UBC sued for cancelling Andy Ngo event and violating freedom of expression


VANCOUVER, BC:  The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (www.jccf.ca) has filed a Petition for Judicial Review against the University of British Columbia (“UBC”), for cancelling a planned event featuring journalist Andy Ngo discussing Antifa violence.

In November 2019, The Free Speech Club, a student group at UBC, organized an event entitled “Understanding ANTIFA Violence” featuring Andy Ngo at UBC’s Robson Square campus, to take place on January 29, 2020
Antifa, short for “anti-fascist,” is a loosely organized coalition of left-wing activists and self-described anarchists who use direct action, including vandalism, violence, threats, cyber attacks, and blockades, to shut down events or protest opinions they oppose. Antifa protestors typically dress in black and wear masks to remain anonymous. Antifa is involved with the extensive mob violence plaguing some cities in the United States.

Andy Ngo is editor-at-large of the Post Millennial, a Canadian online news media outlet. He is a well-known journalist who frequently reports on Antifa violence. His work has made him a target of Antifa. In June 2019, Mr. Ngo, who is part of an ethnic-minority group and openly gay, was violently attacked while documenting Antifa violence in Portland, Oregon.

The Free Speech Club confirmed the Andy Ngo event booking with UBC, signed the contract and paid the required booking deposit. However, in December 2019, the UBC suddenly pulled the plug on the event without notice. The next day UBC emailed The Free Speech Club with a statement claiming that “[t]he reason for the cancellation is the concern about the safety and security of our campus community”. UBC did not outline any specific concerns about the event or provide The Free Speech Club with an opportunity to respond to or address any concerns.

Acting on behalf of The Free Speech Club, the Justice Centre issued a demand letter to UBC President Santa Ono on December 31, 2019, requesting that UBC reinstate the Andy Ngo event or face legal action. In response, UBC refused to reinstate the event, asserting that “Mr. Ngo has been the target of violence in the past.” It also claimed that “UBC is legally entitled to manage access to its property the same way as any other property owner.”

UBC was created by the BC government and receives hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars every year to stay in operation. The university holds itself out as “an open forum where members of the university have the freedom ‘to engage in full and unrestricted consideration of any opinion’.” 

Notes Justice Centre staff lawyer Marty Moore, “UBC apparently disregards its own commitment to being an open forum when certain groups disagree with the topic of discussion, in which case it seems UBC will pander to the mob and censor expression.”

With BC courts now reopening, the Justice Centre has sued UBC on behalf of the Free Speech Club. The Petition asserts that UBC violated its duty of procedural fairness, made an unreasonable decision, violated its own commitments to freedom of expression and academic freedom and violated the Charter right to freedom of expression protected on UBC campus in cancelling the Andy Ngo event.

“UBC cancelled the Ngo event in an arbitrary and secretive fashion, in violation of  its own commitments to respect ‘the right to freedom of expression’ and to uphold students’ and visitors’ right to ‘engage in full and unrestricted consideration of any opinion’,” states Mr. Moore. “It is unreasonable and unconscionable for a public institution to cancel an event on the basis that the speaker has been a victim of violence,” continued Moore.

Angelo Isidorou, Director of The Free Speech Club, notes, “Since the cancellation of our event, the environment on campus has only gotten more divisive as a result. UBC has now evolved their justification for stifling free speech. First it was safety, but now the University outright opposes any speakers or events that are controversial or offensive. Who decides what is offensive? It is a slippery slope to merely stifle free speech due to controversy and threats of violence. It’s time UBC answers these questions in court.”

“UBC may give in to the demands of violent extremists, but the Justice Centre will not,” adds Andy Ngo. “As demonstrated in the past six weeks in the U.S., Antifa are more than capable of carrying out mass campaigns of violence against institutions and the state. It is imperative now more than ever to stand up to extremists whose stated goal is revolution by any means necessary.”