A PhD student at the University of Huddersfield has found himself the subject of a formal investigation after a complaint was filed against him for “transphobia.”
Jonathan Best, who researches and teaches in the music department, broke the news on his personal Twitter, ending an extended social media break to inform his followers and friends of his situation.
In what caused a wave of outrage Wednesday evening, former Conservative Party candidate Cyara Bird tweeted that Natalie, her 17-year-old cousin, had been suspended from school for having “rejected the idea” of wearing a rainbow poppy instead of the traditional red-and-black one at their school’s Remembrance Day ceremony.
The Post Millennial reported on the initial claims, reaching out to the Interlake School Board and Stonewall Collegiate, Natalie’s school, for comment on the matter. While both declined to provide comment on the suspension, the Interlake School Board posted a poorly-received clarification to their Twitter account which stated that no students had been mandated to wear a rainbow poppy.
As the situation developed, The Post Millennial published a subsequent article featuring a statement from Natalie with additional details that clarified the situation. Rather than having been suspended for rejecting the poppy during choir practice as Bird’s initial tweet read, Natalie outlined that she had been suspended for “rejecting the idea” of the rainbow poppy replacing the red-and-black poppy, plastering posters in her school which included criticisms of the rainbow poppy symbol. Natalie’s father also confirmed that she had in fact been suspended until after the Remembrance Day holiday.
On November 8th, Cyara Bird issued a statement on her Twitter addressing the viral fallout from the coverage of her initial tweets. Apologizing that her “words were misconstrued,” Bird goes on to reiterate earlier sentiments she had made on her Twitter about her support for the LGBT community and veterans.
Bird had put her social media accounts on private early this morning after facing a barrage of criticism and abuse for her initial tweets on her cousin’s suspension.
The Post Millennial reached out to Bird for comment, but Bird stated that she would not be discussing the matter further.
#MeToo had rules. At least we thought so. Culturally, societally, politically, we all tried to learn them, to internalize them, to understand just what types of incidents could get a person ejected from their life, tossed out of their social group, ostracized from friends, unemployable, unpersoned. The rules seemed almost clear—until suddenly those who seem to be in charge of them don’t even follow their own logic anymore.
Katie Hill had an affair with a junior staffer, another woman, who feels that she was victimized. By the rules of #MeToo, that would dictate that Hill loses it all, right? Only somehow, it’s being spun the other way, by the same publications that brought us diatribes against Al Franken. Hill, it turns out, can also claim victim status at the hands of her ex, who was the one who released the information about the affair. In her resignation speech, Hill echoed Franken’s sentiments, that it seems absurd that she should be resigning when a guy like Trump is in the White House.
To recap: the wronged party is not the spouse, not the junior staffer, but the powerful person at the center of it. While it is true that Hill was the victim of revenge porn, and that is not acceptable, the same principle did not apply to Anthony Weiner or Joe Barton. It does not immunize her from her own wrongdoing.
“The squad” of freshmen congresswomen supported her during her recent tribulation. Nancy Pelosi, and other senior members of Congress, apparently wished that “Hill had been more careful in transmitting her private photos.”
Hill was given far more leeway in terms of the vocal and press lashing that other members of Congress who have found themselves exposed for sexual misconduct have faced. It turns out that she is being supported, not harassed and harangued. A staffer for Rep Sylvia Garcia (D-TX 29th), said, “A lot of the show of support was done intimately and privately with Hill, out of respect for her. … People didn’t want to be adding to the noise. We didn’t want to make press out of the pain and suffering she’s been through. She had private images published without her consent that have caused incredible pain.” Weiner did too, but no one had any sympathy for him at all.
The thing is, and yeah, we hate to be those people, but we can so easily imagine the reverse scenario. Here it is: a dashing young first-term congressman has an affair with a staffer years younger. He takes drugs, advertises his sexual availability on dating apps, and drags his wife into a threesome with the junior staffer. When the marriage breaks up—perhaps as a result of this kind of rampant infidelity, after all, they weren’t openly poly or ethically non-monogamous—the wife releases the dirt on the congressman to the world. She wants people to know just what kind of guy this is, how he is a liar and a cheater, a womanizer, and abuser, unfit to be in Congress. What then? Why she’s a hero, of course, and he’s a villainous letch.
Haven’t we heard this story before? Why is it so different now? Is Hill really a victim of her own sexual dalliances? Are we to believe that a woman who is strong enough to run and win a congressional campaign is so easy to bully? Perhaps we’re looking at it all wrong, readers, perhaps we don’t truly understand the nature of abuse or something, but what we do understand, what is perfectly clear, is that we’re supposed to believe all women, even when she is the abuser. We’re supposed to imagine that there is some substantive difference in how the rules are to be applied to men and women in the same deleterious circumstances.
