Pride Parade suspensions have nothing to do with free speech


I would like to thank the Optimist for publishing both the excellent news report by Ian Jacques on the far-right appearing in Ladner and Ingrid Abbott’s beautiful commentary on the need to combat hate with love.

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Unfortunately, this important message was blunted by a very misinformed editorial cartoon.

First, the decision of the Vancouver Pride Society not to include uniformed police in their parade has nothing to do with “free speech.” It is a reasonable response to the long and continuing experience of prejudicial behaviour endured by LGBTQ2+ people at the hands of police. Particularly the most marginalized and vulnerable parts of the community: people of colour and trans folks.

Secondly, the suspension of the Vancouver Public Library and UBC also has nothing to do with their – or anyone else’s - free speech. I’ll just connect a few of the dots.

The VPL and UBC rented space to Jenn Smith, a notorious transphobe deeply embedded in the neo-Nazi movement, even after repeated requests not to. I attended a peaceful counter-demonstration at UBC after which Smith posted my picture on their Facebook page with a request to their fascist friends to identify me. They did so in the following comments and followed up with both online threats and “in real life” targeting.

As we have just tragically seen – again - in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, these haters are not “harmless” and while only a small number may actually commit mass murder, the toxic social media environment they all indulge in inspires and celebrates these acts of far-right terrorism.

The constitutionally protected right to “free speech” properly puts strict limits on the power of government to restrict individuals. It creates no obligation on anyone, including public institutions, to provide space for the promotion of racism, fascism or transphobia.

These haters are free to grab a milk crate, stand in a park or street corner and spew their venom anytime and anywhere; provided they don’t create a public nuisance or – as they used to say – frighten the horses. But no one is obliged to listen, just as no one is obliged to invite them into their living room or church sanctuary; or rent them library meeting space or university lecture halls.

To do so makes one at best dangerously naïve; at worst complicit. And of course unwelcome at the annual Pride Parade.

Robert Ages

Council of Canadians, Delta/Richmond

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