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Culture Oct 31, 2019 8:57 PM EST

Free speech event at SFU in jeopardy after threats of violence

We’re not going to shut down an event every time someone threatens us. Threats are par for the course. As far as we’re concerned, the event will go on.”

Free speech event at SFU in jeopardy after threats of violence
Rebecca Christiansen and Barrett Wilson Montreal, QC

This article was published more than 1 year ago, information might not be up to date.

Word spread quickly on social media this evening that Simon Fraser University has backed out of its decision to host the event entitled “#GIDYVR: How Media Bias Shapes the Gender Identity Debate” on November 2nd.

In addition to Vancouver feminist Meghan Murphy, the event was slated to feature Quillette Canadian editor Jonathan Kay and The Post Millennial contributor Anna Slatz, and was co-organized by Mark Collard, an SFU professor of anthropology, Amy Eileen Hamm, Holly Stamer, and GIDYVR. Free speech activist Lindsay Shepherd was set to moderate.

Collard, who had originally sponsored the event and assisted in booking the venue at SFU’s Harbour Centre campus, decided to withdraw his support for the event after speaking to senior director of campus public safety, Tim Marron. Marron explained that there was a high risk of violence as a result of the event.

“The senior admin had been very firm about respecting my academic freedom in terms of supporting the event,” Collard told The Post Millennial. “Tim explained what happened yesterday in a meeting between the SFU LGBT student group called Out On Campus and an outside group called Coalition Against Trans Antagonism (CATA). CATA was attempting to persuade Out On Campus to use direct action, discussing tactics such as pulling fire alarms and engaging in property damage. The ball was left in my court, and because of the safety concerns, I could not in good conscience allow this to proceed.”

There is apparently a report on the potential risks drafted by SFU security but Collard has not seen it yet—it remains with senior administration.

The Post Millennial also reached out to Meghan Murphy, who told us, “We are still going to fight this. GIDYVR is in touch with our lawyer, Jay Cameron, from the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms in order to put pressure on SFU to keep our booking. Apparently, there was a meeting involving a trans activist group, and security determined that there was a viable threat of violence from this group. We do not accept that the booking is cancelled, so therefore the booking is not cancelled. We were not consulted by the university or security. We were just informed at the last minute that Mark Collard didn’t want to go through with it. We’re not going to shut down an event every time someone threatens us. Threats are par for the course. As far as we’re concerned, the event will go on.”

When asked if he had any regrets about pulling out, Collard said, “Yes, of course, I do. Civil society should have mechanisms to allow free speech to happen. What this does is incentivize the bad behaviour, since they will be more likely to do this in the future. On the other hand, I know the importance of listening to experts, and [Marron] has 19 years of security experience. He told me on a scale of one to ten, the probability of violence was an eleven.”

The event is sold out with approximately 200 attendees. If SFU does not find a way forward with this event, organizers will be forced to find a new venue that can accommodate the 200 ticket holders and can meet their security concerns all in one day.

The Post Millennial also reached out to SFU Security. This article will be updated if we hear back.

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