Now, we’re the first to admit that the rules are stupid. That this game of pointing fingers and shaming people is nonsensical and barbaric is not something we doubt. But if there are going to be rules that we are all expected to play by, ought they not be, well, adhered to?
If #MeToo is meant to be the new standard that we all must bow down to, and it’s a given that men and women are equal, then we must apply the rules fairly, and everyone who has a complicated sexual relationship that leads to grievances must be punished. Or, maybe, just maybe, we could do away with this nonsense and start to see the human beings for what they are: flawed, complicated, and capable of cruelty and kindness.
#MeToo may have been an effective corrective in some situations, but it should never have risen to the level of an era. As it stands now, we are living through a “cultural context where common vengeance writes the law,” and the hypocrisy is destroying us. If the rules don’t apply the same way for everyone, perhaps the rules are the problem.
It takes only a cursory examination of our tumultuous human history to appreciate that periods of liberty—when individual citizens are largely free to speak, think, believe and act as they choose—are vanishingly rare and must be jealously guarded. In the span of three days last week, incidents in Toronto and Vancouver demonstrated that shockingly few people seem to understand this, and fewer still actually care.
Both incidents involved radical feminist Meghan Murphy, who had speaking engagements booked at the Toronto Public Library and Simon Fraser University (SFU) in B.C. on the topic of sex-based rights and their apparent conflict with gender identity.
The first event went ahead despite petitions, protests, threats to the library of ex-communication from PRIDE events, and even denunciation by the Mayor of Toronto. But for the fortitude of Chief Librarian Vickery Bowles, who described freedom of expression as “a hill to die on,” the mob would have had its way: the event would have been cancelled.
Indeed, the second event was scrubbed from its initial venue at SFU, due to threats of violence and disruption from so-called “activist” groups. Had the organizers not managed to find a last-minute replacement location, the heckler’s veto would have won the day.
Most thoughtful people would agree that a conflict of rights between two groups should be sorted out in a rational and fair manner, and that the best way to do that is by undertaking a thorough examination and discussion of the issues, which includes hearing and listening to the other side. But intolerant mobs have instead decided that anything Meghan Murphy or her following says, or might say in the future, is unquestionably “hate” speech that must be stopped at all costs.
This is not new a new phenomenon in our times. Any speaker whose ideological outlook doesn’t conform to that of the mobs will face attempts to deplatform them. Recently in Vancouver, the University of British Columbia Free Speech Club attempted to bring two “politically incorrect” speakers to campus, but was thwarted by high security fees after UBC determined there would likely be damaging protests. The event was moved to the local Hellenic Centre, which then faced online harassment and bullying from groups such as the “Revolutionary Student Movement” and the “Revolutionary Communists.” Death threats were made to the organizer of the event and a police presence was required to ensure it could proceed.
As anthropology professor Mark Collard, one of the organizers of the cancelled SFU event, told me, “In 300,000 years, humans have only managed to discover two ways of dealing with political disputes: conversation and democracy, or violence.”
If the mobs get their way, there will be no conversation. But if we can’t have a conversation, we are left with violence or threats of violence. In Toronto, baying crowds numbering in the hundreds lined the walkway where the much smaller group of mainly women exited the building after Ms. Murphy’s talk. As though channelling medieval witch-burners, they chanted, “walk of shame, walk of shame.” At least one called for their deaths, expressing the wish that they would “bleed out.”
Just three days later, under threats of violence from mobs in Vancouver, Professor Collard withdrew his support for Ms. Murphy’s event at the Harbour Centre on SFU’s downtown campus. Having been advised by SFU’s security chief that the risk of violence ranked “11 on a scale of 1 to 10”, he was told to choose between freedom of speech, which he considers of utmost importance, and the safety of attendees.
It is difficult for any group or individual to find a platform if they dissent from the increasingly narrow range of acceptable speech. Who gets to speak and what they say is being decided by modern-day Brownshirts, some of whom have already demonstrated that they have lost their grip on basic human decency by beating journalists and shouting down little old ladies with walkers.
Nearly 100 years ago, a newly-formed extremist group in Munich—including a large number of students and young middle-class professionals—started patrolling the streets and disrupting the meetings and speeches of those they disagreed with. Daniel Siemens’ book Stormtroopers: A New History of Hitler’s Brownshirts describes how the movement grew to include bloody street battles between fascists and communists, which the fledgling German democracy proved unable to control, accelerating the erosion of the free and democratic society and paving the way for Hitler’s rise.
