, threat, or otherwise, disrupt any activity organized by the University or by any of its faculties, schools, or departments, or the right of other persons to carry on their legitimate activities, to speak or to associate with others.
UBC provides the on-campus Equity & Inclusion Office with millions of dollars for activities that are vague and unspecified but are said to promote equity, diversity and inclusion.
The UBC Free Speech Club had booked a space at UBC Robson Square to host journalist Andy Ngo on January 29, 2020, where Ngo was to speak on the topic of Antifa violence. The club paid a room booking deposit in November, but were informed in December their booking was rescinded – with no reason provided other than to protect “safety” and “security.”
The Justice Centre issued a demand letter to the President of the University of British Columbia on behalf of The Free Speech Club, warning that UBC would face legal action if it did not rescind its cancellation of the event. Justice Centre lawyers had been regularly advising The Free Speech Club over the course of 2019, as its members have encountered increasing challenges to their ability to host events on campus. The Justice Centre has now filed a court application on behalf of The Free Speech Club, against UBC.
The UBC Students for Freedom of Expression had booked anti-feminist speaker and retired professor Dr. Janice Fiamengo for a presentation at the UBC campus on November 6, 2019. The event was cancelled by UBC Safety and Risk Services. The club attempted to reschedule the event to 15 January 2020, which was approved but cancelled for other reasons (snowfall); and again rescheduled to March 18, 2020 but cancelled due to COVID-19.
In early June 2019, a grassroots organization called Canadian Christian Lobby (CCL) submitted a request to UBC to book a room for a lecture by Jenn Smith titled “Erosion of Freedom” and subsequent question and answer period Mr. Smith is a local transgender individual who regularly speaks publicly on issues regarding transgenderism, individual freedoms and women’s rights.
UBC approved the booking request but required CCL to pay a $500 “security fee” in addition to paying the room rental and other fees. No reason was provided for the security fee. CCL paid the fees, including the security fee, and the event was scheduled for June 23.
On June 19, four days before the event, UBC demanded an additional $750 security fee to be paid in less than 24 hours as a condition of the Event proceeding. UBC made vague allusions to safety as the reason for the sudden and last-minute imposition of an additional security fee. Not desiring the Event to be cancelled, CCL reluctantly paid to UBC the additional $750.
The Event proceeded on the evening of June 23. Prior to and during the Event, a crowd of unruly protestors were present outside the building the event occurred in and engaged in aggressive behaviours such as repeatedly banging on the exterior glass of the building. Unfortunately, three disruptive protesters, one of them wearing a face mask, found their way into the room in which the event was taking place. As Mr. Smith was beginning his lecture, the three disruptive protesters moved to the front of the room, sat down facing the audience and began to chant loudly, preventing the approximately 75 attendees from listening to Mr. Smith’s presentation. About this time, the fire alarm was activated by an unidentified individual.
UBC campus security responded appropriately by inviting Police officers present to escort the disruptive protesters out of the room and by permitting the Event attendees to re-enter the room after taking a short period of time to deactivate the fire alarm and ensure no fire was present in the building. The event continued without any further disruption.
In October 2018, the unofficial student group, UBC Free Speech Club, invited American political commentator Ben Shapiro to give a talk on UBC campus. The club describes itself as “nonpartisan and committed to cultivating an open dialogue on campus, where arguments are made with wit and reason rather than rhetoric and personal attack. We cherish a diversity of opinions and seek to promote an open debate stage, where political correctness no longer holds sway.”
Despite widespread calls from students and faculty to ban Shapiro from speaking on campus, UBC’s Provost and VP Academic Andrew Szeri affirmed UBC’s commitment to “free, open, and transparent discussion, no matter how controversial the topics.” He further stated:
UBC’s commitment to free speech includes student groups and others using UBC venues such as the Chan Centre for guest speakers…This is the case even where some members of the University community may consider the guest speaker’s ideas, or the way in which they expressed, to be controversial or offensive.
UBC failed to condemn the November 2016 decision of the AMS to deny club status to the men’s rights group, “Advocacy of Men and Boys @ UBC”.
