I accuse UBC of complicity with fascists

I accuse UBC of complicity with fascists

By 

There are many things to like about UBC. It regularly ranks among Canada’s top universities, has a vibrant student community, and the view of the mountains from the flagpole is hard to beat. I also love the variety of events regularly held here, often featuring highly acclaimed (and sometimes controversial) academics, artists and activists. I appreciate the opportunity to learn and have my preconceived ideas challenged, even if I do not always agree.

With this in mind, I was somewhat shocked to learn last month that UBC’s Chan Centre was planning on hosting an event with YouTube personalities Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern, organized by the so-called ‘Free Speech Club’.[1] 

Seems perfectly innocuous, right? That is until you realise that Stefan Molyneux is a white supremacist who has said on record that non-whites have inferior intelligence and should even be considered a different species,[2] in addition to claiming that women are the source of all evil in society.[3] Lauren Southern, meanwhile, a self-proclaimed “anti-feminist”, has been spreading conspiracy theories of a “white genocide”[4] and has attempted to block rescue ships from saving refugees in the Mediterranean.[5] 

These two ‘charming’ characters were given a platform to spread their bile by the Free Speech Club. This organisation (which isn’t registered as a student organisation[6]) claims to have been founded in order to allow people to voice unpopular opinions in a spirit of non-partisan academic freedom. However, a cursory look at their online presence will reveal that they are simply an alt-right group hiding behind free-speech ideology in order to push inflammatory far-right ideas to the forefront. The group regularly claims the right of free speech in order to share factually wrong pseudo-science, yet they denounce any criticism as an attack on their right to speak freely. They are the authors of such ‘memorable’ antics such as placing a “male” symbol atop the UBC Engineering cairn shortly before a planned commemoration of the 1989 massacre of 14 young women by a man at Ecole Polytechniquea Montreal engineering school. They have also[7] encouraged police to kill Indigenous peoples defending their land, calling them “terrorists.”[8] 

Two weeks ago, the Free Speech Club decided to move its event from the Chan Centre to the Hellenic Community of Vancouver at 4500 Arbutus Street, under questionable circumstances. For one, the Free Speech Club claims that it was due to the high cost of security,[9] while the Chan Centre claims that it was because there were too few tickets sold.[10] This seems suspicious considering that the Free Speech Club would have known about the security costs early on and that prior to moving the event, they had bragged about having sold out the event.[11] 

The event was moved once more this week as the Hellenic Community of Vancouver faced a growing backlash from within the Canadian-Greek community and from other groups all across Vancouver, such as the Students Against Bigotry, which, ironically, yet unsurprisingly, the Free Speech Club was quick to label as domestic terrorists.[12]  

For now, the question at hand is this: Why had the Chan Centre and the Hellenic Community of Vancouver offered to host two fascists? What did they hope to gain from this event? How are far-right extremists regularly getting large and well-publicised platforms to spread their hateful ideas when people representing opposing ideas get barely any coverage? 

History, both old and recent, has shown that the logical conclusion of the far-right is the death of democracy and the endangerment of marginalised peoples’ lives. Their arguments are not based on proper academic rigor, but pseudoscience, scapegoating and cherry-picking statistics. In no way, shape or form do they embody UBC’s commitments to academic excellence and they hide behind their right to free speech whenever they face criticism. Abusing ‘freedom of speech’ is not something that provocateurs like the Free Speech Club can hide behind to dehumanize people; it is an actual right and a responsibility and without it we would not have the luck of living in a democratic society.  

Organisations like Students Against Bigotry have been quick to respond to the Free Speech Club and are starting to investigate and mobilise against them. I would like to conclude this piece with a few closing remarks: 

I accuse UBC’s administration of opening the doors to fascists whose ideologies are violent, dangerous and, when taken to their logical conclusions, would be the end of academic freedom. I accuse them of not taking a clear stance against people who wish the worst on UBC’s and society’s most vulnerable populations. 

