UBC employee association calls for cancellation of talk by controversial anti–SOGI activist Jenn Smith

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      An association representing thousands of UBC employees is calling for the university to cancel a speaking engagement by a controversial speaker this weekend.

      The Association of Administrative Professional Staff at UBC (AAPS) issued a letter, which has been released online, addressed to UBC president Santa Ono on June 19 about a talk that will be held on June 23 by Jenn Smith.

      Smith is an anti–SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) activist whose previous talks on Vancouver Island sparked protests.

      Smith had previously scheduled talks at Douglas College in New Westminster and Trinity Western University in Langley but these bookings were cancelled after the schools found out about the nature of the events.

      AAPS executive director Joey Hansen stated in the letter, on behalf of the association’s 5,000 members, that they have concerns about “the University’s decision to serve as a platform for bigoted, anti-transgender hate speech”.

      Hansen that “a large number of AAPS members” expressed feeling violated, unsafe, or disrespected by their employer due to UBC permitting Smith’s presentation to proceed.

      He explained that the APPS “wholeheartedly rejects” University provost Andrew Szeri’s argument of free speech to allow Smith to speak and “is frankly disappointed that the University would characterize the spreading of hate speech against transgender individuals as a matter of free speech”.

      Hansen asks for an explanation why the university “believes that transgender/non-binary individuals are not worthy of the same protections as individuals in other marginalized groups”, adding that “surely, the university would not offer a platform to an individual spreading hate speech about racialized or Indigenous communities”.

      He also expressed concerns that the university appears to be valuing free speech above the “safety and well-being of the university community”.

      The Georgia Straight contacted UBC for comment in response to this letter but was directed to UBC provost Andrew Szeri's statement previously released on June 14.

      Szeri had cited the university’s 1976 Senate's Statement on Academic Freedom, which states that all university members have the right to “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”.

      The Senate statement goes on to condemn any restrictions on free discussion.

      "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…. 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."

      Szeri adds that as hate speech is governed by the Criminal Code of Canada, anyone who is concerned about a speaker involved in hate speech should contact the University RCMP. He also stated that the university and UBC Campus Security is working with the RCMP and other service providers to have safety measures in place.

      UBC has previously allowed events featuring controversial speakers to be held on campus.

      Last year, Toronto professor Jordan Peterson, whose views on gender, gender identities, and identity politics have been met with criticism and protest, spoke at UBC in both February and July 2018.

      Outcry arose when U.S. conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro was slated to speak at UBC in October 2018. Shapiro’s right-wing opinions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Muslims, African Americans, LGBT rights, abortion, and more have sparked controversy and criticism.

      While Smith’s event will take place on June 23, LGBT activists and allies are planning to concurrently hold a rally for trans rights.

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