Frequently Asked Questions

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What is freedom of expression?

A reasonable definition is given in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media….” It includes the right to speak and the right to hear. Expression is inclusive of oral and written communication, art, video, and so forth. It is not absolute and is limited in several ways, for example through criminal provisions regarding hate speech or the law regarding defamation.

Why don’t you just ban controversial speakers whose ideas offend some members of your community?

Over hundreds of years, universities have played a central role in providing a forum where ideas can be expressed, debated and challenged and where participants can gain insight and greater mutual understanding. Through this role they have contributed to a better appreciation of the world and have assisted communities to better empathize with each other. UBC is an inheritor of this tradition and has long had academic freedom and freedom of expression among its core values. We do recognize the need to strike a balance between our commitment to equity and the right of our community to hear and debate ideas (some of which may be controversial). This is an ongoing dialogue for the university.

UBC is governed in this regard by the Statements on Academic Freedom of the Vancouver Senate and Okanagan Senate, the bodies responsible for the academic governance of UBC. The right to freedom of expression extends to those who wish to challenge ideas that they believe are incorrect, offensive or repugnant with logic, protest and debate – all of which are encouraged.

What is hate speech and is that a reason to ban a speaker?

Hate speech is defined by Section 319 of the Criminal Code of Canada and as such has a very specific legal meaning. According to the Criminal Code of Canada, the following actions would be considered hate speech:

Public incitement of hatred

319 (1) Everyone who, by communicating statements in any public place, incites hatred against any identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace is guilty of

(a) an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or
(b) an offence punishable on summary conviction.

Willful promotion of hatred

(2) Everyone who, by communicating statements, other than in private conversation, wilfully promotes hatred against any identifiable group is guilty of

(a) an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years; or
(b) an offence punishable on summary conviction.

(3) No person shall be convicted of an offence under subsection (2)

(a) if he establishes that the statements communicated were true;
(b) if, in good faith, the person expressed or attempted to establish by an argument an opinion on a religious subject or an opinion based on a belief in a religious text;
(c) if the statements were relevant to any subject of public interest, the discussion of which was for the public benefit, and if on reasonable grounds he believed them to be true; or
(d) if, in good faith, he intended to point out, for the purpose of removal, matters producing or tending to produce feelings of hatred toward an identifiable group in Canada.

You may also wish to read the following documents:

The B.C. Human Rights Code also places restrictions on certain types of publication – section 7 states:

Discriminatory publication

7(1) A person must not publish, issue or display, or cause to be published, issued or displayed, any statement, publication, notice, sign, symbol, emblem or other representation that

(a) indicates discrimination or an intention to discriminate against a person or a group or class of persons, or
(b) is likely to expose a person or a group or class of persons to hatred or contempt

because of the race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, religion, marital status, family status, physical or mental disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or age of that person or that group or class of persons.

(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to a private communication, a communication intended to be private or a communication related to an activity otherwise permitted by this Code.

UBC has never been found responsible by any court of breaching the Criminal Code of Canada or the B.C. Human Rights Code by allowing hate speech to occur at an event hosted on campus, nor to our knowledge have any speakers permitted on campus been convicted of hate speech or found to have violated the speech provisions of the B.C. Human Rights Code. 

By hosting controversial speakers, does this mean that UBC dismisses the concerns of some of its community members?

UBC cares deeply about all members of its community and is deeply committed to equity and inclusion. Our statement on Respectful Environment outlines our commitments to respect, civility and opportunity. But respect and dealing with difference can sometimes be difficult, uncomfortable, and in conflict with our values of diversity and inclusion. As a result, we have to balance support and protection for our community, with the freedom to express views that can be in tension with some aspects of equity and inclusion. 

The university, through its strategic commitment to inclusion, is also working to build the capacity of faculty, students, and staff through opportunities for dialogue and education, as well as focusing on supporting and resourcing those who are most marginalized. You can learn more about our commitments, resources and programs across the university when it comes to equity and inclusion at

What is the university's process for identifying and managing risk associated with controversial speakers? 