There is no question that ordinary people can easily be swept up in political violence, believing themselves to be on the side of right. But the inevitable result is to ensure the demise of a civil and free society unless the adults among us who value our freedoms start taking a stand.
Sadly, the “adults” are doing a shockingly poor job at even grasping the issue. It wasn’t just the mob outside the library that the fearless Ms. Bowles had to withstand. The pressure came too from mainstream media like the CBC, as well as the Mayor and Toronto city councillors who challenged her stance. The Council appallingly voted 20-1 to review the Toronto Public Library’s policies on the use of community spaces. The message has been delivered that city politicians would be quite happy to see unpopular opinions censored.
For civil society and liberty to survive, institutions like governments, courts, universities and libraries need to take seriously their commitment to the fundamental freedoms of Canadians and stop enabling the mobs by tacitly endorsing their tactics.
Universities should make it clear that freedom of expression and academic freedom are non-negotiable. If security fees are to be charged at all, the invoice should be rendered to those who threaten violence or the disruption of events, and universities should file formal complaints with police about criminal behaviour. Demanding such fees from event organizers, who are doing nothing wrong by exercising their free expression rights, is grossly unfair.
Those who host or organize events need to hold fast and find some backbone. Backing down under vague threats of potential violence is ceding control of the discourse to the heckler and the mob. The SFU event should have proceeded as planned, and any disrupters dealt with firmly and immediately, using legal tools that are readily available.
Police need to ensure the safety of people attending events, as they did at the Murphy event in Vancouver at the replacement location. While protestors have every right to stand outside and peacefully demonstrate (even with cardboard guillotines as they did outside the Vancouver event), violence and threats of violence need to be taken seriously and dealt with by police. Violence needs to be met with criminal charges and a firm message from the courts: mess with our liberty at your peril.
And ordinary citizens, too, need to step up before this country becomes toxic and unlivable, with people speaking their opinions only in hushed whispers around their kitchen tables. We expect our public institutions to uphold our Charter freedoms, but we should all be standing up for the free exchange of ideas.
In 1867 the British philosopher and political theorist John Stuart Mill delivered an inaugural address at the University of St. Andrews:
Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.
Future historians may decry our times as the turning point when Lady Liberty laid down her torch and gave up the fight; or, they may proclaim it as the time when our free and democratic order was defended by ordinary people standing up to the mobs and declaring, “Enough!”
Lisa Bildy is an Ontario-based lawyer with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms. Her Twitter handle is @LDBildy.
In a newly released clip taken during the protests outside of Saturday’s GIDYVR debate featuring Jon Kay, Meghan Murphy, and myself, professional anti-bigotry activist Amanda Jabbour is seen racially abusing an interracial couple.
“Is that your mail-order bride?” Jabbour is seen repeatedly pointing at the Asian partner of the attendee, before asking “How much? How much did you pay?”
Jabbour, who identified herself to Press for Truth reporter Dan Dicks in a separate video as representing the PACE society with colleagues at the protest, is also seen yelling at and following the police officers protecting the entrance of the Pan Pacific Hotel, stating “your only purpose is oppressing people” and demanding to be allowed inside the private venue, where the debate was taking place in the conference room.
In Dicks’ video, Jabbour is also seen confronting an unidentified cameraperson. Jabbour aggressively approaches the woman, goading “next time you kick me, it better be f*cking hard, b*tch!” Jabbour had tripped over the camera person’s leg moments prior. Jabbour then attempts to lick the woman’s camera before rushing back to Dicks and holding her hand over his filming cell phone. Both journalists are also targeted by Jabbour blowing cigarette smoke at them.
Jabbour is listed as the Occupational Health and Safety Facilitator for the PACE Society, a charity focused on de-stigmatizing sex work and supporting sex workers. Jabbour is also the founder of Sault Ste. Marie Sex Workers’ Rights.
PACE Society’s most recently published annual report states the 62% of their funding is provided by the government, with the City of Vancouver and the Province of British Columbia appearing to provide the majority of the support. While this information is not provided in any subsequent reports, the 2015 annual report stated that 82% of PACE’s funding was spent on salaries for staff.
The Post Millennial reached out to Jabbour via the PACE Society, but PACE instead offered an email where “comments or concerns” could be sent. When clarification was sought on whether or not a comment would be given, PACE hung up, and subsequent calls were not answered.