While Trinity Western University cancels talk by anti–SOGI speaker, UBC allows Vancouver event to proceed

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      A Christian-based university has cancelled a talk by an anti–SOGI (sexual identity and gender identity) activist, who has since scheduled a forthcoming event at UBC.

      Jenn Smith, who identifies as a bisexual transgender male but is against “transgender ideology”, had a speaking engagement scheduled for June 15 at Trinity Western University (TWU) located in Langley.

      The event is part of Smith’s tour of B.C. with talks entitled “The Erosion of Freedom: How Transgender Politics in School and Society Are Undermining Our Freedom and Harming Women and Children!”

      Smith explains on his website that he believes his gender expression "came out of his childhood traumas and a sense of rejection", has struggled with his gender identity throughout his life, and "has focused his efforts on exposing SOGI 123 in schools and its assault on parental rights, freedom of religion, and freedom of conscience".

      From April to May, Smith held talks across Vancouver Island, which drew protests from LGBT activists and allies.

      On June 7, TWU cancelled the Smith's scheduled event.

      TWU issued a statement about the cancellation:

      “Trinity Western University became aware yesterday that an event was advertised to take place on campus on June 15th featuring Jenn Smith. This was not an official TWU sponsored event but was booked as a facility rental through our conferences service provider. The description of the event was not made clear through the booking process.  Once we became aware of the nature of the booking, we canceled the booking.”

      Smith posted his response to the cancellation on his website.

      “I am aghast at the spineless nature of the academic community today, but I was thinking TWU would be different since this is a topic that concerns many Christians,” Smith stated. “Instead of standing strong, TWU has chosen to prostrate itself to activists who would just as soon destroy or completely co-opt their entire institution. If TWU represents the vanguard of the Christian community, then the Christian community is in a lot of trouble.”

      TWU garnered headlines over the past few years in its attempt to seek accreditation for its proposed law school. The university lost its legal battle in a Supreme Court case against the Law Society of B.C. in June 2018, after which it was reported to be dropping its controversial covenant which prohibited students from sexual activity outside of marriage between a woman and a man.

      The TWU cancellation follows Douglas College cancelling Smith’s talk at their campus in New Westminster scheduled for June 8.

      Although neither Douglas College nor Smith responded to inquiries from the Georgia Straight about the cancellation, the New Westminster Record reported that Douglas College issued a statement explaining that the event was an external booking and not a Douglas College event. The college cancelled the booking after becoming aware of the nature of the booking.

      Smith had also previously advertised that a talk by him would be held in Vancouver on June 9 (the day after the Douglas College event) with a venue to be announced. Although Smith did not reference the Vancouver talk in his blog post about the Douglas College cancellation, the title of the blog post made reference to two talks being cancelled on that weekend.

      UBC provost Andrew Szeri

      However, Smith is now advertising a talk to be held in Vancouver at the University of British Columbia on June 23.

      When the Georgia Straight contacted UBC for further information today (June 10), the university sent a statement from provost Andrew Szeri.

      Szeri stated that as "the university is committed to upholding free speech on campus", the event will be allowed to proceed as scheduled.

      However, Szeri added that "we will be collaborating with the RCMP and other campus service providers, as we would be doing for any event with a controversial speaker, to ensure we have measures in place to make sure our students, faculty and staff are kept safe and are supported".

      UBC's approach to free speech on campus is explained in a February 27 article on its website

      "UBC does not endorse the views of controversial speakers or the organizations that book them or any other speakers who are invited to its campuses," Szeri states in the article. "The fundamental issue here is what the university stands for. I believe, and the Vancouver Senate statement on Academic Freedom clearly articulates, that UBC must be an open and inclusive forum, where members of the University have the freedom ‘to engage in full and unrestricted consideration of any opinion’. Selectively shutting down conversations on complex and challenging topics undermines that crucial foundation that enables challenge of the status quo. Ultimately, silenced opinions are not subject to ‘full and unrestricted consideration’.”

      UBC university counsel Hubert Lai added that “hate speech is a criminal matter in Canada and we would encourage anyone who believes the content of a speakers’ remarks are indeed hate speech to contact the police”.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook. You can also follow the Straight's LGBT coverage on Twitter at @StraightLGBT or on Facebook.