In January of 2015, “UBC Rec,” which manages recreation activities for the University, censored the team names of some of its intramural teams. The team names that were censored included, “Got SEMENT?,” “Suckin' D's” and Strokin' P’s,” “Whiskey Disc,” “Floppy Disc,” “Peter North Stars,” and “#AirCanadaSucks”. Other team names not deemed inappropriate by UBC Rec included “EnviroMENTALS,” “Pimpin’ Ain’t Easy,” “Show Me Ya TDs,” “Girls Gone Wild,” “Beaches Be Cray,” “Gold Diggers,” “Homewreckers” and “High Speed Drillers.”
One of the teams was renamed to *CENSORED* North Stars. Following the re-naming of the team, which was originally named as a tongue-in-cheek reference to a pornographic film actor, the captains wrote an open letter to UBC Rec wherein it stated:
UBC Rec -- thank you for wisely renaming our intramural hockey team; the Peter North Stars definitely doesn't have the same ring as the *CENSORED* North Stars. We members and supporters of the *CENSORED* North Stars recognize that times change, and what is deemed acceptable changes with it. In today's social climate, we must conduct ourselves in accordance with what other people think is right.
In its Mission Statement, the UBC Alma Mater Society (AMS) writes:
The AMS's priorities will be determined by its members. The Society will foster communication, both internally and externally, in order to be democratic, fair, accountable to, and accessible to its members. It will provide services students want and can use. It will cultivate unity and goodwill among its members, but will also encourage free and open debate, as well as respect for differing views. It will solve problems constructively.
According to the UBC Alma Mater Society (AMS) Clubs Policy (Section 2, “Constituting Clubs”), the AMS Operations Committee “may not approve a new club application that proposes an AMS Club that it believes:”
iii. primarily focuses on benefiting communities that are not members of the AMS;
Under the Clubs Policy 2(b)ix, the Operations Committee may deconstitute a club for any reason “as determined by the Operations Committee.”
Section 7 of the AMS Operations Committee Policy Manual, “AMS Space Bookings Policy”, reads:
2f. Bookings that may be controversial, contentious, or a safety concern shall be brought to the Vice-President Administration or the Operations Committee for approval.
9a. The AMS reserves the right to deny or cancel any booking that it believes would likely promote, or would have the effect of promoting, discrimination, contempt, or hatred, of 36 any group or person based on their sex, sexual identity, gender identity or expression, racialization, age, family status, marital status, religion, faith, ability, disability, national or ethnic origin, Indigeneity, immigration status, socio-economic status, class, language, political affiliation, social affiliation, other personal characteristics, or any other similar factor.
Prohibited signage (e.g. posters, banners, handbills) is addressed in Section 8: AMS Building Operations Policy:
According to the AMS Elections Handbook, “Candidates must have all campaign material approved by the Elections Administrator before they can be used...It is important to note that once campaign materials are approved, they cannot be modified without re-submitting them for approval.”
The AMS takes positions on issues outside of their mandate, such as the removal of RCMP from the Wet’suwet’en Nation.
In response to a presentation by Dr. Ricardo Duschesne and Mark Hecht, organized by the UBC Students for Freedom of Expression in October 2019, the AMS released a statement which read, in part:
On October 9, Ricardo Duchesne and Mark Hecht are scheduled to speak on the UBC-Vancouver campus at an event hosted by the UBC Students for Freedom of Expression. In the past, these speakers have made arguments and written about topics including immigration, diversity, and multiculturalism from perspectives that community members have regarded as hateful and intolerant.
The AMS is concerned that this event could enable discrimination, and we have zero tolerance for speakers and events that create an inequitable and unsafe environment for students on our campus. We recognize the concerns that many students have that this event undermines the safety and respect of members of the community and we stand against these events.
The AMS is committed to fostering an environment of respect for the dignity, privacy, and diversity of all persons on campus; an environment in which there is zero tolerance for hate, prejudice, and discrimination. We acknowledge that the consistent and repeated instances of these kinds of events that students have spoken out against underlines a responsibility for the AMS to address this issue in a systematic way. We are dedicated to taking critical steps both internally and through our advocacy to do so.
