Roundtable on Hate Speech Takes Place at CapU Just Days After Homophobic Incident

The roundtable was facilitated by Dr. Michael Marwick and his CMNS 431 class and brought together students and key members of the broader community.  

Annalisse Crosswell, Associate News Editor

Conversations regarding hate speech have become more prominent with the changing social climate. In a timely roundtable discussion held on March 21 in the Kéxwusm-áyakn Student Centre, Dr. Michael Markwick, an instructor in Capilano University’s School of Communication, along with his CMNS 431 class – Project Group Communication Policy and Law – brought together a group of interested students and prominent members of the community to broaden their understanding of the topic and discuss possible solutions.

Those invited to attend the roundtable discussion included Indigenous feminist and activist Fay Blaney, the constituency representative of Burnaby North-Seymour, MP Terry Beech, Dr. Adam Rudder, and Bowinn Ma, MLA for North Vancouver-Lonsdale, as well as CapU President Paul Dangerfield. “We were really quite surprised to see the room jammed with people and the depth of attention that was given to it,” said Dr. Markwick, who added that it was an honour to have such guests attend.

Dr. Markwick has held similar roundtables in the past, one at SFU following the events of 9/11 as well as one regarding the impacts of sex trafficking held at CapU’s North Shore Campus. He stands by the importance of this approach and said that a town hall or a debate about free speech is the wrong way to deal with these issues. He also noted that those who attended this most recent roundtable discussion agreed that more conversations in a similar environment should be had.

The roundtable was a closed, by invitation-only, event, something that Dr. Markwick acknowledged as a way to make people feel more comfortable during the discussion of sensitive topics. “We tend to have a sense that we’re doing really well, and even the people who engage in racist practises always profess to not being racist,” he said.

The incident of homophobia that recently happened on campus had the same impact. On March 14, according to a press release issued by the Capilano Students’ Union (CSU), “two students vandalized an art mural project that was part of the Capilano Students’ Union (CSU) Pride Month programming taking place outside the CSU Members Centre. The students returned shortly thereafter to make homophobic remarks toward several members of the CSU’s queer students collective and board of directors.”

Michaela Volpe, queer students liaison, was one of the two people present when the Pride Month mural was vandalized. At the time, she was in discussion with the Queer Students Collective about opening their doors for Pride Month workshops. As a result of what happened, those students are feeling less secure about their safety on and around campus and the collective has chosen to keep their doors closed.

“I feel angry and scared about the amount of confidence the students said these extremely hateful things,” said Volpe. “It truly scared myself and the Queer Collective that something like this could happen so publically. The Collective is scared and angry and hurt that something like this could happen on campus.”

Anna-Elaine Rempel, president and vice-president equity and sustainability, was also present when the incident took place. She said that campus security had identified the individuals and the University had questioned them, and while the University has yet to make a disciplinary decision they are taking it seriously. She also noted that the University is limited in what they can tell the CSU.

During the March 21 roundtable, Bowinn Ma described her experiences with “the things people think, but don’t necessarily say.” Fay Blaney also spoke from her perspective as a Xwemalhkwu woman of the Coast Salish Nation on the topics of racism and the injustices of Western practices such as colonialism. Blaney also discussed specific issues to which Indigenous women are exposed, such as sex trafficking and prostitution, as well as inequality faced by Indigenous children within public schooling systems.

Dr. Markwick’s “democratic engagement exercise” goes beyond simply facilitating a conversation that includes local politicians. In 2013 the Canadian government, under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, repealed a section of the Canadian Human Rights Act pertaining to hate speech. Under the now extinct Section 13, hate messages were outlined as discriminatory practises – Dr. Markwick wants to bring this back, as he believes that this distinction between free speech and hate speech is necessary for a democracy. In a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Dr. Markwick outlined the need for Section 13 – the letter has been signed by those that attended the roundtable, along with religious leaders from the wider community. Also in support of reinstating Section 13 is MP Terry Beech who was invited but unable to attend the roundtable on March 21.

Dr. Markwick’s CMNS 431 class also conducted an exercise that canvassed university websites as far abroad as Oxford in order to understand which universities make experiences of abuse easy to deal with. According to him, Oxford’s was the easiest to navigate with a system of two pathways, supportive and restorative. The University of Toronto was also rated highly during this exercise. At CapU, however, there are issues that need to be addressed. Even in the case of assaults, the University treats every incident as a conflict between two people. This, according to Dr. Markwick who previously worked in human rights enforcement in Ontario, is something that would never be done in the field of human rights. “The danger is if we see everything as a conflict between two people, we don’t get analysis,” he said. “We don’t have the race analysis, the power analysis. We don’t have the human rights analysis.” He said that the next step would be initiating a conversation with the University about how they handle cases of assault and support students that have been assaulted. The results of what these discussions and exercises have found would likely be used to facilitate this.

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