AMS comes out against Ben Shapiro event, says it ‘will stoke intolerance and discrimination’

The AMS has officially come out against Ben Shapiro’s visit to UBC this Halloween.

In a statement released today, the society said that it believes Shapiro’s scheduled talk at the Chan Centre would encourage “intolerance and discrimination based on race, gender identity and sexual orientation.”

The statement, approved unanimously by the AMS advocacy committee, also lists a range of support resources, including SASC, Speakeasy and Campus Security, for students who “will feel threatened and targeted by Shapiro’s message.”

Shapiro, an American hardline conservative commentator, has been criticized by some for promoting discriminatory views towards Muslims, Indigenous communities and LBGTQ2+ people, among others. Others see him as a traditional conservative who leftist groups have repeatedly attempted to silence.

His visit was the subject of controversy earlier this summer when a small group of students wrote letters to University Provost and VP Academic Andrew Szeri, encouraging the university to block the event under UBC’s discrimination policy.

While UBC allowed the event to proceed, the AMS remains concerned that it could promote harmful rhetoric on campus.

“We think the event will promote hateful and discriminatory views and attitudes on our campus which could make many of our members feel threatened, targeted, and marginalized,” said AMS VP Academic and University Affairs (VPAUA) Max Holmes in a July interview with The Ubyssey.

The UBC Free Speech Club (FSC), the event's organizers, sharply criticized the AMS's statement.

“[They] chose to fear-monger and stoke division on campus by demonizing our speaker and questioning our club's motivations," wrote FSC President Noah David Alter in a statement to The Ubyssey. "We are disappointed in their statement and hope they can do better in the future."

The club has maintained that they do not believe the event poses any harm to students.

“I guess people were worried that somehow this event would raise a certain morale on campus for people who are bigoted, and that’s something that I don’t quite understand, mainly because Ben Shapiro has never advocated for any violence,” said FSC Director Angelo Isidorou.

While a number of campus groups have announced they plan to stand against the event in non-confrontational ways — like hosting a separate party and a teach-in — Isidorou said the FSC is still taking extensive measures to prevent any physical violence at the event, including hiring RCMP and UBC security.

The AMS’ statement notes that the society met with the FSC in September to “urge them to cancel the event,” but the club declined.

“Since the UBC Free Speech Club is not an AMS Club nor associated with the AMS, they decided to continue to hold the event despite concerns brought forward from AMS in our meeting with them,” said Holmes in an emailed statement to The Ubyssey.

Freedom to speak

While the FSC believes the event will foster debate, Holmes believes the ticket price — which started at around $60 — could be “prohibitive” to any people with dissenting opinions who might attend Shapiro’s talk.

“It doesn’t seem like an event that’s meant to be an inclusive dialogue to begin with,” he said.

Isidorou said that to encourage constructive debate at the event, he intends to give priority to speakers that disagree with Shapiro. He also said he would “shut down” anyone who used transphobic or racial slurs or engaged in aggressive heckling.

“From a cultural standpoint, I don’t want a lineup of 20 dudes being like ‘do you hate abortion?’ and then Ben saying, ‘Yeah, I hate abortion,’” said Isidorou. “I want it to be interesting and culturally enriching. I don’t want it to just be one big echo chamber.”