The AMS released a similar statement in June 2019, in response to Jenn Smith’s talk (see “University Practices”):
On June 23, Jenn Smith is scheduled to speak on the UBC-Vancouver campus at a private event. In the past, Smith has made remarks that could be regarded as transphobic and anti-SOGI 123 (inclusive sexual orientation and gender identity curricula in schools). Due to the content of his talk, as well as unrest and violence his presence can incite, Smith has had talks cancelled at two BC universities over the past two weeks. The AMS is concerned that Smith’s talk will stoke intolerance and discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation, race, or an intersection of the three. We fear that some students, faculty, and staff at UBC will feel threatened, unsafe, and targeted by his messaging.
The AMS is accorded the responsibility “To promote unity and goodwill amongst its members” in its constitution. Therefore, the AMS denounces all forms of violence and marginalization on campus. We understand that there may be peaceful protests arranged to both demonstrate against Smith’s message and stand in solidarity with members of the UBC community affected by this talk. The AMS supports the right by any to peacefully demonstrate against intolerance and discrimination.
In October 2018, the unofficial student group, UBC Free Speech Club, invited American political commentator Ben Shapiro to give a talk on UBC campus. The club describes itself as “nonpartisan and committed to cultivating an open dialogue on campus, where arguments are made with wit and reason rather than rhetoric and personal attack. We cherish a diversity of opinions and seek to promote an open debate stage, where political correctness no longer holds sway.
The AMS discussed the Free Speech Club’s event during its Board Meeting of July 10, 2018. Board members discussed whether or not they should take a stance against Shapiro being permitted to speak on campus. They discussed their regrets that UBC’s policies “conflicted” when it came to silencing the free exchange of ideas on campus, and decided to publicly oppose the event on the basis that it would not foster “unity and goodwill”.
On October 30, 2018, a day before Shapiro’s talk, the AMS released a statement as follows:
On October 31, conservative American pundit Ben Shapiro will speak at UBC’s Chan Centre. In the past, Shapiro has publicly made remarks that could be regarded as denigrating and hateful about transgender, queer, and people of Arab heritage, and his website Daily Wire has disparaged Indigenous peoples. The AMS is very concerned that Shapiro’s talk at UBC will stoke intolerance and discrimination based on race, gender identity, and sexual orientation. We fear that some students at UBC will feel threatened and targeted by Shapiro’s message.
In our constitution the AMS has as an objective “to promote unity and goodwill amongst its members.” The AMS therefore denounces all forms of violence and marginalization on campus, regardless of at whom it is directed.
The event sponsor, the UBC Free Speech Club, has billed Shapiro’s talk as an opportunity to promote dialogue around free speech on campus. The AMS sees the $60 minimum ticket price as prohibitive to many students and believes the event is not designed to facilitate inclusive or constructive dialogue, but rather provides a platform for Ben Shapiro and his views.
The AMS met with the UBC Free Speech Club in September to highlight our concerns and urge them to cancel the event. The Free Speech Club informed the AMS that they would be going ahead with Shapiro’s talk.
We are aware that many students and community members might feel concerned about Shapiro’s talk promoting intolerance and discrimination, and strongly support the rights of anyone who plans to peacefully protest the event.
In November of 2016, the Alma Mater Society (AMS) rejected the application for club status of the group Advocacy for Men and Boys @ UBC (“Advocacy”). According to a letter from then-Student Administrative Commission Vice-Chair Rob Willoughby, the group was rejected due to an overlapping mandate with the Sexual Assault Support Centre's Healthier Masculinities Program. The Guiding Principles of the Healthier Masculinities Program include “Working from an anti-oppressive and intersectional lens,” “Acknowledging privilege and positionality,” and “Promot[ing] open, safer spaces to discuss and express various forms of masculinity.”
“We're kind of at our maximum of clubs that we can support. We're strictly enforcing that there has to be very little overlap to accept new clubs. That was a plan across the board in the fall when we went through those applications,” stated AMS Vice President-Administrative, Chris Scott, justifying the decision of AMS to deny club status.