On August 22, 2017, Ryerson University in Toronto cancelled a panel discussion on 'Campus Free Speech' featuring controversial professor and anti-Transgender rights activist Jordan Peterson, evolutionary scientist Gad Saad and former Rebel Media personality Faith Gouldy. The community response in opposition to the event was overwhelming and, citing an inability to secure the venue, Ryerson cancelled the event. As news of the cancellation spread, local comedian Danny Polishchuk announced a 'Free Speech' comedy night, scheduled for the same night as the cancelled Ryerson protest. Its marketing featured a poster mocking the protests that had disrupted the panel discussion. The event was initially unable to secure a suitable venue but was booked into Comedy Bar for August 26. The event page used language intended to antagonize the community that organized the earlier Ryerson protests.
The poster for the original protest (left) and the comedy event (right).
In discussion with the owner of Comedy Bar it became clear that the politically charged nature of the event was not disclosed when the venue booking was made. The event itself was billed as a fundraiser for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), a reputable non-profit engaged in advocacy work furthering free expression rights and civil liberties in Canada. Concerned community members called in to the bar and voiced their opposition to the event. After the context of the event’s marketing was established and sources confirmed that controversial personalities and groups like Faith Gouldy and the Proud Boys had indicated interest in attending, some of the comedians who had been invited to participate expressed that they felt the event’s politics were misrepresented to them as well.
Comedy Bar’s owner made the decision to cancel the event after it became clear that community members were outraged by the otherwise innocuous event's provocative tone and deliberate marketing to the political far right. In the aftermath of a protester's death protesting the far right in Charlottesville, community response around these events has intensified. In a statement, the bar owner said, "It's not really a question of what the event actually is, but rather the kind of people your event brings in." A community member on Comedy Bar’s Facebook page echoed this concern: “If someone brands a show using keywords which are already being employed by a specific subculture, it should come as no surprise that that show gets pulled into that subculture.”
A statement published on the event’s Facebook page by its host.
As Comedy Bar was in the process of disavowing and canceling the event, an unidentified community member vandalized the locks on the venue doors, seemingly in a bid to physically prevent the event from moving forward. Sources indicate that the cost of drilling out and replacing the locks was around $425.
CJFE is committed to supporting free expression. We recognize the right of a private business to bar controversial events from its space, and further recognize the right of community members to engage in free expression by contacting the venue respectfully with concerns. We also condemn the vandalism of the venue's locks, and hold that small business should not have to bear the costs resulting from their inadvertent politicization by booking and subsequently cancelling a controversial event. Polishchuk has since rescheduled his comedy night to November 11th the same night anti-Trans activist and professor Jordan Peterson plans to host a ‘free speech’ event at Canada Christian College.
CJFE hopes to crowd fund $425 to cover the cost of replacing the venue locks, with any money donated in excess of what we raise to cover the vandalism will be split between CJFE and our friends and colleagues at CCLA, who were the original beneficiaries of the event.