To ensure that our campus is safe and encourages the exploration of ideas and discussion, UBC asks that anyone who manages event bookings and space rental requests applies a risk identification tool. The vast majority of these events will not require further review. Should booking requests have potentially elevated risks, they will be evaluated by the Event Threat Assessment Group (ETAG). The focus of this group is community and public safety, and events are evaluated based on two criteria:

  • Events with controversial content or speakers may be evaluated by external counsel, specializing in BC Human Rights Code and Criminal Code of Canada interpretation, for advice as to whether events will have content that is not within the law. 
  • Working with event organizers, all safety concerns are identified and assessed for possible supports and mitigations.

If the residual risk remains high despite planned mitigations, the event will be escalated to an Executive Oversight Committee for guidance and a final decision.

How do you ensure student, faculty and staff safety when somebody controversial comes to campus?

The safety and security of our campus community is always our number one priority. In order to keep our community members safe, the university has a number of robust safety protocols that are followed for any event. All events on campus are subject to a risk assessment. Where appropriate we also develop a security plan and require proof of insurance or additional security costs (which are borne by event organizers). In circumstances involving controversial speakers which we expect will draw protests, our Campus Safety and Security team will collaborate with the RCMP to ensure that appropriate resources are deployed to keep our community safe. The university will always make every effort to protect the safety of students, faculty, staff, UBC infrastructure and the wider community by ensuring adequate security presence and/or police presence.

Can I protest at an event that I disagree about?

Yes. UBC’s commitment to freedom of expression includes your freedom to protest against a speaker with whom you disagree. Provided you don’t break the law and that you follow the direction of Campus Security and/or police, you can protest at any campus event. In the cases of controversial events, Campus Security and, if necessary, RCMP will create protest zones where community members can protest peacefully and make their voices heard.

If an event happens at UBC, does that mean that UBC endorses it?

No. It is important to state that UBC does not endorse the views of any speakers or the organizations that book events. However, we do maintain the fact that, as a university, we have a commitment to maintain an open and inclusive forum and must balance all of this with the need to maintain a safe environment for our students, faculty and staff community members to work and study.

Other universities have banned controversial speakers – why can’t UBC?

UBC must adhere to its own governance structures and the obligations and policies that come from them. The academic governance of UBC is vested in its Senates, who have issued identical statements on Academic Freedom. The Statement from both Senates addresses controversial speakers on campus, and reads: 

"The members of the University enjoy certain rights and privileges essential to the fulfilment of its primary functions: instruction and the pursuit of knowledge. Central among these rights is the freedom, within the law, to pursue what seems to them as fruitful avenues of inquiry, to teach and to learn unhindered by external or non-academic constraints, and to engage in full and unrestricted consideration of any opinion.

This freedom extends not only to the regular members of the University, but to all who are invited to participate in its forum. Suppression of this freedom, whether by institutions of the state, the officers of the University, or the actions of private individuals, would prevent the University from carrying out its primary functions.

All members of the University must recognize this fundamental principle and must share responsibility for supporting, safeguarding and preserving this central freedom. Behaviour that obstructs free and full discussion, not only of ideas that are safe and accepted, but of those which may be unpopular or even abhorrent, vitally threatens the integrity of the University’s forum. Such behaviour cannot be tolerated.”

Balancing UBC’s commitment to academic freedom and freedom of expression, with our commitments to equity, diversity and inclusion is an ongoing process. UBC’s statement on Respectful Environment for Students, Faculty and Staff, outlines the university’s commitment to creating the best possible environment for working, learning and living where respect, civility, diversity, opportunity, and inclusion are valued. 

Learn more about UBC’s work to advance academic freedom.

What if the speaker violates the Human Rights Code?

Any speaker known to have breached speech or publication provisions by a Human Rights Tribunal in Canada will not be given permission to present those views at UBC. Anyone who feels their rights have been violated can file a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. The B.C. Human Rights Tribunal is an independent, judicial body created under the auspices of the B.C. Human Rights Code. The Tribunal is responsible for accepting, screening, mediating, and adjudicating human rights complaints. The tribunal interprets and adjudicates the provisions of the BC Human Rights Code and is in a position to determine whether or not a speaker being booked at UBC has violated another individual’s human rights.

What if the speaker violates the Criminal Code?

Any speaker known to have been convicted of hate speech provisions in Canada will not be permitted to present those views at UBC. Anyone who feels that they have experienced hate speech can make a complaint regarding that speech to the police. 


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