I accuse UBC and the Chan Centre of using xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) land, yet betraying the spirit of reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous nations by providing a platform for people who openly deny the existence of genocide against the Indigenous peoples of the Americas and the harmful historical and contemporary effects of colonialism.[13]  

I accuse Joyce Hinton and Cameron McGill, co-managing directors of the Chan Centre, of hosting far-right extremists and promoting them with no thought to the impact it would have on the campus community. The people you planned to host and promote are not your allies. Would you have gone ahead with the event had student groups like the Students Against Bigotry not voiced their concerns? 

I accuse the founder, Louis Jung, the current president, Noah David Alter, and the whole Free Speech Club for shamefully disregarding the responsibilities of free speech and abusing it to promote reactionaries and fascists. I accuse them of lying about their intentions by claiming to be a non-partisan organisation yet being entirely dedicated to “triggering libs”. I accuse them of being a hindrance to proper academic debate by trying to be as inflammatory as possible. Finally, I accuse them of being cowards, of running away from campus at the first sign of adversity.  

Finally, I wish to congratulate the Vancouver’s Greek community for keeping Molyneux and Southern out of their church. By raising their voices and taking direct action they were able to prevent fascism from gaining another platform to spew its hatred. Our effort would never have succeeded without their help and their spirit of solidarity so I would like to express my sincere thanks to all the those who took a stand. 

In regards to the ones I am accusing, I do not know them personally, I have never met them and I feel neither hate nor resentment towards them. In my eyes they are simply part of a larger ill that affects our society and my letter is merely one way of bringing attention to this troubling problem we have on campus. 

I only wish to be in a place where people of all backgrounds can thrive together and enjoy the best of free speech and academic freedom. Enabling white supremacists to spread their vicious messages will only hinder that goal. 

Sincerely, 

L.R. Alway, a UBC student

[This piece was modelled on the famous open letter written by French author Émile Zola in 1898 in response to the blatant antisemitism demonstrated during the highly controversial Dreyfus Affair.]

[1] https://chancentre.com/events/stefan-molyneux-live/
[2] Southern Poverty Law Center. (n.d.). Stefan Molyneux. https://www.splcenter.org/fightinghate/extremist-files/individual/stefan...
[3] Futrelle, David. (2013, Oct 8). YouTube MRA Stefan Molyneux blames Miriam Carey’s fatal DC car chase on “rank female evil.” We Hunted the Mammoth. http://www.wehuntedthemammoth.com/2013/10/08/youtube-mra-stefan-molyneux...
[4] Kelley, Brendan Joel. (2017, Nov 7). Lauren Southern: The alt-right’s Canadian dog whistler. Southern Poverty Law Center. https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2017/11/07/laurensouthern-alt-right%...
[5] Ibid.
[6] Rogers, Shelby. (2017, January 25). The UBC Free Speech Club: A safe space for whining about safe spaces. The Ubyssey. https://www.ubyssey.ca/culture/free-speech-club/
[7] Vescera, Zak. (2018, March 14). Free Speech Club members crash Sexual Assault Support Centre event, advocate for men’s rights group. The Ubyssey. https://www.ubyssey.ca/news/mens-rightsactivists-crash-SASC-event/
[8] Rogers, Shelby, Ibid.
[9] The Free Speech Club’s Facebook page, (2019, February 22, 14:52).Stefan Molyneux LIVE has been rescheduled [Facebook event update] https://www.facebook.com/events/324111001649616/
[10] Students against Bigotry (2019, March 5). Letter: Far-right speakers have no place in university auditoriums or community halls. The Ubyssey.  https://www.ubyssey.ca/opinion/letter-far-right-speakers-no-place-on-cam...
[11] The Free Speech Club’s Facebook page, (2019, February 20, 13:37). EVENT IS SOLD OUT! [Facebook event update] https://www.facebook.com/events/324111001649616/
[12] The Free Speech Club’s Facebook page, (2019, March 12, 22:59). The Hellenic Centre must cancel our booking due to physical threats of harm towards their community and church. [Facebook post] https://www.facebook.com/
[13] Molyneux, Stefan (2016, June 21). The Truth About the Native American Genocide. Youtube.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WNHKDJzgqJg