On October 10, Ricardo Duchesne and Mark Hecht were the featured speakers of an event hosted by the Students for Freedom of Expression, an off-shoot of the ever-controversial UBC Free Speech Club and movement that is sweeping campuses worldwide. This talk was met with outrage, protest by Students Against Bigotry and drew the attention of The Ubyssey.
A retired professor from the University of New Brunswick, Duchesne has been accused by peers of bad scholarship as well as furthering a white nationalist agenda and the white genocide conspiracy theory. His work has been denounced by both his colleagues and the Canadian Historical Association as being without “academic merit” and “racist.” He has also denied accusations of being a white supremacist, despite appearing on white supremacist websites and podcasts.
Mark Hecht, an instructor at Mount Royal University, wrote a fervently anti-immigration and anti-multiculturalism opinion piece in the Vancouver Sun. His thesis has been described as “ethnic diversity harms trust and economic well-being.”
But it was not the only the controversial talk that occurred that week that deserved to be criticized.
Also on October 10 at UBC, Yu Jiantuo — a former fellow of Harvard’s Ashe Centre and the Assistant Secretary General of the China Development Research Foundation — discussed China and the current situation in Xinjiang.
For those unaware, Xinjiang is a region on the northwestern border of China, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Mongolia, and home to the majority of China’s Uyghur population. The Uyghurs are one of the Muslim ethnic minorities in China and are currently subject to internment, cultural genocide and a campaign of re-education by the Chinese government.
In his talk, Yu excused the reports of Uyghur internment as China offering “vocational training.”
This was not a student-led event. This was led by UBC and it was not the only time the university had invited speakers and individuals who have an involvement in the cultural genocide in Xinjiang.
Hu Angang was invited to speak last year and maintains a page on UBC’s Centre for China Research. Hu has been accused of advocating for ethnic homogenization of China in the name of economic and social development.
While students and reporters focused on the SFE talk, Yu was covering up and spouting Chinese propaganda about the situation in Xinjiang.
Where was the outrage? Where was the attention? Where was anything?
Regardless of your opinion on Duchesne and Hecht, propaganda has no place on this campus or any other. What Yu said was the government line appears to have no basis in reality. Even people who have gone with the sole purpose of disproving claims of mistreatment, like Canadian-Albanian historian Olsi Jazexhi, admitted he was “naive” in believing the party line on these camps.
This is a moment in time where China is in the global spotlight for their actions in Hong Kong and their violent suppression of pro-democracy protests that have grown into a global issue. Corporations like the NBA and Blizzard have been heavily criticized for protecting their business interests by hesitating to stand by their employees and agents making pro-Hong Kong statement.
People should be angry. People should be disappointed that our campus hosted an event whose purpose was to downplay and excuse the mass imprisonment, eradication of a culture and, by some accounts, the extermination of the Uyghur people. Yet people were too focused on speakers whose claim to fame is saying some false and controversial things that poison the political pot in Canada.
This is misplaced outrage. This is wrong. We, as a campus, should stand with the Uyghurs!
Sam Klein-Laufer is a fourth-year history student.