To the UBC Board of Governors.
[Please note that I am writing this letter to you and releasing it simultaneously as a Press Release, as I believe this is a matter of grave public concern not only to the students of UBC, but to all those that value freedom of speech and inquiry, which universities are supposed to be champions of.]
My name is Jenn Smith. I am a transgender identified public speaker and political activist. I gave a talk on the campus of UBC on June 23, which I am sure you are all well aware of at this point.
It has come to my attention that the UBC administration has given an audience to the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) regarding the possibility of making changes to the UBC Board of Governor’s Policy 107: Booking and Rental of UBC Space, ostensibly to deal with events such as my talk at UBC on June 23 which the VPS falsely characterized as “transphobic hate speech.”
This information is disturbing to me because the Pride Society has actually libeled me and I suspect they did this in private meetings with administration as well, which would mean administration is working with false information. Having given audience to the Vancouver Pride Society I would like to request an audience with the Board (consistent with Governance and Administration Policy 8) as part of a joint delegation with the UBC Students for Freedom of Expression to address issues and concerns raised by my talk, libels made against me, and more importantly the implications of all of this for free speech on campus and UBC’s role in the broader community providing a safe space for free speech.
The Board should be aware that the VPS has libeled me and misrepresented the content of my presentation, and any comments made to administration should thus be regarded with great suspicion. I identify as transgender and have been bisexual most of my life, thus suggestions by the VPS and others that I would knowingly promote hatred of transgender people is patently absurd and highly offensive. I have plans to rent space at UBC again and thus this is no doubt an issue that will have to be addressed again.
On July 8, 2019, the VPS spokesperson and Executive Director Andrea Arnot not only accused UBC of providing “a platform for transphobic hate speech,” but went on to state , “Jenn Smith is known to deliver hate speech and discriminatory talks.” These statements are patently false and the latter statement is libelous (accusing me of a criminal offence), and I am now considering a civil suit against the VPS. The City of Oak Bay had a legal review done of my presentation and they concluded my talk did not constitute hate speech. The Mayor of Oak Bay issued the following statement regarding my talk on April 30, “the legal opinion was very clear. It was not, by a legal definition, a hate speech event.”
The false charges of “hate” by the VPS motivated me to attend this year’s Pride Parade and walk through the crowd holding a sign that read, “The Pride Society Lied About UBC and Jenn Smith. Support Free Speech Now.” Pride staff subsequently chased me down the street with a giant black tarp/net, which is a pretty good indication of just how authoritarian and intolerant the VPS has become. These are certainly not people we would want safeguarding one of society’s most important freedoms.
The fact the VPS and the UBC Students Against Bigotry are both using fallacious statements and libel to advocate deplatforming persons such as myself speaks to the fact that allowing self-interested advocacy groups and other possibly vested interests to influence or determine who should or should not be allowed to speak in publicly subsidized facilities is extremely ill-advised. This constitutes an immediate and extreme danger to freedom of speech, as unfortunately do other policies currently being used by UBC, such as the increased security fees which UBC demanded from myself, and which unfairly silence anybody that cannot afford the fees (and are thus a kind of class based discrimination favoring only the best-funded speakers).
While the charges against me are false, it should be noted, as Noam Chomsky has said, that even if the charges were true, not only do we have laws regarding hate speech in Canada that deal with speech that advocates harm or criminal acts, but freedom of speech itself means nothing if it does not protect unpopular ideas that contradict the prevailing orthodoxy.
My case, I would argue, provides perfect evidence for why outside organizations should not be allowed to advocate censoring certain ideas or speakers. UBC can be proud of the stand it has taken over the years to serve as a safe space for free speech, thought, and inquiry, which we all value so much or should value. It is my sincere hope that UBC will continue to be a leader protecting free speech and consider strengthening rather than weakening the ability of dissenting views to voice their concerns in an increasingly censorious society.
I am thus, in conjunction with the UBC Students for Freedom of Expression (UBCSFE), requesting that your agenda for September 12 be amended and that I be allowed to speak to the Board of governors in response to the Pride Society and as part of a joint delegation to bring our very serious concerns to your attention before any changes in policy are made.
I thank you very much for your attention to this very important matter,