Justice Centre urges UBC Board of Governors to better protect free speech on campus as it reconsiders UBC’s space booking policy

The Justice Centre has written to the Board of Governors of the University of British Columbia (UBC) urging Governors, as they meet today to discuss UBC’s current space booking policy, to disallow the practice of imposing “security fees” on events in which controversial or unpopular viewpoints are discussed.

“The very mission and purpose of higher education is the pursuit of truth and knowledge in preparation for a life of usefulness in society, something that is only made possible by the freedom to propose new ideas and to critique and debate existing ideas without fear of reprisal,” explains the Justice Centre’s submissions to the Board of Governors, sent on Wednesday, September 11.

The Justice Centre’s submissions come at a time when UBC has recently found itself at the centre of the ongoing debate regarding campus free speech. Several entities have entreated UBC to disallow freedom of expression on its campuses and embrace censorship of minority viewpoints. The University has resisted these calls to cancel controversial speakers such as American commentator Ben Shapiro, who spoke at UBC in October 2018, and Jenn Smith, a transgender activist who spoke in June 2019.

While allowing these events to take place, UBC does have a history of imposing security fees on controversial events. In June 2019, UBC demanded organizers pay a $500 security fee for Jenn Smith’s lecture. On June 19, four days before the lecture, UBC demanded an additional $750 security fee as a condition of the lecture proceeding. UBC administration made vague allusions to safety as the reason for the sudden and last-minute imposition of an additional security fee. Organizers had no choice but to pay the additional security fee.

Most recently, UBC demanded that a UBC student group, Students for Freedom of Expression pay a $400 security fee, in addition to regular fees, to host a lecture by a speaker that UBC students want to hear.

The Justice Centre’s submissions explain that UBC has an obligation to uphold the rule of law on campus—including ensuring that University-sanctioned events can take place without vandalism and disruption. “By extorting security fees from those who seek only to express their opinions and listen to others, UBC has effectively blamed the victim and encouraged the bullies,” explains the Justice Centre’s submissions. “This punish-the-victim approach tacitly condones mob disruption of free expression and encourages further attempts at campus vigilante censorship.”

The right to speak and to hear are basic rights at an institution which exists to facilitate the operation of the marketplace of ideas, the search for truth, and the peaceful expression of opinion.