Lawyer John Carpay is the president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF.ca), which acts for The Free Speech Club at UBC.
Will the University of British Columbia (UBC) honour and uphold its own commitment to free expression, or pander to violent Antifa thugs?
This question arises from UBC’s cancellation of a campus event featuring journalist Andy Ngo, who is also editor-at-large at The Post Millennial. Mr. Ngo was physically assaulted by Antifa (short for “anti-fascist”) in Portland, Oregon in June of 2019, while covering a protest.
In November 2019, UBC approved a speaking engagement for Mr. Ngo, sponsored by The Free Speech Club, entitled “Understanding ANTIFA Violence.” The Free Speech Club paid a deposit to UBC, set up an Eventbrite page, and booked the flight for Mr. Ngo to come to Vancouver on January 29, 2020.
On December 20, 2019, UBC suddenly cancelled the January event, citing vague “safety and security” concerns without specifics.
Mr. Ngo, who is of Southeast Asian descent and is openly gay, has frequently reported on Antifa protests and violence, making both himself and his work a target of Antifa. Antifa is a loosely organized coalition of left-wing activists and self-described anarchists who use direct action, including vandalism, physical violence, threats, cyber attacks, and blockades, often to shut down events or protest opinions they oppose. Antifa protestors typically dress in black and wear masks to hide their faces.
Pandering to Antifa is completely contrary to how UBC describes itself: “a forum where ideas can be expressed, debated, and challenged, and where participants can gain insight and greater mutual understanding.” Cancelling an event obviously prevents people from gaining “insight” and “greater mutual understanding.”
UBC claims to support the freedom “to engage in full and unrestricted consideration of any opinion” for students as well as invited guests. UBC claims that “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.” UBC clearly recognizes that free speech is threatened not only by censorship from the authorities above, but also by censorship from the mob below: “the actions of private individuals.” The freedom to speak–along with the equally important right of people to hear and listen to diverse opinions–cannot exist when individuals shut down events by screaming, shouting, throwing stink bombs, pulling fire alarms, vandalizing property, threatening violence, or physically obstructing access to events.
Antifa is very clever to wrap itself in the undeniably admirable cloak of “anti-fascism.” Yet Antifa uses violence, threats of violence, and physical obstruction as methods to silence speakers they disagree with. These are the same tactics used by fascists across Europe in the 1930s, who rejected debate and intellectual inquiry and instead took action to silence their opponents.
Using physical force (whether violent or non-violent) to silence opponents is not limited to Antifa.
For example, the University of Alberta in 2015 condoned a mob physically obstructing a peaceful, stationary pro-life display on campus. Using sheets, towels, banners, and mega-phones, the mob made it impossible for passers-by to view the signs. The mob effectively silenced intellectual discussion and inquiry. Prior to this physical obstruction and disruption of a university-approved campus event, the University’s president had stated publicly that the pro-life group was entitled to express its opinions on campus. But her statement was not taken seriously by campus security or anyone else. The University’s campus security repeatedly told members of the obstructing mob that they were violating the Code of Student Behaviour, which expressly prohibits interrupting and obstructing university-related activities and events. Yet campus security took no action to stop the obstruction, or to discipline students who boasted publicly on social media about their success in silencing a message they disagreed with.
The University of Alberta ignored the fact that any threat to safety and security that may have existed on campus came uniquely from those who physically obstructed and loudly interrupted a university-approved event. Rather than render an invoice to the self-identified and self-confessed rule-breakers, the University instead told the small pro-life club that it could no longer set up a display on campus unless it first paid $17,500 in security fees.
This blame-the-victim approach is wilfully blind to reality. Blaming the victim means ignoring the important distinction between those merely exercising their legal rights to express opinions peacefully in a free society, and those who threaten safety and security by breaking university rules against obstructing and blockading campus events. Universities with legitimate concerns about security costs should present invoices to those who openly, publicly and proudly threaten safety and security by breaking university rules. These students should also be disciplined for misconduct, up to and including expulsion from the university.
To date, few Canadians have cared much about mob censorship (perhaps because almost all of it has been directed against pro-lifers). Respect for free speech in Canadian society depends on Canadians having a thorough understanding of why free speech is necessary to the pursuit of truth, and beneficial to the development of good policies and just laws. Supporting freedom of expression only for opinions you agree with does not qualify as support for free expression. A society which thinks that it’s OK to suppress one opinion is not going to fight, suffer or sacrifice to defend another opinion.
