UBC could face legal action after cancelling Free Speech Club event

The UBC Free Speech Club (FSC) is threatening legal action against UBC after the university cancelled a FSC event due to unspecified safety concerns.

Featuring right-wing reporter Andy Ngo, the FSC’s talk “Understanding Antifa (Anti-fascist) Violence” was supposed to take place on January 29 at UBC’s Robson Square campus.

But on December 20, the university contacted the FSC to cancel the booking.

Ngo is an editor-at-large of The Post Millennial, a right-wing media website. He made national headlines after he was hit by unidentified individuals thought to be anti-facist activists counter-protesting a Proud Boys rally in Portland, Oregon. The Proud Boys are categorized as a hate group by the Souther Poverty Law Centre.

Ngo also claims that he was hit by milkshakes mixed with quick-dry cement, but this was disputed by other reporters who witnessed the incident.

Ngo has been reported by various outlets to allegedly provoke protesters and associate with right-wing hate groups to promote narratives that antifa groups are ideological, militant and dangerous.

Soon after the Facebook event for Ngo’s talk was created, UBC community members such as the UBC Students Against Bigotry (SAB) expressed their concerns about it online.

“His entire career is based off misrepresenting and demonizing anti-fascism, protecting his far-right friends, and getting people to basically believe his misrepresentations and his lies,” said a SAB member in an interview with The Ubyssey. The member asks to remain anonymous to avoid harassment from far-right organizations.

“In this case there'd be a pretty clear concern that Andy would come and that other fascist activists from Portland would come, people who've been getting in street fights and big brawls for years really at this point … That’s the kind of audience that he cultivates.”

According to UBC Chief Risk Officer Ron Holton in a written statement to The Ubyssey, Ngo’s talk was cancelled after a risk assessment performed by the university found that the “safety and security of UBC students, faculty, staff and infrastructure” could be jeopardized if the event were allowed to take place.

The university did not name any specific safety concerns. According to the SAB member, the group had not planned any demonstrations against the event at the time of cancellation.

“At our current juncture, our aim was to get the event canceled via sharing information and providing pressure on the university via this information, and if the event didn’t get canceled, that would entail us having a discussion about what we would want to do, not just among ourselves, but amongst other community members,” they said.

UBC also did not give the FSC the option to pay for security as it had for past events. FSC director Angelo Isodorou said that the change in protocol indicated that UBC may have made the decision for political reasons.

“In the past, security has always been an option, and we paid thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars to UBC over the years for security … According to [Holton], the [UBC] executives did not want that to even be an option. They are just going to cancel events unilaterally that are controversial like this,” said Isodorou.

He added that he believes the decision runs contrary to UBC’s obligation as a public institution to remain politically unbiased. On these grounds, The FSC and Ngo enlisted the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) to write a December 31 letter on their behalf demanding the cancellation be rescinded. The JCCF said it will pursue legal action if the university does not respond by January 10.

In the letter, JCCF lawyer Morty Moore appealed to UBC’s 1976 Statement on Academic Freedom.

In November, the UBC Vancouver Senate created a working group to consider whether the statement needed to be changed after UBC was banned from the Vancouver Pride Parade last summer because it allowed anti-Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) speaker Jenn Smith to speak on campus.

Holton did not say how the university will respond to the letter in his statement to The Ubyssey.

Isodorou said that he felt Ngo’s talk would not have been cancelled if not for the invitation of past speakers whose events have drawn conflicts among protesters that security could not control.

“It's actually not about [us]. It's about the fact that the other free speech group on campus has hosted a number of events recently that have turned into carnivals: you know, confrontations among protesters and ticket-holders,” he said.

Ngo was not available for comment by press time, but he took to Twitter expressing frustration about the cancellation and sharing screenshots of Facebook comments from left-wing activists that he viewed as threatening.

In response, the SAB member said they “do not condone assault against [Andy Ngo] supporters.”

Overall, they believe the cancellation will make for a safer Vancouver.

“We’re happy that the event event got canceled, because if it remains canceled, then the threats that we mentioned of far-right groups descending and coming and targeting people for harassment [will subside],” they said.

This article was corrected to reflect that the Students for Freedom of Expression did not host the Jenn Smith event at UBC, and to correct the wording of a comment from the Student Against Bigotry member.