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UBC in damage control after hosting federally funded anti-racism talk featuring antisemitic activist

The university is now distancing itself from Community Media Advocacy Centre consultant Laith Marouf, saying it denounces antisemitism and does not support or condone Marouf’s history of social media messages
Laith Marouf, UBC May 14 | Photo: CMACInternet Archive

Just three weeks after releasing President Santa Ono’s watershed anti-racism task force report, the University of B.C. hosted an activist now under fire for a history of antisemitism.  

UBC’s West Mall Annex was the second stop on Laith Marouf’s six-city, coast-to-coast Building an Anti-Racism Strategy for Canadian Broadcasting tour, which the federal Liberal government  granted $134,000. 

At the May 14 event, Marouf thanked the School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) for sponsorship. But the university is now distancing itself from the Community Media Advocacy Centre consultant, saying it denounces antisemitism and does not support or condone Marouf’s history of social media messages.

SCARP director Heather Campbell did not respond to interview requests. University spokesman Matthew Ramsay said neither UBC nor its faculty sanctioned Marouf’s appearance.

“The event was not an official SCARP event, nor was it sponsored in any way by SCARP. Centrally booked events are assessed for safety and security, as well as hate speech,” Ramsay said. “A faculty member facilitated an enquiry from someone outside of UBC in locating a space for an event, without knowledge of the abhorrent views that have been expressed by one of its speakers.” 

Ramsay would not identify the faculty member or say whether the university would investigate. 

On Aug. 22, Ahmed Hussen, the Liberal Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion, reacted to media reports when he called Marouf’s litany of comments about Jews, French-Canadians and Americans “reprehensible and vile” and cut CMAC’s funding. In promotional material for Marouf’s tour, Hussen had stated he was proud of funding CMAC.

“Their project has been suspended,” Hussen said in the Aug. 22 statement. “We call on CMAC, an organization claiming to fight racism and hate in Canada, to answer to how they came to hire Laith Marouf, and how they plan on rectifying the situation given the nature of his anti-semitic and xenophobic statements.”

Most of Marouf’s May 14 event at UBC was archived, except a discussion near the end, which was not live-streamed or recorded.

“May our discussions focus on the goal to build an anti-racism strategy for media and hear from as many participants as time allows, merci and thank you,” Marouf said near the beginning. “I'm going to read one more statement because we have something that is very important that happened in the last few days that would help us understand how colonialism and racism governs our the media that we consume here in Canada.”

He proceeded to talk about the May 11 shooting death of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh in the West Bank and called the Israeli government “the Zionist apartheid regime.” Marouf referred to Canada as a “colony” and criticized CBC, CTV, Globe and Mail, La Presse and Le Devoir for not making Abu Akleh’s death the top story. He said only the Toronto Star mentioned that she was killed by Israeli gunfire.

“This disgraceful media coverage is an example of racism in Canada’s broadcasting and we can see how media upholds white supremacy, genocide and colonialism from Turtle Island to Palestine,” Marouf said. “But media are also useful tools for identifying the weak points in the system and dismantling it. So I invite you to join me in one-minute silence to honour journalists and martyr Shireen Abu Akleh. Free Palestine.”

The minute of silence lasted 37 seconds.

The keynote speaker was Carleton University journalism and communication professor Karim Karim. The former Department of Canadian Heritage bureaucrat called ex-Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s line about “old stock Canadians” from a 2015 election debate a “white supremacist trope” and mentioned Justin Trudeau’s blackface scandal from the 2019 election campaign.

“White supremacist societal pervasiveness explains why the young Justin Trudeau, deeply comfortable wearing blackface, among other places at West Point Grey Academy, which is not too far from this campus’s endowment lands,” Karim said.

He called blackface “transferrable” because Trudeau appeared in costume at another school event as the Disney version of Aladdin, a character that “happily sang about his country, ‘It’s barbaric. But hey, it's home’,” Karim said.

A panel discussion about Co-op Radio included a video appearance by Canada Palestine Association chair and former CFRO Voice of Palestine co-host Hanna Kawas, another critic of Canada’s support for Israel.

"Institutional racism, and the government and the media need to be immediately stopped. The supremacy of settler colonialism mentality in the Canadian society is a problem,” Kawas said. “And to reverse it, we need to educate, overhaul racist government and media institutions, including the CRTC and the judicial institution. I'd like to add, some of this racism also seeps into some of the so-called progressive circles in Canada.”

Outgoing president Ono’s Task Force on Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence recommended UBC “develop a comprehensive approach” to address both Islamophobia and antisemitism. SCARP is part of the Faculty of Applied Science and bills itself as one of the larger graduate urban and rural planning schools in North America.