Andy Ngo was invited to speak at UBC on January 29 about “Understanding Antifa Violence,” yet UBC ironically cancelled the event for fear of Antifa violence. How perverse: a man assaulted and injured by Antifa is prevented by UBC from speaking out against Antifa violence, because UBC seeks to appease potential Antifa violence.
By pandering to threats of Antifa violence, UBC emboldens and empowers Antifa. If UBC does not reverse its decision to cancel the January 29, 2020 event, then Antifa will see itself–accurately–as having the right to decide who can and cannot speak on campus, based on Antifa’s beliefs and values. Antifa will learn that their actions shut down conversation and cause fear, and thus their violent methods are, in effect, rewarded.
UBC President Santa Ono needs to ask himself whether he actually agrees that “UBC must be an open forum where members of the university have the freedom ‘to engage in full and unrestricted consideration of any opinion.’” Does Dr. Ono agree that “all members of the University must recognize this fundamental principle and must share responsibility for supporting, safeguarding and preserving this central freedom”?
UBC claims that “[b]ehaviour 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.”
By canceling Andy Ngo’s January 29 event, UBC is tolerating and encouraging Antifa-like “behaviour that obstructs free and full discussion.”
UBC has until January 10, 2020, to reverse its cancelation decision. If UBC does not honour its original commitment to have the January 29 event proceed, it may have to explain its position in court.
The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia has bestowed its blessing on cancel culture–the twisted phenomenon whereby universities and public libraries cancel scheduled events just because someone claims to be offended. In Nova Scotia, cancel culture has spread to personalized license plates. Justice Darlene Jamieson ruled on January 31, 2020, that one anonymous complaint about Lorne Grabher’s personalized “GRABHER” license plate was enough to warrant its permanent cancellation. The Court affirmed the January 2017 decision to cancel the plate which the Grabher family had used for over 25 years, because Mr. Grabher’s surname could be “misinterpreted” as a “socially unacceptable slogan.”
Lorne Grabher is of Austrian-German heritage. His family immigrated to Canada from Europe in 1906. His father served in the Canadian Armed Forces, and was stationed in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The family’s history, including their name and the heritage it signifies, is important to the Grabher family. In or around 1990 the Grabher family applied for the “GRABHER” plate, originally a gift to Lorne’s father and later used by Lorne’s son. For 27 consecutive years, through three generations of Grabhers, the Registrar authorized the plate for use on the family’s motor vehicles in Nova Scotia. Each year the Registrar of Motor Vehicles renewed the plate without issue.
All it took to wreck this noble family tradition was one anonymous complaint to the Registrar, in October of 2016. Without taking into account the Grabher family’s pride in its Austrian-German heritage, and ignoring all prior decisions to renew the plate year after year after year, Janice Harland of the Registrar of Motor Vehicles told Lorne Grabher: “While I recognize this plate was issued as your last name, the public cannot be expected to know this and can misinterpret it as a socially unacceptable slogan.”
For Lorne Grabher, this case is about more than a personalized plate. It’s about his family’s name, personal dignity, and the ongoing insult by the Nova Scotia government in its censorship of the plate.
Justice Darlene Jamieson has effectively equated Lorne Grabher’s surname with EATASS, FOQME, HOTCOK, BLOWJB, BRDSHT, FSTFK, FCKPIG, 8CUNT, DCHBAG, GNGBNG, FQUALL and other objectionable terms on the Banned List of words that are prohibited by the Nova Scotia Registrar of Motor Vehicles. The court was not moved by the double standard of foul language used by another government entity, the Halifax Water Board, whose bus ads included the phrases “Powerful Sh*t” and “Be proud of your Dingle.” The court also deemed irrelevant the existence of Canadian place names like “Dildo, Newfoundland,” “Swastika, Ontario,” “Red Indian Lake, Newfoundland,” “Crotch Lake, Ontario,” “Old Squaw Islands, Nunavut,” and “Cape Negro” in Nova Scotia.
Justice Jamieson relied heavily on a report by Carrie Rentschler (https://www.mcgill.ca/ahcs/people-contacts/faculty/rentschler) a McGill University professor of “feminist media studies” who specializes in things like “the construction of new political subjectivities,” “emergent forms of social collectivity,” and “the shape and practice of contemporary feminisms in social media networks and hashtag publics.”
