(this is also available as a podcast entry)
Dear Chancellor Point and President Ono,
I am writing to you as we prepare to mark Trans Day Of Remembrance on November 20. This is the day when the Transgender community, our loved ones, and our friends gather to remember and name the Transgender (“Trans”) persons around the world who were murdered because of the attitudes of others towards us.
This year we will sadly be counting a record number of 375 Trans victims that we know of so far, most of whom were Trans women of colour engaged in sex work in countries where so few other options for survival exist for them.
Because Trans persons are estimated to be 1/3% of the population and most of the Trans victims are women or transfeminine, a quick calculation reveals Trans women face a risk of homicide as much as 3.8 times higher than cisgender women do. Because we know that many Trans people who are murdered are uncounted, we know the situation is likely to be even worse. We also know that the root cause of these murders is related to the implicit permission society still gives to cause harm to Trans people because of who we are and because there are almost no repercussions for it.
And this permission to cause harm is why I am writing you today.
I am writing to request a meeting with you both together at your earliest convenience so we can discuss UBC’s recent cancellation of the booking for the November 17 “UBC Students for Freedom of Expression (SFE)” event entitled “An Honest Conversation about Canadian Residential Schools and Mass Graves” that was to feature speaker Lauren Southern who recently released a documentary questioning the genocide of Indigenous peoples at former residential schools.
I am particularly interested in discussing the grounds of this cancelation. In late 2019, Dr. Ono and I had discussed the idea that potential updates to the University’s academic freedoms might address gaps exposed by recent speakers. It was encouraging to read the University’s press release about the November 27 event. Specifically, I found the following paragraph quite encouraging:
“In September 2020, the University was the first in North America to commit to taking a human-rights approach to its Indigenous strategic framework through the launch of its Indigenous Strategic Plan, which outlines the goals and actions the university is collectively taking to support and uphold Indigenous peoples’ human rights.”  UBC Statement regarding November 17 event
I applaud UBC’s human rights approach in its Indigenous strategic framework. Also, I fully support the decision not to offer any venue to voices that deliberately spread disinformation intending to cultivate a sentiment that the complaints of oppressed communities are unwarranted.
Hate speech is not free speech and speakers who are reasonably expected to incite hatred and cause distress through injurious revisionist assertions on grounds that are explicitly prohibited by our human rights laws should not qualify to leverage UBC’s brand or leverage its public funding to broadcast unearned credibility.
UBC has a responsibility of addressing such attempts. It also has an explicit responsibility of doing so consistently and without discrimination as dictated by section 15 of the Canadian Charter of right and Freedoms (the Charter) which guarantees equality:
“Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.” –  Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 15
As you surely already know, section 15 of the Charter reads in the enumerated list of explicit prohibitions from discrimination and does so in federal and provincial contexts. This Charter obligation falls on all public institutions. As a result, UBC policies must be applied equally regardless of who a speaker targets when advocating for explicitly-prohibited discrimination while under UBC’s jurisdiction.
As you may recall, this was not the outcome we achieved at UBC in June 2019 when a speaker was invited to incite hatred targeting transgender members of the UBC community – and targeting me specifically by name.
I would very much like to hear in person from you both how the 2020 changes protect everyone equally – or whether these changes have yet to come.
If another reason lies behind this cancelation, I would like to give you an opportunity to help me understand how one just decision is not causing the injustice I warned UBC about in 2019. I am available at any time, on any day, as soon as feasible.
Thank you for your consideration,