Headed into 2020, the University of British Columbia is still struggling to balance free speech with safety concerns posed by antifa-linked groups, who threaten violent protests against speakers they object to on ideological grounds.
The Post Millennial editor-at-large Andy Ngo had his speaking event cancelled at UBC after safety concerns due to potential violent protests from antifa groups. Ngo’s scheduled presentation, ironically titled “Understanding Antifa Violence,” was scheduled to take place on January 29 at UBC’s Robson Square in downtown Vancouver.
Conservative legal advocacy group, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) has issued a press release and legal demand letter on behalf of student group The Free Speech Club demanding that UBC reinstate the event.
According to the letter, The Free Speech Club, received a phone call on December 20 from Ron Holton, Chief Risk Officer at UBC, stating “[t]he reason for the cancellation is the concern about the safety and security of our campus community.” The JCCF points out that no specific concern was mentioned.
The press release states, “The Free Speech Club and UBC confirmed the Andy Ngo event booking with a contract on November 25, 2019” and had paid the campus a booking fee.
In the legal letter, the JCCF says that cancelling the event “signals automatic acquiescence to the ‘heckler’s veto,’ which will embolden threats from those who oppose the very notion of free expression.” Citing UBC’s own “Statement on Academic Freedom,” the letter, addressed to UBC President Santa Ono, threatens legal action against the university if the event is not reinstated by January 10, 2020.
Normally, when a speaker’s presence has caused concerns for safety, for either the speaker or attendees, event hosts are asked for an additional security fee. That amount is assessed by the university. The groups organizing protests have never, to public knowledge, been asked to pay security fees. In this case, the event was cancelled with no contingency.
Another recent event at UBC, featuring feminism-critic and professor of literature Janice Fiamengo, was cancelled then rescheduled due to concerns of violence and policing issues.
Information provided to the The Post Millennial indicates that Holton advised The Free Speech Club that UBC is waiting to see how the rescheduled Fiamengo event turns out on January 15 before approving the event with Andy Ngo.
UBC’s public position on free speech regarding controversial speakers was last stated by the Provost in September asserting the principle that “[o]ver hundreds of years, universities have played a central role in providing a forum where ideas can be expressed, debated, and challenged, and where participants can gain insight and greater mutual understanding.”
Ngo has been the victim of violent attacks in the past. Both antifa Vancouver and the UBC group “Students Against Bigotry” have posts on their public Facebook pages encouraging further physical attacks in the form of throwing “concrete milkshakes” at him like the time he was injured in Portland, Oregon.
The SAB group has also stated intentions to try to bar Ngo from entering Canada.
“There is a very twisted irony here, with UBC taking the anti-free-speech side of antifa, and allowing antifa to silence a man whom Antifa previously assaulted,” said John Carpay, president of the JCCF
Angelo Isidorou, director of the Free Speech Club, said he was “shocked and bewildered” by UBC’s actions. The student club has hosted numerous controversial speakers, including Ben Shapiro, without problems in the past.
Andy Ngo commented in the press release that “[t]he appropriate response to violent extremists who threaten access to information in the academy is not to give in to their demands by cancelling the event.” He continued: “As is demonstrated over-and-over elsewhere, appeasing antifa ideologues only emboldens them to make more demands. Their goal is to silence opposition through fear and intimidation.”
UBC’s Chief Risk Officer has not responded to The Post Millennial’s request for comment.