Professor Rentschler argued that the “GRABHER” license plate supports or increases violence against women; that exposure to cultural slogans normalizes sexual violence against women; that Mr. Grabher’s plate creates an elevated risk of rape; and that Mr. Grabher’s surname is a statement in support of physical violence against women. As the Professor explains in her revised report:
“As an expression, the meaning of ‘Grabher’ could be understood to signify the support, condoning and encouragement of gendered physical violence against girls and women. ‘Grabher’ – read as ‘Grab her’- is a speech act that can potentially contribute to the harms of gendered violence against girls and women, ‘crossing over from expressive activity to threat’… As an injunction, recipients of the phrase may interpret it as encouragement to grab or grope female individuals without their consent.”
There was no evidence before the court that there is less crime in Nova Scotia, or in Mr. Grabher’s neighborhood, since the plate was revoked. There was no evidence that anyone, including the anonymous complainant, had suffered any harm as a result of the plate.
Professor Rentschler claimed that Mr. Grabher’s plate is broadly “offensive” to the public, but provided no examples of any specific people or studies who find it so. Professor Rentschler is not from Nova Scotia, admitting on cross-examination that she did not know the name of the big blue ship in the background on all Nova Scotia licence plates. She provided no evidence to support her claim that the plate endangers the general public. Nor did the Nova Scotia government present any evidence to support any of Professor Renstchler’s assertions. There was no evidence that any roadway or motorist or citizen, female or male, was ever once endangered by the plate. There was therefore no evidence that the plate represents “language that supports gendered violence” or that the “plate promotes violence against women.”
Despite the absence of evidence to support Professor Rentschler’s wild claims, Justice Jamieson actually agreed with her, ruling that “the seven letters ‘GRABHER,’ without added context to indicate this is a surname, could be interpreted as promoting sexualized violence against women and girls.”
Justice Jamieson decreed that banning Mr. Grabher’s plate is justified to prevent harm, to ensure a “safe and welcoming” environment on Nova Scotia roads, and to protect individuals in society from the effects of offensive expression. She stated: “Clearly the provincial government cannot sanction having vehicles with government-owned plates travelling the highways of this province and country bearing messages that could be considered ‘offensive or not in good taste’.”
Where would we be without the government to keep us safe from the scourge of peoples’ offensive surnames?
What actual harm Mr. Grabher’s personalized plate had caused from 1990 to 2017 was not explained by the Court, nor could the Registrar of Motor Vehicles point to any harm. The Nova Scotia government suggested the GRABHER plate hurt tourism, but the government’s witness, Peter Hackett, later admitted that there was no such evidence.
The Registrar provided no evidence on behalf of the person who complained, why that person complained, or even whether she or he resided in Nova Scotia. The Registrar treated an ethnically German name as an English phrase, and then attached an idiosyncratic and demeaning reading to it. Mr. Grabher’s claim of discrimination against Canadians of Austrian-German heritage was dismissed because, according to Justice Jamieson, persons of Austrian-German heritage do not suffer from any “pre-existing disadvantage or stereotyping in Canadian society.” Essentially: discrimination is only wrong if you belong to the right group.
The court minimized the hurt and humiliation experienced by Mr. Grabher in the past three years, claiming that he is “free” to “choose another personalized plate consisting of up to seven letters or numbers. As Justice Jamieson explained it: “He is not denied access to personalized plates, but solely access to the seven-letter, personalized “GRABHER” plate.” This “freedom” is rather worthless because no other expression on the plate would communicate the same idea as the family surname. If you cannot say what you want, there is no free expression. For a court to say “no worries, you are allowed to say other things” misses the whole point of free expression.
Cancel culture panders to the fragile snowflakes who file anonymous complaints. Their desire, to avoid feeling offended by their own imagination about what someone else’s last name could mean if translated into a different language and then distorted into something it is not, must take precedence over someone else’s right to display his own last name with pride.
When courts promote cancel culture, they harm the free society.
On February 1, feminist group Women’s Liberation Front held a panel discussion at the Seattle Public Library on the impact of transgender activism on women’s sex-based rights. Featuring Sabina Malik, Kara Dansky, and Twitter-banned Meghan Murphy, the sold-out talk was met with resounding support, but trans rights activists and antifa made their resentment and hostility clear.
Masked protestors wielding signs and chanting misogynistic slurs were monitored closely by Seattle police, who were out in full force to detail the crowd outside of the library.
As the night continued, the protests grew louder. Protestors began to use drums, whistles, and amplifiers in an attempt to disrupt the peaceful women’s rights-related talk occurring inside.
