An event featuring far right figures Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern at a Vancouver Greek hall has been cancelled after community backlash and threats of violence.
Molyneux and Southern’s scheduled talk at the Hellenic Community of Vancouver on Friday was heavily opposed by protest groups and members of the Greek-Canadian community, who worried the event associated them with the far right.
Molyneux is a far-right podcaster whom the Southern Poverty Law Centre, a nonprofit civil rights organization, has likened to a cult leader. Southern is a former Rebel Media personality best known for trying to sabotage a ship transporting migrants across the Mediterranean.
Many Greek-Canadians were angered that their centre—comprised largely of immigrants or their children—was hosting anti-immigrants speakers.
“This doesn’t represent us,” former board of the Hellenic Canadian Congress member Gyln Lewis told VICE. “Either we or our parents came here as immigrants, and the Greek-Canadian community is one of celebration and hopefully one of respect. I don’t think inviting two speakers who are so clearly motivated by hatred helps us advance those goals.”
President Demetri Zambus said he wasn’t aware of the views of Southern and Molyneux. He added that the venue doesn’t typically vet speakers and doesn’t endorse their political positions.
But the centre’ association with the event dragged it into the crossfire between ‘free speech’ advocates lobbying them to continue the event and concerned citizens and protestors urging them to cancel.
“It’s a nightmare,” said Zambus “We’ve been flooded by phone calls, by emails — people just trying to disrupt our services.”
Pete Fry was one of many Vancouver city councillors who wrote to the centre urging them to cancel the event.
“It cultivates a culture of alt-right intolerance and hate, and I just don’t think there’s any space for that in our city,” he told VICE.
Zambus said he had rented to the Free Speech Club previously “without incident.”
“Historically, we have hosted Greens, Liberals, Conservatives, NDP, Libertarians, Trotskyites: everyone. We are politically agnostic,” he said.
But this time, he said the centre received anonymous threats, and that nearby cars were plastered with flyers.
When reached by VICE on Monday, he was adamant the event would proceed regardless.
“When King Xerxes wanted Leonidas to surrender, he said ‘I have so many archers that if we shoot our arrows at you, we will block out the sun!’ And King Leonidas said “fantastic, we fight better in the shade,’” said Zambus. “This is the character that’s in our blood.”
But Tuesday evening, the HCV issued a statement saying the event was cancelled due to “threats of violence against our members by various political fringe groups and one domestic terrorist organization.” They did not name groups say if anyone has been charged, but Vancouver police confirmed they are investigating.
“While we fully embrace freedom of speech, the safety and well-being of our members is paramount.” the centre’s statement says.
The free speechers
The Free Speech Club had already cancelled the event once before because of low ticket sales at the Chan Centre on the university’s campus.
Angelo Isidorou, the club’s director, is also Greek-Canadian. He said he regrets the community was “pulled into this.”
“It’s gonna be really ironic that the free speech guy is saying this, but people need to watch their words and be aware of the laws … because there’s a lot of crazy people out there,” said Isidorou.
Professor James Turk, director of Ryerson University’s Centre for Free Expression, says the whole mess could have been avoided by the centre declining to host the event in the first place.
“Divisive aspects about debates over free expression are made worse when the debate is not about the right thing,” said Turk.
But he also warns that by attempting to de-platform Molyneux and Southern, protestors might be giving them exactly what they want by “martyring” them.
“Jordan Peterson talks repeatedly that the best thing that ever happens is when he’s prevented from speaking, because then his monthly donations go up precipitously.” he said.
Fry says he denounces any violent action taken against the hall, but hopes they won’t rent to alt-right speakers again.
“I think it’s just an honest mistake If there are fingers to be pointed, it’s at the organizers of the event, the Free Speech Club, and it’s to Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern for spreading these reprehensible views.” said Fry. “Because they’re appealing to an under-educated audience, and they’re playing them.”
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