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Chapter Eight - The Creation of Students in Support of Free Speech

After the initial Jordan Peterson support rally in October 2016, there was an energy that started spreading quickly to other campuses and especially online as a anti-PC counter culture began to really manifest. There were several open Facebook groups themed around Jordan Peterson directly with thousands of members, and various student groups promoting open discourse on university campuses, wherein students started specifically talking about controversial and taboo subjects to be edgy and create debates simply to exercise their freedom of speech in principle. In these online Facebook groups dialogues began opening up, and although the groups were a mix of intelligent and sophisticated individuals right down to the lowest IQ haters, overall the group served as an outlet for the expression of thought and opinion that students weren’t getting out of their university courses or campus environment. For a brief time there was some very interesting conversation taking place among the chaos.

Students in Support of Free Speech, known as SSFS was the first official student group to formalize, beginning at the University of Toronto by founder Mari Jang. My first official video that I released through FBM was a video of myself at the U of T campus interviewing Mari Jang and the rest of the SSFS executives. They were an articulate group of students, diverse racially and politically. Due to the fact the mainstream media, with its progressive bias was representing those inspired by Jordan Peterson as hateful racists, I wanted to showcase how diverse the group was.

During the interview, SSFS executive member Louiz Dizon told me: “The people on the SSFS tend to be all over the political spectrum. So you got people who are pretty much to the right, pretty much to the left, people who are in the middle. The one thing that everyone ono SSFS agrees on is regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, you should respect everyone else's right to voice their opinions. Like, if you take the recent Peterson controversy as an example, I personally agree with the things Peterson said. A lot of the people who are on SSFS wouldn't necessarily agree with him, but they believe that regardless of their agreement with him or not he should be allowed to express those viewpoints. The same goes for any number of controversial opinions that people out there might want to see silenced of stiffled but we think that is it neceasrily for academic discourse for these kinds of discussions to continue.”

Speaking with founders Mari Yang, she told me “The Students in Support of Free Speech is a student movement group started in response to a debate over pronouns that Dr. Peterson very briefly touched upon online. Including those we disagree with. It is a movement to promote freedom of speech for every member of our community, regardless of if we agree with them.”

Executive member Daniel Ostofsky explained to me that “We want to expand the Overton Window, which refers to the amount of acceptable conversation that can be held by the press or society at large, which we consider to be too stringent right now. The problem that we have in the West and in Canada in particular is that a far too stringent restriction has been put on what is considered to be acceptable to voice in the public sphere and what public opinions people can have. What we are all about is expanding it so that a greater diversity of opinion on all manner of subjects - a greater diversity of thought in regards to politics, religions, race, to sexuality to the university and how it's run, is allowed to be voiced, because we already celebrate diversity of stuff like race, gender and sexuality but we don't celebrate diversity of thought, the most important diversity to have. So what we need to have is an expansion of the conversation to encompass a greater deal of the political spectrum, and thus we will have healthier conversation, we will better well rounded better argued conversational and it won't dip far too often into what we consider a very unhealthy breed of group think."

He also added "The left, the "extreme left" the "regressive left" as you might characterize them as, they are in complete control of the press, they are in complete control of the universities, and they hold great sway over the bureaucracy of our governments, whether your'e talking about United States, here in Canada, or even in Europe. They have essentially won the "culture war" and this is what we are talking about at the end of the day. It's not about any one particular policy, it's about culture. And what we want to fight balc against is the sort of extremely strident authoritarian brand of judgementalism and group think that has pervaded these institutions for far too long. It's not about a left/right dichotomy, it's about "authoritarian vs libertarian".

Executive member Martin Shoosterman told me "A lot of people don't feel safe on campus to voice their opinions. If you go around campus you see much more people with far left opinions actually voicing it and actually saying it, and when they do voice their opinions there isn't nearly as much backlash like there is for people with right opinions."

I would like to stress here that my goals at this point were essentially the same as SSFS insofar as I had become personally very motivated to move the Overton Window away from the far-left. I was resonating with most of the students I hung out with and spoke to during this time, as I too was very inspired by Peterson’s stance against political correctness and was emotionally triggered by the amount of anti-white rhetoric that seemed to be proliferating through popular culture so significantly. Naturally, I was very happy to see a subculture based around protecting Free Speech forming around me. Several of the students involved with SSFS impressed me with their willingness to go against the status quo in ways that can have serious social consequences, especially in academia and corporate cultures.