Several of the protestors managed to breach the security barriers and were shouted down by the crowd while police took action and removed them from the premises.
The Seattle Public Library event represents a disturbing trend in peaceful talks being shouted down by social justice mobs. In November of 2019, #GIDYVR had to relocate to the Pan Pacific after its Simon Fraser University sponsor, Mark Collard, withdrew access to the venue due to the overwhelming threat of violence.
In January 2020, Andy Ngo’s lecture at the University of British Columbia was cancelled citing similar concerns about campus safety.
All photos property of Amy Eileen Hamm (@preta_6) and used with consent.
The Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF) is no stranger to controversy, but it was still a bit of a surprise to have their New York event on Cancelled Women cancelled by the New York Public Library (NYPL). The event is going ahead, and if you’re in New York tonight you should come check it out, but you’ll have to reserve a ticket to find out where.
Women always find a way to get around barriers put in place to keep them out, and women who have been locked out in one way or another are more than capable of picking themselves up, dusting themselves off, and starting again.
In this case, the event, An Evening with Cancelled Women, was booked into a room at the New York Public Library. All was moving along as planned, until the night before the deposit was due, WoLF Board Chair Natasha Chart received an email from the NYPL saying that the booking was cancelled. No reason was given. And the irony, of course, is plain: an event about cancelled women was cancelled.
It will never cease to amaze me how threatened people are by women, getting together in libraries, to talk. Drag queens in full costume reading to and occasionally flashing children is fine, but women talking about their experiences? Absolutely not.
Libraries in Vancouver, Seattle, and Toronto have been protested for hosting talks by gender critical feminists, but those libraries have not caved to pressure the way the NYPL has. As a long-time lover of the NYPL, its beautiful research and reading rooms, its exhibits, history, massive archive, and dedication to scholarship, this was both hugely disappointing and surprising.
The root of all this is the continued divide in feminism over whether or not biological sex is a fantastical concept, or simply an unalterable aspect of reality. Transgender ideology has taken hold of our culture and it refuses to let go. But the truly crazy thing is that most people don’t actually believe that surgeries, hormone treatments, and wishing really hard can change your sex. Instead, people just say that they do in order to not hurt trans people’s feelings.
The women who will be featured at the event include Dominique Christina, Posie Parker, Meghan Murphy, Linda Bellos, Natasha Chart, and myself. All of these women are outspoken about their unwillingness to accept trans women as women, balk at the term cis, refuse to allow women’s spaces to be overrun with men, and reveal the truth about the butchering being done to children in the name of transgender lies.
They have been harassed and derided for these views before, and for the most part would rather not have to talk about it all the time. But so much of women’s experience is being erased under the guise of trans acceptance. Language about women and women’s bodies is being altered to include male-bodied persons—pregnant woman is now pregnant person, the word mother is now an identity and not a verb, even menstrual products are being rebranded to eliminate references to women. Women’s sports are inclusive of men who say they are women, leading to men winning women’s championship titles in cycling, track & field, and that’s just the beginning, as the IOC has opened the doors for trans women to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Women are expected to sit back and quietly take it, whatever is thrown at them, to acquiesce, to give in, and they are threatened when they don’t. These women have proven that they will not be silenced, and the more people that want them to shut up, the louder they will speak. Erasing and cancelling women may be the going trend, but we’re not going to accept it just because trans activists want us to.
The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is going ahead with legal proceedings against the University of British Columbia after the Canadian university refused to reinstate Andy Ngo’s speaking engagement on antifa violence.
The JCCF issued a press release that stated: “The Free Speech Club and UBC entered into a contract on November 25, 2019 to hold the event, and the club paid the required booking deposit. The UBC Executive unilaterally cancelled the event in December 2019, stating in an email shortly before Christmas that this was necessary due to concerns ‘about the safety and security of our campus community.’ No specific concerns were stated. If UBC had safety concerns, it did not communicate any specific concerns to The Free Speech Club, or make efforts to address such concerns.”
The JCCF previously sent UBC a letter demanding that the event be reinstated. Lawyer Marty Moore stated that “UBC’s decision effectively punishes a victim of violence by banning him from speaking at UBC, in what appears to be an attempt to appease the violent group antifa.”
Ngo, who is the Editor-at-large for The Post Millennial, said, “The 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. As is demonstrated over-and-over elsewhere, appeasing Antifa ideologues only emboldens them to make more demands. Their goal is to silence opposition through intimidation and violence.”