After many years of controversies and discussions about free speech, hate speech, intellectual freedom, and freedom of expression, UBC is announcing some changes while other considerations remain underway.
Appearances at UBC by speakers and organizations associated with or allegedly affiliated with discrimination, white supremacy, or hate speech—such as Jordan Peterson, Jenn Smith, Ben Shapiro, Frances Widdowson, and Andy Ngo—have sparked protests, concerns, and debates.
UBC Students Against Bigotry (SAB) has a timeline that chronicles the recent history of hateful and discriminatory acts at the institution from 2016 onward.
On July 8, UBC president and vice-chancellor Santa Ono issued a statement addressing the debate about “controversial speakers whose views are deeply offensive and hurtful to members of our community” and which “also threaten to undermine our community’s broad commitments to inclusivity and diversity”.
While Ono explained that considerations for amendments that Vancouver-based senate began last year are continuing on, he said that he has consulted faculty and both internal and external counsel about legal frameworks for evaluating speakers, in addition to receiving feedback from others.
“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,” he stated.
Thus far, a number of modifications have been made.
Ono said that the event risk assessment and mitigation process for bookings have been revised to clearly identify the risk level in order to help make decisions about speakers deemed "controversial".
An external legal expert, specializing in human rights and civil liberties law, will assess all event bookings at UBC in Vancouver, Okanagan, and Robson Square based on the B.C. Human Rights Code.
While the code prohibits publications that are discriminatory or are likely to expose a group to identity-based hatred or contempt, Ono pointed out that it also prohibits UBC from discriminating against anyone by preventing their access to accommodations, services, or facilities that are available to the public.
In the wake of anti-Asian attacks during the pandemic and George Floyd solidarity protests, Ono had released a statement on June 1 that UBC would commit to increasing and accelerating efforts to make the university more inclusive. On June 2, SFU president and vice-chancellor Andrew Petter also issued a statement to address efforts for diversity, equity, and inclusion at the institution.
Businessperson and lawyer Michael Korenberg stepped down as chair of the UBC board of governors after SAB revealed his history of liking tweets supporting U.S. President Donald Trump and conspiracy theorist and far-right provocateur Dinesh D’Souza, and condemnations of Antifa and Black Lives Matter.