Exhibit A: In June of 2017 a 24-year-old student named Katie Wallace that I had met through SSFS was on the front page of The Toronto Sun underneath the headline “Man-hating concerns at Ryerson U”. Wallace was a social worker who had requested to do her third-year placement with the Canadian Centre for Men and Families (CCMC), an offshoot of the Canadian Association for Equality (CAFÉ). The centre offers services like counseling and group support to men about such issues as fathering, trauma, family law and suicide prevention.

Man-hating concerns at Ryerson U - Toronto Sun article

Wallace’s field placement coordinator, Heather Bain, reacted with anger and denied Wallace’s request. She would not permit Wallace to do her placement that fall at the CCMF – and according to Wallace characterized the agency’s existence as an “act of violence”. Wallace says that she felt forced to defend her choice, and opened up about being a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence. She told Bain she believed had her father been helped with his own issues that would have likely “saved” her. Bain responded by giving Wallace a sexual assault colouring book. She also referred her to Ryerson’s Office of Sexual Violence Support, headed up by Farrah Kahn, Toronto City councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam’s fiancée.

In my mind, this serves as solid proof that a toxic anti-male ideology is very much entrenched in many areas of academia, and that those who try to stand up to it, even females with a history of sexual abuse, have an uphill battle to fight.

I further learned Bain had previously been involved in controversy for telling social work graduate Rebecca Katzman in August of 2015 that she could not do her third-year placement at the Prosserman Jewish Community Centre (JCC) or the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) because both agencies have a “strong anti-Palestinian lean”. Katzman told Bain she’d booked a meeting with Sheldon Levy, who was Ryerson president at the time, and Bain apologized in a September 9, 2015 email for providing “misinformed information” to her.

Twenty-one year old student Sarah Hafizi informed Bain in late February 2017 that she wanted to be placed at CCMF the following September and was told that Bain would have to get it approved by her boss, and never heard anything after that.

Wallace told the Toronto Sun that the whole experience with Bain had started her thinking that perhaps there’s a “business in keeping women down” by painting men as the “perpetrators” and added that she feels the need to be a social worker even more now.

If examples of obvious anti-male bias like this were harder to find, I might feel so strongly that this particular bias exists in academia, but unfortunately it is very easy to find examples of it.

Exhibit B: Earlier I mentioned meeting Josephine Mathias at the Jordan Peterson rally in October 2016, who started a YouTube channel called MyNameIsJosephine and eventually became a columnist for the National Post. Her sister was the centre of a front-page article by the Toronto Sun on March 10, 2017 with the headline “Ryerson instructor tells student to only rely on feminist journals.” Her twin sister, Jane, had wanted to write a paper on the myth of the “gender wage gap”. She was told that she was wrong, that the gender wage gap was very much real, and that she should only rely on feminist journals for assignment instead of business sources that “blame women,” her sister says. The instructor’s email, which was made public and posted online, specifically states “Perhaps you want to write your paper on the glass ceiling. You need to look at feminist sources on this issue…Do NOT use business sources. They blame women. The reality is patriarchy”. The assignment specifically states that Ontario and Canada government websites and Statistics Canada will not be considered scholarly sources. “Government websites state government policy that is devoid of analysis, and usually reproduces mainstream stereotypes, assumptions and misconceptions,”.

Ryerson instructor tells student to only rely on feminist journals - Toronto Sun article

Again, this is a clear example of the cult-like mentally that has infested the social sciences and humanities. These classes aren’t classes, they are echo chambers for a progressive ideology that is being manufactured by cherry-picking facts and data. There are very few issues that annoy me as much as the so called “gender-wage” gap, because it has been so thoroughly debunked so many times, but because it is a political tool it remains a staple of modern feminist’s talking points.

The incident with Josephine Mathias and then the incident with Katie Wallace only strengthened the impression that modern Canadian universities are essentially a breeding-ground for a cult-like mentality, devoid of any nuance or real understanding of human nature.

If the students in SSFS represented the opposition to this cult-like mindset, perhaps the group that I interacted with that most personified a walking talking embodiment of this ideology was the Revolutionary Students Movement at York University. A Marxist inspired anti-Western student group.

In of 2017, I noticed that the RSM were putting up signs with various group logos on them that the RSU was accusing of being racist. Among these groups listed was the SSFS as well as FBM. I went to Ryerson University to ask the RSM why the FBM logo was on their signs. I was extremely calm and polite the entire time, as I was there not for a confrontation but to genuinely try and understand their logic. They immediately looked frightened asked me to leave. I briefly tried to explain that I was just there hoping to talk but they wouldn’t hear me out, and cited my interview with Dr. Amitay as proof that I was a fascist. This I found both profoundly sad and amusing at the same time, as Dr. Amitay is an extremely liberal individual from a Jewish background, and Free Speech is a uniquely liberal concept.

