Update to PEN Canada’s Statement Regarding the UBC Accountable Website

By | February 13, 2018 at 1:06 pm | No comments | News

 Update to PEN Canada’s statement regarding the UBC Accountable website

On January 16, 2018, PEN Canada released a statement expressing concern over what we characterized as “calls to remove”a website hosting an open letter addressed to the University of British Columbia. The letter, hosted at ubcaccountable.com, is an active petition for increased transparency in the process by which complaints against a member of the faculty were investigated and addressed.

PEN Canada was asked to give comment on a story for the Globe and Mail, and, as we have done on previous occasions, we also drafted our own statement in order to solidify our message without the larger framing of a third party. The unedited original statement is below.

Our position, as an organization that supports freedom of expression for writers, is typically simple: we are concerned when writers are asked to suppress their speech, and we believe as a general principle that the antidote to the expression of distasteful or even offensive ideas is in the expression of better ones. More expression, not less.

Our statement however, left out two key pieces of context surrounding the specific case of the UBC Accountable letter.

First, we should have outlined how in this specific instance, the limited, mostly private advocating for the website’s removal does not rise to the level of censorship. While we believe the website should remain publicly available (as long as the authors and signatories wish it to be), not least as an archive of the freely expressed thoughts of writers grappling with layered and complex power dynamics, criticism of this letter and debating its ongoing impact is not the same as censorship.

Second, we should have been clearer about the context of our own statement. We issued our statement in response to requests from the media for comment, and we didn’t provide enough background on the specific case to outline the complexity of framing the letter and the discussion surrounding it as a freedom of expression issue. As a result, it appeared to some that we were taking sides in a debate that has been a painful and divisive one in Canada’s writing community. We did not intend to take sides or inflame this already sensitive issue.

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