The next day on Facebook they were complaining that my presence there was threatening and intimidating. They also issued a statement via Facebook which I think is very telling and important to include here as an important insight into specifically how they think. Their post read:

Let us be clear. We have no interest in building and maintaining respectful relations with a group that we have seen attend anti-immigrant and thinly veiled racist and transphobic rallies. This particular group may not always be seen at the helm of violence that anti-fascist and anti-racist groups have faced, but they have stood side by side with those who have. And even if they not thrown fists, violence is not reduced to actions, but is also manifested through words. If you refuse to acknowledge a trans person by their pronouns, you are engaging in transphobic violence. If you criticize people of colour for protesting statues and colonial figures more than you do actual white supremacists, you province cover for racist violence. It’s absolutely fair to lump you in with fascism then (especially if you organize among them), for fascism also appeals to racism and transmisogyny. We do not care what moral criticisms you give to fascists in private – and we doubt you even do that personally. Your public actions speak for themselves. The Revolutionary Student Movement across Canada will continue to organize against SSFS and other free speech groups. No platform for fascism, or those who provide cover for fascists.”

Although I understood from speaking and interacting with so many members of SSFS that the group was in no way a racist organization, the group was continuously dealing with PR challenges early on and smearing from progressive media.

The biggest setback for Students in Support of Free Speech in 2017 occurred after some executive members organized a support rally for “The Halifax Five,” a group of young men from Halifax that were the victims of a national media smear campaign that spring. This is the event that I mentioned discussing with James Sears in the previous chapter.

At the end of the rally, the organizers decided to open the microphone up to members of the public who had gathered to express their thoughts on free speech. A young student handed the microphone to a man who stepped forward. The student did not know who this man was, but his name was Paul Fromm and he is a controversial far-right figure in Canadian politics.

Fromm addressed the crowd and said “I’m Paul Fromm, with the Canadian Association for Free Expression. I’m very supportive of the things you’re doing, and of course you’re learning a lot about the tactics of the enemies of free speech. A more subtle enemy of Free Speech though, is the approach in our country now to take away a person’s job for speaking out. It’s really important that you back the Halifax Five. Right to the Minister of National Defense and say “They were exorcising on their own time, out of uniform, Free speech. They didn’t confront the native people, they weren’t disrespectful. They were simply standing up for our traditions. The reaction so far of the top brass in the navy and the army is really pathetic. It’s really important that we let the officials know that we stand behind those young men who exercised their free speech, respectfully and properly.”

Although Fromm says nothing racist in this statement, his presence at the rally and the fact he was allowed to speak was an optics nightmare for the organization that ultimately resulted in Mari Jang stepping down from her position and the president of SSFS. Fromm had not been a planned part of the rally, he simply took the mic when the rally was over and a member of SSFS handed the mic over to the public for comments, having no idea who Fromm was. Jang, however, initially gave a statement to the contrary, denying that Fromm was at the event, until it was brought up that FBM had footage on our website of exactly what happened. The stress of the situation led to Jang’s resignation.

SSFS apologizes for presence of white supremacist rally - article in The Varsity

Canada's most notorious white supremacist shows up in support of 'Halifax Five' - article in The Halifax Examiner

This event highlights an issue that I’ve struggled with while running FBM. The optics of having certain figures associated with certain events will almost certainly result in certain events being counter-productive to their goals because of the optics it opens up from other adversarial media. Therefore, free speech rallies, if they want to grow in mainstream popularity, need to be conscious of the presence of far-right figures at their events. At the same time, since it is mostly right-wing positions that are taboo now, not associating with certain people at events that claim to be based on the value of free speech seems hypocritical to many, and turns them off from certain movements just as much. It's a delicate game, but ultimately if Free Speech advocates have to allow controversial people to attend events while being conscious of the optics and being careful not to endorse things simply through association.

Ultimately, in the case of the Halifax Five rally, I believe the SSFS should not have apologized for Fromm’s presence at the rally and should have simple doubled down on the truth – that he wasn’t a formal part of the rally, he was a member of the public who spoke after the rally, mostly to people who didn’t know who he was, and said nothing actually offensive. I have video footage of exactly what Paul From said on my YouTube channel, so you can see for yourself exactly what was said.

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